By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
By Eric Nicholson
Early in his tenure as owner Hicks spent grandly on team payroll, which ranked in MLB's Top 10 from 1998 to 2003. Signing shortstop Alex Rodriguez to more money than Hicks had paid for the team—a 10-year, $252 million contract—in December 2000 proved to be a horrendous gaffe. Even though Rodriguez had arguably the three most productive seasons in team history and won an MVP award in 2003, the team finished in last place in the AL West each year. The club also had to absorb a sizable chunk of his salary to ship him off to the Yankees, and as a part of the bankruptcy, Rodriguez is still owed $25 million. As a result, spending was dramatically reduced after the 2003 season, with the Rangers' payroll from 2004 to 2009 settling in between 18th and 22nd among MLB's 30 teams each year.
Home-game attendance, meanwhile, has been consistently mediocre, with 2008 as an anomaly when the team failed to draw 2 million fans for the first time since 1995. Performance on the field may have something to do with that, of course. The Rangers have posted only four winning seasons since Hicks bought the team—1998, 1999, 2004 and 2009—and a combined record of 959-985.
Because MLB doesn't produce accountings of its teams, it's unclear exactly how Hicks landed in bankruptcy. An HSG spokesperson declined to say what the money was spent on specifically, only that HSG in 2006 aimed to land a better interest rate and terms for the debt related to the purchase and "enhancement" of both the Rangers and Stars and their assets, along with generating new capital to support operations.
The refinancing and teams' modest payrolls still weren't enough to enable HSG to pay the interest on the notes, so Hicks sunk more than $300 million of his own money (as opposed to the more than $100 million figure cited in court documents) into HSG, which the spokesperson says he "does not expect to be repaid."
"After loaning the teams and HSG millions to make interest payments and meet operating shortfalls, Mr. Hicks finally said he could not do that anymore," the spokesperson says of why he made the decision to default on the loans on March 31, 2009.
Hicks spun the failure to pay as a calculated tactic to negotiate with the 40 lenders and said in a statement that HSG had been "impacted" by the global credit crisis. He also began seeking investors to buy up to 49 percent of each team so he could retain majority ownership.
"The whole thing from the beginning has been nothing but negotiations," says Rustin Polk, a Dallas bankruptcy lawyer not involved in the case but who has followed along closely because he's a baseball fan. "By playing hardball, he gets a better deal for himself."
After discussions between Hicks and the lenders went nowhere and no minority ownership groups emerged, Hicks was left with little choice but to start soliciting offers for complete ownership, so HSG on July 2, 2009, sent information packets about the team to 10 interested parties. Hicks would select the Greenberg-Ryan group, Jim Crane and an investor group headed by Jeff Beck and former sports agent Dennis Gilbert to submit final bids by November 20.
Hicks chose Greenberg and Ryan—principally financed by Ray Davis of Dallas and Bob Simpson of Fort Worth, who both earned their riches in the natural gas industry—as the new owners on December 15, even though Crane had a higher bid. Hicks wanted to keep Ryan involved with the organization, and because MLB and 75 percent of its owners had to approve the sale, Crane was believed to be at a significant disadvantage. The owners may have had hard feelings toward Crane because, as The Houston Chronicle reported, he had a handshake deal in place with Houston Astros owner Drayton McLane at the end of the 2008 season to buy the team, but Crane backed out.
"Our family has chosen to negotiate with the group we believe will be best to protect and ensure the long-term positive future of this franchise," Hicks said in a statement.
"If [Ryan] had affiliated with any other group, I would have dropped out immediately," Greenberg said in a conference call after the announcement.
The sale appeared on track to become final in time for the new ownership to take over before the team's first game on April 5. Even as reports began to surface in late March that the lenders might attempt to block it, Greenberg told the Observer, "I'm very confident there are no road blocks ahead."
The lenders, increasingly concerned that Hicks hadn't nabbed top dollar for the franchise and would be pocketing $75 million out of the $575 million purchase price for the land, immediately began building roadblocks. Hicks on April 21 announced an impasse, prompting a swift response by MLB, which claimed it would be taking control of the sale process.
MLB, the Rangers and the Greenberg-Ryan group agreed that filing for voluntary bankruptcy would be the best way to accelerate the sale, and on May 24, Texas became the fourth professional baseball team to do so.
After playing just one season in 1969, the Seattle Pilots filed for bankruptcy and were purchased by Bud Selig, who moved the team to Milwaukee, changed the team's name to the Brewers and later became MLB's commissioner. The only court auction of a baseball team occurred in 1993 when the Orioles were purchased by a group led by Peter Angelos after owner Eli Jacobs filed for bankruptcy. And the Cubs were in and out of bankruptcy in one day after filing for Chapter 11 protection to expedite the club's sale to billionaire Joe Ricketts last year.