FORT WORTH, TEXAS (AP) - The Texas Rangers' auction is on.
A federal bankruptcy judge decided Thursday to keep the Aug. 4 date to auction off the team, rejecting requests to delay it nearly two months so bidders could line up financing. And Mark Cuban, the outspoken owner of the Dallas Mavericks and a billionaire businessman, may be among those bidding on the Rangers.
"It's real simple: We're going to get it done Aug. 4 and 5," U.S. Bankruptcy Judge D. Michael Lynn said after a three-day hearing that included plenty of squabbling among attorneys involved in the long-delayed sale.
The court-appointed restructuring officer and angry creditors had argued that potential buyers would not have enough time to secure the millions needed to buy the Rangers and suggested a Sept. 30 auction. But the team countered that at least two potential bidders, Houston businessman Jim Crane and Dallas investor Jeff Beck, had time to review the deal and line up financing since they were part of the original bidding process last year.
Cuban's attorney, Clifton Jessup, said he was "under the gun" to review terms of the sale in less than two weeks. Cuban, recently qualified by Major League Baseball to participate in the auction, has not decided whether to bid but hopes to make an offer on his own rather than join an existing group, Jessup said.
Cuban, one of the most visible and colorful owners in pro sports, expressed an interest last year in buying the Chicago Cubs. The team was purchased instead by the Ricketts family from Tribune Co. following a bankruptcy filing.
"This is a brand new opportunity," Jessup said after the hearing. "We believe that the court has made a level playing field and that Major League Baseball will operate in good faith."
MLB has long endorsed a group led by Hall of Fame pitcher and Rangers president Nolan Ryan and attorney Chuck Greenberg as its preferred buyer.
Rangers' manager Ron Washington, called by the judge to testify Thursday, said players' morale was "unbelievably good" but would turn to worry if the sale was delayed. Ryan told the judge this week that to ensure the team's financial resources to keep star players and acquire new talent, the auction should proceed so the Rangers can get out of bankruptcy.
Lynn said the bankruptcy _ no matter how long it took or who ended up as the owner _ would not affect team operations. He said players should stay focused on making a run for the American League West title and a postseason berth for the first time since 1999.
"You are going to get what you need," Lynn told Washington, adding that players' travel would not change "from a jet to a school bus."
"(Tell the players) that everybody is behind them. ... We want this team to succeed."
The auction has been one of many unexpected twists for the team after it filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in May.
The team submitted a plan to repay creditors $75 million and sell the ballclub to the Greenberg-Ryan group, chosen by the team after the last year's bidding process. The team said going to bankruptcy court was the only way to push through the Greenberg-Ryan sale, stalled for months by creditors concerned about team owner Tom Hicks' financial woes.
But the Rangers ended up embracing an auction after the Greenberg-Ryan group agreed to waive its exclusivity rights and have bidding procedures heavily controlled by Major League Baseball. The Greenberg-Ryan group didn't want the auction delayed because its financing guarantee is to expire Aug. 12.
Rangers slugger Josh Hamilton, who's been leading the majors in batting average, said he will be "praying a lot" for the Greenberg-Ryan group to become the team's owner.
"He's a former player. He (Ryan) knows what it takes to go out and play the game on an everyday basis. You want to have a guy like that, who's been through it," Hamilton said before Thursday's game against the Angels.
Hamilton also said Cuban is a very involved owner "like a Jerry Jones is with his (Dallas Cowboys) team. It's all about the wins and losses and how we're going to get it done and yelling at your players and that sort of thing. It's different between the two groups. ... Personalities clash. I hope we get the right personalities we need to make this thing work."
Under the procedures set last week, starting bids for the Rangers must be at least $15 million higher than $306.7 million, which is the cash portion of Greenberg-Ryan group's offer. As the process continues, each bid must go up at least $2 million.
The Greenberg-Ryan bid totals about $575 million and includes paying the full $204 million owed to unsecured creditors. Topping the list of unsecured creditors is New York Yankees star Alex Rodriguez, who is owed $24.9 million in deferred compensation six years after he was traded.
The Greenberg-Ryan bid also includes legal costs and damages if Hicks is sued after the sale _ which creditors have threatened to do in order to recoup the full $525 million in loans that Hicks Sports Group defaulted on last year. That group's bid also includes the Rangers Ballpark lease, which was transferred from another Hicks' company to the team before the bankruptcy filing.
The judge has not yet ruled on a lawsuit filed by JP Morgan Chase, a creditor, seeking to sever the stadium lease from the sale. The bank contends that it did not consent to the transfer, as required in its loan agreement, so the ballpark lease is not the team's property.
AP freelance writer Ken Sins contributed to this report.