Rangers go to Greenberg-Ryan in auction

Rangers go to Greenberg-Ryan in auction

Nolan Ryan and his partners have prevailed in U.S. Bankruptcy court as the top bidders for the Texas Rangers.

Fittingly, on a night when the ballclub trailed 5-2 after four innings, both the first-place Rangers and their apparent new owner slugged out clutch comebacks. The team won by a score of 11-6. For the group headed by Ryan and Pittsburgh attorney Chuck Greenberg, the total was $593 million, as they outlasted a bold opposing bidder.

In a hearing on Thursday in U.S. Bankruptcy Court, the lenders who hold the debt on Hicks Sports Group formally approved the sale. Major League Baseball is expected to vote on the sale at the next owners' meetings on Aug. 12. Approval is expected and the Rangers new ownership group will be in place the next day.

The Greenberg-Ryan group's bid in U.S. Bankruptcy Court in Fort Worth topped the best offer of an alliance between Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban and Houston businessman Jim Crane. Cuban and Crane submitted a final bid that was valued at $581.2 million after deductions that added up to nearly $17 million.

The auction proceedings began Wednesday morning and the end came well past midnight CT when Crane finally shook hands with Ryan, congratulated him and announced his group was "done." A crowded courtroom erupted with a standing ovation when the official announcement was made.

"It was time for somebody to say uncle," Ryan said when it was over. "It's a relief when you go through something as long as this was and it's a relief that we got the results we wanted. So we're happy."

A confirmation hearing is scheduled for Thursday morning in front of Judge D. Michael Lynn.

Well after midnight, Cuban tweeted to his social networking followers the following tip of the cap to Greenberg, Ryan and fans in the Dallas-Fort Worth area: "Congrats Chuck and Nolan. Go Rangers!"

Major League Baseball appears prepared to approve the transaction by Aug. 12, when Greenberg's financing agreements are scheduled to expire.

Judge Russell Nelms oversaw the spirited auction that was stalled by numerous delays, arguments and disputes all day Wednesday and late into the night.

"You never know what to expect," Ryan said. "I thought they were serious when they came over here and they proved it. I felt they came over here and tried to win the ballclub. There's the unknown that you don't know what to expect or anticipate. But we're excited about the result."

Major League Baseball president Bob DuPuy said afterward, "I'm very pleased and I look forward to Chuck Greenberg and Nolan Ryan leading the team for many years to come."

Rangers outfielder David Murphy also was thrilled with the news.

"Even since Nolan's been part of our franchise (as an executive) we've gone nowhere but up," Murphy said. "He's not just a native Texan, a guy who is obviously very, very respected and admired in the state of Texas, but nationally he is one of the best pitchers ever. He's one of the most respected players ever.

"Of course we want a guy like that as our owner. In the end, we wanted the best group to represent us. Obviously, how could you not want a group with Nolan Ryan in it?"

The winning bid includes $385 million in cash and the assumption of $208 million in debt that the club holds. That price does not include any land around Rangers Ballpark.

Greenberg's group reached an agreement back on Jan. 23 to purchase the team from current owner Tom Hicks for $575 million, but that included $70 million for the land and that was not included in Wednesday's auction.

The new ownership group will be called Rangers Baseball Express with Greenberg serving as managing general partner and Ryan as club president. Fort Worth businessman Bob Simpson and Dallas billionaire Ray Davis will serve as co-lead investors. Country music legend Charley Pride also is part of the group.

Cuban, who has owned the Mavericks for 10 years, was very aggressive in his pursuit even though he just entered the picture last month. He aligned himself with Crane, who was after the Rangers from the beginning last year when Hicks first put the team up for sale.

Crane was one of three finalists for the team last winter along with a group headed by Dennis Gilbert, a former player's agent and Beverly Hills insurance businessman. One of the reasons Greenberg was selected was because there were some doubts if Crane would be approved by Major League Baseball after backing out of an agreement to buy the Houston Astros from Drayton McLane two years ago.

There were numerous and lengthy delays all through the day Wednesday as the two sides battled over issues that included procedures, rules and the real value of various bids. At one point Greenberg's side tried to get the auction postponed so that contested issues could be resolved in front of Judge Lynn, who has overseen the bankruptcy proceedings.

But as we now know, instead, this unforgettable red-eye, back-and-forth, high-stakes process, played out to its conclusion, adding what we'll call a "no-quitter" to Ryan's Hall of Fame career.

This was the first time a Major League franchise has been auctioned off in U.S. Bankruptcy Court since the Baltimore Orioles in 1993 when Peter Angelos and his group out-bid current Marlins owner Jeffrey Loria.

"It's hard to believe the number of man hours and the number of people who worked on this," Ryan said. "It's a relief to finally be able to get it done."

Cuban's group had the highest initial bid going into the auction. They bid $318 million in cash while Greenberg's group started out at $307 million. Greenberg's group, shortly after 5:30 p.m. CT, went to $320 million to open the true auction but Cuban immediately countered with $335 million. The bidding proceeded from there and Greenberg's group finally won out early Thursday morning.

The day started with Greenberg's group challenging the legitimacy of Cuban's initial bid that was due at 8 p.m. CT on Tuesday night. Greenberg's lawyers said the bid was not "qualifying" and was not submitted properly before the deadline.

Greenberg's group was strongly backed by Major League Baseball when the agreement was reached back in January. But they could not get around the objections of the lending institutions that hold approximately $525 million in debt on the Hicks Sports Group. Those institutions, led by Monarch Alternative Capital, refused to lift the liens on the ballclub.

The Rangers filed for bankruptcy in May, hoping that Judge Lynn would approve the sale to the Greenberg group with the proceeds used to pay off the lenders who hold the debt on Hicks Sports Group.

But the lenders objected to the plan, insisting that there were higher bidders for the team than the Greenberg group. The lenders were also not happy that the proceeds from the sale of the land would go to Tom Hicks and not them. After over two months of legal maneuvering and posturing, Lynn ordered the auction to proceed.

The Greenberg-Ryan group made a bid late Tuesday night to win the team without an auction. There was some agreement to the plan from lenders who hold the debt on Hicks Sports Group but one objected and the attempt failed.

T.R. Sullivan is a reporter and Chris Cox is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.