By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
But if there's a potential for a crack in this team's solid foundation, it lies ahead in the August 4 auction, which could leave the Greenberg-Ryan group out in the cold, with Ryan likely vanishing from the organization for good. Beloved by fans, management and players alike, Ryan has maintained he won't stay with the team if someone other than Greenberg becomes owner.
Daniels says Ryan has helped change the mentality of the team's pitchers since Hicks named him president in February 2008. Now they expect more out of themselves and no longer feel the stigma that once came with pitching for the Rangers. Ryan's also provided a calming influence and a steady hand when the team needed it most.
"There's stability at a time when there really isn't," Daniels says. "It's bankruptcy, auction and lawyers, and Nolan's the constant throughout all that."
For Rhyner, it's clear who should be blamed if Ryan is shown the door. He says perhaps the worst thing about Rangers baseball this year is seeing Hicks sitting in his regular seats at the ballpark acting like nothing's changed.
"The nauseating thing about it to me is it appears as though he's going to walk away pretty scot-free with his personal wealth intact—he's not going to lose a thing," he says. "I guess he didn't break any laws, and he's not facing jail time or being brought up on charges of fraud. All he did is take what amounts to a public trust and run it into the ground."
Hicks' ownership began unraveling—in public, at least—early on the morning of April 3, 2009, when something called FINAlternatives, a website that serves up hedge fund and private equity news, reported: "Private equity legend Tom Hicks' sports team holding company has defaulted on more than $500 million in loans, a source has told FINAlternatives." The brief item continued: "According to the source, who has seen documents relating to the loans, Hicks defaulted on a $350 million bank term loan, $100 million second-lien loan and a $75 million revolving credit facility."
Eventually, Hicks told longtime Rangers reporter Evan Grant, then blogging for D magazine's now-defunct sports website, that he was "optimistic that a satisfactory resolution will come together in the next couple of weeks with our lenders' cooperation." Late in the day, Hicks spokesperson Lisa LeMaster released a statement characterizing the missed payment as nothing more than "a business dispute" with some 40 lenders. In that same release, Hicks acknowledged that he was looking for "prospective partners," people who might find the Rangers—and, for that matter, the Stars—a suitable "long-term investment."
There was no suggestion that he'd have to sell the team outright. In fact, Hicks insisted that it was simply a case of the lenders being unreasonable and, sooner or later, all would be well.
By May 28, 2009, however, Hicks all but confirmed to The Associated Press he was looking to get out of the baseball business: "With the right partners, I would be willing to sell a controlling interest in the Rangers."
And there, as they say, is the rub. Just who gets to decide who are the "right partners" and more important, what is the right price for a team swimming in debt? After conducting negotiations throughout 2009, Hicks and Major League Baseball thought they had a winner in the Greenberg and Ryan group. Contracts were signed. Promises were made. And then...
Well, fast forward to May 24 of this year.
Flanked by Greenberg to his right and Ryan to his left, Hicks appears at Rangers Ballpark to announce that he and his lawyers agreed that filing for bankruptcy was the best way to solve the impasse between HSG and the lenders who had stalled the club's sale to the Greenberg-Ryan group. All of the creditors owed money by HSG will be paid back, Hicks insists, but he refuses to discuss specific dollar amounts.
The trio expresses optimism that bankruptcy will satisfy the creditors, but Greenberg acknowledges that some lenders might react "in a noisy fashion."
"Given the way some of these renegade creditors have behaved, I'm not expecting an overnight personality transplant," he says.
Give the man credit for a gift for understatement. The creditors were, in fact, the noisy equivalent of a tactical nuclear bomb, filing into bankruptcy court in Fort Worth to demand that HSG put the Rangers out for sale to the highest bidder. And that's where things stand today.
But the whole fight under way today begs a $600 million question: How did Tom Hicks, one of richest men in America, manage to swamp a baseball team with so much red ink?
Hicks, Greenberg, Ryan and the creditors declined interview requests for this story. Hicks did speak recently for lengthy articles in The Dallas Morning News and SportsBusiness Journal, but the two stories did little to explain how a man Forbes ranked as the 355th wealthiest American in 2008 with a $1.4 billion net worth failed so miserably at turning a profit with the Rangers, racking up a debt of $600 million on the Rangers and Stars after purchasing both teams for a combined $334 million.
In fact, Hicks not only claims in court documents that HSG wasn't profitable, he says the Rangers were never in the black since he bought the team for $250 million in 1998, and he burned through millions more of his own money to keep operations afloat.