Stealing home

Tom Hicks bought a baseball team, but he'll own an empire

Tom Hicks did not buy the Texas Rangers for $250 million because he loves baseball. He bought the Texas Rangers and the 270 acres of land around the Ballpark in Arlington because he loves making money.

"I didn't buy a baseball team for $250 million," he says, sitting behind a conference table in his 16th-floor office in the Crescent. He wears a starched white shirt, a red silk tie, and a broad, thin smile.

He bought the team because he envisions one day owning and operating a regional sports network that will broadcast his Rangers and his Dallas Stars and, possibly, Ross Perot Jr.'s Dallas Mavericks across Texas, Louisiana, Oklahoma, New Mexico, and Arkansas. He bought the team because he envisions a day when the Ballpark in Arlington will be his very own money machine, spitting out gold coins into his pockets. (The naming rights alone will be worth a small fortune--farewell, Ballpark in Arlington.) He bought the team because he wants to develop the land around the Ballpark and fill the flat, dull Arlington horizon with office towers, hotels, restaurants, and shops.

Little in Hicks' office reveals his association with sports. There are a couple of bound Dallas Stars annual reports on his bookshelf, a small University of Texas Longhorns football helmet on his desk, an autographed hockey stick resting on the wall, but not much else. Indeed, his office--with its glorious view of Dallas spread below--looks more like a tony hotel suite, a marble-and-oak living room with each book, chair, and sofa in its perfect, proper place. Only his desk is unkempt, stacked high with documents and faxes.

Buried beneath that stack of papers is a paperback copy of John Helyar's 1994 Lords of the Realm, a behind-the-scenes chronicle of the ongoing rancor between baseball players and team owners.

"I may get around to reading it," he says as he holds the book and glances at it, perhaps for the first time. He chucks it back on his desk, seemingly uninterested.

No matter that Tom Hicks is about to become an owner of his own baseball team. He has no time for history books, no time for looking back on yesterday when tomorrow's decisions are far more important: Who to sign? Who to cut? How much to spend? How much to save? Lord, where to begin?

Tom Hicks announced on January 7 he intends to buy the Texas Rangers, but he does not yet own the team. He'll have to wait until he receives approval from the other owners in the league, and that could take six months to a year.

But that hasn't stopped Hicks from being involved in the team's day-to-day dealings: Rangers president Tom Schieffer, whom Hicks says he intends to keep in place until Schieffer proves him wrong, keeps him informed of the hirings and firings, the raises and demotions to the minors. Hicks was notified well in advance of the $3.25 million offered to pitcher Bobby Witt two weeks ago--the 12-12 Bobby Witt, the very average Bobby Witt--just as he knew of the $1.2 million Lee Stevens would be given for one more year of his services. Hicks demands to be informed. He doesn't want any surprises.

"I'm not officially involved at all," Hicks stresses. "But as a courtesy, Tom Schieffer, who is representing the prior ownership and knows he'll represent me once I'm the new owner, is walking a very appropriate middle ground, keeping me informed as a courtesy. He's bouncing ideas off of me and giving me the courtesy of knowing what's going on."

Tom Hicks would love nothing more than for the Texas Rangers to win a World Series. It would, of course, be good for business. Hicks--a man whose personal worth is estimated at $150 million and whose investment firm Hicks, Muse, Tate & Furst owns more than 140 companies worth in excess of $20 billion--is no fool.

But a World Series would further his reputation as a man willing to do whatever it takes to win in the world of professional sports. He's already ponied up the dough to turn the once-struggling Dallas Stars into the best team in the National Hockey League; the signing of goalie Ed Belfour in the off-season was the exclamation point at the end of that promise. And as a University of Texas regent, he was instrumental in ousting football coach John Mackovic and replacing him with Mack Brown. Bringing a World Series to Arlington would make him rich, yes, and it would make him proud, of course.

And it would do him justice: So far, he has proved himself a good guy in a world of evildoers, a far more dignified owner than Jerry Jones and a far more virtuous owner than Ross Perot Jr. He would prefer to stay off the sidelines and out of the spotlight; he lets others run his teams, approving only the most serious decisions. He makes a deal, then sticks to it--guaranteeing only what he can deliver.

Tom Hicks wanted a new downtown arena because his Dallas Stars were losing money, not because he wanted to get richer using someone else's money. He offered to pay for the arena himself, using city money only as a loan. He didn't threaten to move to the suburbs until his alleged partner, Junior Perot, almost screwed up the deal with helicopter rides and other nonsense. Hicks appears to be a stand-up guy willing to go far in order to win--but never too far.

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