By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
It is February 2, and he's stranded in baseball's off-season. His future manager's shocking drug revelation is still buried under winter's bitter blanket. Prized off-season acquisitions are weeks away from their first pitch (Rich Harden) and hit (Vladimir Guerrero). In fact, he's not yet even officially the owner of the Texas Rangers.
Nonetheless, Chuck Greenberg is about to win you over.
At Sherlock's Pub and Grill on Central Expressway in North Dallas, it takes Greenberg, oh, about 90 seconds to be everything that outgoing scapegoat of an owner Tom Hicks wasn't. Endearing. Generous. Funny. Self-deprecating.
"Man, am I a dork or what?" Greenberg says to the standing-room crowd as he tries to dig his cell phone out of his pocket to show off his Rangers Ballpark wallpaper photo. "Had my camera on in my pants. That could be dangerous."
During the welcome-to-town event hosted by longtime Rangers superfan Jamey Newberg, Greenberg and veteran third baseman Michael Young help raise more than $10,000 for Wipe Out Kids' Cancer. The prospective owner also raises the bar.
Here to meet players, staffers and fans in the wake of an agreement to buy the team from Hicks, he auctions the red pullover Rangers jacket off his back for $500. He matches donations. He listens to fans' questions and suggestions, promising to "seriously consider" lowering beer prices and prohibiting fans—via the stadium scoreboard—to do "The Wave" while the Rangers are batting.
"You guys are my customers, of course I'm going to listen to you," Greenberg says. "I want the Rangers to be a family atmosphere. I want the experience of going to Rangers Ballpark to be a feeling you can take home with you. If you don't like something, I want to hear about it."
While Hicks' reign was characterized by snappy suits and global sports empires and Republican bigwigs and have-your-people-call-my-people, Greenberg is refreshingly blue jeans and sneakers and baseball and jot-that-down-on-this-napkin.
Funny, because in hand-picking a successor and pinpointing a life preserver to help him out of debt and out of baseball, Hicks found the anti-Hicks. Greenberg, whose group beat out two others for the right to buy the Rangers, won't be handed the keys to the franchise until the deal is approved by Hicks Sports Group's 40 lenders and 75 percent of Major League Baseball owners. Though Greenberg still considers that process a formality—at spring training he told folks he was planning on being in power in time for Monday afternoon's season opener against the Toronto Blue Jays in Arlington—he also warned observers of the process' inherent volatility.
"There are usually some unforeseen speed bumps along the way," Greenberg said in Surprise when asked about a SportsBusiness Journal story that revealed significant I's to be dotted and T's to be crossed before a deal could be finalized. A similar story appeared in this week's Wall Street Journal, suggesting some of Hicks' lenders would even attempt to halt the sale. "But I'm very confident there are no road blocks ahead," Greenberg responded.
"He's an impressive guy, full of energy and optimism. You can't help but like him," Young says. "I think he'll be a good fit at this point in our development. He says he'll be a guy who lets the baseball people make the baseball decisions and that's how it should be."
Until then, Hicks' legacy will be littered with alienating fans, constantly changing organizational course, running out of money and losing. His heir has arrived from, of all places, Pittsburgh with a clean slate, a big smile and an adamant promise that Rangers fans will surely latch onto.
"It's a business, but to run a successful business, you have to put out a quality product," Greenberg says as the Sherlock's meeting clears out. "I want the product to be a winning baseball team. I want to win. Win big."
Yes, Rangers fans who suffered last summer when your team didn't have the cash to add a bat during the pennant race and ultimately wilted to a second-place finish in the American League West, he has all the right answers. Greenberg has a Hall of Fame partner in Nolan Ryan. He has astute timing, considering the Rangers' glacial rebuilding program through baseball's top farm system is finally expected to ripen into tangible, successful results. And, yes, he has cash.
Greenberg will wear Rangers red but, more important, he'll keep the team in the black.
"We will have money in the budget," Greenberg reassures. "Money will not stop us."
It's a relatively small gathering at Sherlock's, not unlike the intimate, yet momentous scenes that played out when the Dallas Cowboys and Dallas Mavericks ushered in bold new eras with brash new owners. In 1989, at a stunned Valley Ranch, new Cowboys owner Jerry Jones talked passionately about controlling everything down to "socks and jocks." In 2000, at the under-construction American Airlines Center, Mark Cuban christened his new Dallas Mavericks ownership by slipping on a jersey. In 2010, Greenberg wowed 'em at Sherlock's.
In the pub's parking lot, Rangers fans are giddy and grinning, if not a little gullible. For the first time in a long time, they believe their owner wants to win as much as they do.