By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
By Eric Nicholson
Let's see, in the last week we've been blessed with a Dallas Mavericks victory sans Dirk Nowitzki over an elite NBA team (Cleveland Cavaliers), a passionate, purposeful Dallas Cowboys win over an elite NFL team (New Orleans Saints)—in December, no less—and a record snowstorm veering out of our way.
Even for Texas Rangers fans, who have for years felt neglected and isolated on the Island of Misfit Toys, Santa Claus just arrived in town from, of all places, Pittsburgh. His Christmas gift to the metroplex?
Tom Hicks, gone.
But Chuck Greenberg isn't a hit man or the Grinch That Stole the Texas Rangers' Owner. He is hope.
After a decade of futility and embarrassment littered with outrageous contracts, spendthrift drawbacks, alienating fans and—most of all—mediocre-to-horrible baseball, Hicks finally, officially relinquished his grim grip on the Rangers last week. Motivated by drowning debt, he has agreed to sell the team to Greenberg in a deal that should be finalized by Opening Day in April.
Here, Rangers fans, is your merry Christmas.
"We will have money in the budget," Greenberg said on a conference call with reporters last week. "Money will not stop us."
It's not that Hicks is a bad guy, just not a good sports owner.
We long ago ran out of patience with him running out of money. But his legacy—in retrospect—won't be as hideous as you suspect. Sure, he fired Doug Melvin and signed Chan Ho Park and broke the bank for Alex Rodriguez and flip-flopped between developing a farm system and renting veterans like Ken Caminiti and Andres Galarraga, and sat idly last summer without adding a player or even continuing to water the grass at Rangers Ballpark in Arlington. But Thomas O. Hicks also oversaw two of the Rangers' three playoff seasons, hired general manager Jon Daniels, brought back Nolan Ryan and signed off on the rebuilding plan that has the team stockpiled with young talent and perched for unprecedented success come 2010.
And before you shed a holiday tear for him and his family, know that this transaction will considerably alleviate some of the debt carried by his Hicks Sports Group. He bought the team in 1998 for $250 million and is selling it to Greenberg for more than $500 million.
It's not like Hicks will vanish, only to appear at Dallas Stars hockey and Liverpool soccer games. He'll still be a minority investor in the Rangers, just one without the power or authority to sign, trade, hire or fire players, coaches or employees. That's not coal in your stocking; it's the best possible resolution to a turbulent summer of wobbly Rangers ownership.
Give Hicks one last shred of credit: He picked the right guy. He could've sold to former sports agent Dennis Gilbert or Houston businessman Jim Crane, neither of whom would've maintained Ryan as the face of the franchise. It was past time for Hicks to get out of the driver's seat, but at least he pitched the keys to a competent replacement.
I don't know Greenberg, but I like what I hear from him. No, I love what I hear from him.
So will you.
Hearken to Hicks blasting his baseball fans for not being as passionate as his soccer fans or for wagging a finger and telling Rangers fans to attend games and spend money or else he won't recycle more money on the baseball product, then listen to the Rangers' new owner.
"Our job is to make Texas Rangers baseball a compelling, memorable experience," he said. "It starts with having a great team on the field that relates to the community off the field. We want an organization that is connected to the fans and that is completely obsessed to do everything possible to service our fans' needs and do everything they want."
Greenberg's baseball roots go back to childhood idol Pittsburgh Pirates' outfielder Roberto Clemente (his son Walker was named after Clemente's middle name) and the late '70s "We Are Fam-uh-lee!" Pirates World Series champs. His management style will be similarly recognizable, with 12 families and/or individuals (80 percent from Dallas-Fort Worth) as investors but Ryan as his ultimate baseball decision-maker.
What credibility, goodwill and optimism the Rangers have accrued the past two seasons would instantly dissolve had Ryan left. It would have been a public relations nightmare. If nothing else, Greenberg is sharp enough to recognize that.
"If they had a Mount Rushmore of baseball in Texas, Nolan would be the first face chiseled out," Greenberg said. "If he had affiliated with any other group, I would have dropped out immediately. There are 29 other teams out there. But the Rangers and Ryan belong together."
While Ryan remains team president and minority owner, Daniels will continue as the GM that has built the strongest farm system in baseball, Ron Washington will be back as manager and players such as Michael Young, Elvis Andrus, Ian Kinsler, Josh Hamilton, Justin Smoak, Derek Holland, Neftali Feliz and Nelson Cruz continue to form one of baseball's best young nuclei. For the first time in a long time, the Rangers won't head into spring training reliant upon the tired old arms and worn-out storylines of front-end pitchers Kevin Millwood and Vicente Padilla.
"I don't foresee us going against what we have done over the last three years, and that's developing our own talent and bringing it up through our system," Ryan said on a separate conference call. "I think everybody that is going to be involved, obviously their goal is to try to bring a winner here and try to do what we think is within reason to do that and makes good business sense."
And the Rangers will no longer have to worry about what Hicks says, or how much he doesn't spend.
Greenberg, a sports attorney who owns minor league teams in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, and State College, Pennsylvania, envisions himself as the CEO over a board of directors, delegating the day-to-day running of the team and baseball operations to experienced baseball people.
"My role is to have great people in positions of authority and to create an environment that enables them and encourages them to be their best, then to let them do their job," he said. "I think on the baseball side, this team is the envy of the baseball world right now. That's not my role. I won't inject myself in a way that would interfere with anything."
The new owner, in other words, will own, not lead. He'll nod. He'll write checks. He won't be visible. Jerry Jones and Mark Cuban he ain't. Which, come to think, may not be that bad of an idea seeing that the last championship trophy in this town was hoisted in 1999 by—gulp—a guy named Hicks.
But when Rangers Ballpark gets a bigger video screen in left field or the team signs a sexy free-agent or absorbs salary in a deadline trade next season, you'll know there is indeed a new owner.
"The goal is simple: Win," Greenberg said. "Win the division, get through the LCS. We want to win a World Series."
For a franchise that has won exactly one playoff game in 38 seasons, Christmas came early.
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