Yesterday, Tom Hicks all but told reporters gathered in Boston that the pending sale of the Texas Rangers to Chuck Greenberg and Nolan Ryan's Rangers Baseball Express is dead. But why, the very week Greenberg had hoped to have the deal done, did Hicks choose to say it now? That's the $570-million question.
According to people familiar with the deal with whom I've spoken today, the answer is very simple: Hicks hopes to kill the deal with Greenberg and replace the Pittsburgh attorney's offer with one submitted by Jim Crane, the Houston shipping magnate who was, at one point, considered the leading contender to buy the Rangers late last year. Crane, after all, reportedly had the highest offer of the three groups that submitted two rounds of proposals to Hicks Sports Group at the end of 2009. But in the end, Hicks went with Greenberg's group in a deal formally announced January 23.
"Together, we have worked exhaustively since last month to attain this agreement," Hicks said in a press release at the time. "It's a complex business deal that positions the franchise positively for the future."
The complex, clearly, has crumbled. Sources say that Crane's offer will allow Hicks to keep the $30 million his creditors -- chief among them Monarch Alternative Capital, which has threatened a bankruptcy filing if it doesn't get the money it's owed -- want out of the deal. As Bloomberg reported a week ago, "less than half of about $570 million in sale proceeds would go to the group owed for loans." Sources also indicate there may be a potential deadline fast approaching that would kill the Greenberg deal if the lenders don't sign off by then.
The extent of Hicks and Crane's conversations, as well as those between the Rangers' owner and Monarch, remain unclear. Lisa LeMaster, Hicks's spokesperson, has not returned calls, and efforts this evening to reach Crane -- and Greenberg, for that matter -- were unsuccessful.
But if Hicks does intend to pursue a deal with Crane, he'll run into two major problems.
First, as Major League Baseball reminded in its statement issued last night, the league, not Tom Hicks, is in control of the sale -- and it has been ever since June, when MLB loaned the Texas Rangers up to $50 million to cover payroll and other day-to-day expenses and obligations. (Initial reports of a $15-million loan failed to mention that the first payment was just the beginning of several installments doled out throughout last season.)
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The other issue: Major League Baseball will, more than likely, never approve of a sale to Crane -- which may be why Hicks ultimately chose Greenberg in the first place, despite his lower bid. Sources say MLB owners still hold a grudge against Crane for what he did to Houston Astros owner Drayton McLane: In the summer of '08, Crane approached McLane -- who is "beloved" by his fellow team owners, says one source -- about buying the Astros, only to back out at the last minute.
"He called one day and said he was no longer interested in buying the Astros," McLane told the Houston Chronicle last December. "In a lot of ways, I was relieved."
Hicks's meddling in the sale has infuriated MLB, as evidenced by its statement, which said, "Any deviation from or interference with the agreed upon sale process by Mr. Hicks or any other party, or any actions in violation of MLB rules or directives will be dealt with appropriately by the Commissioner."
The league will not comment on what kind of "appropriate" action it's referring to. But its message is clear: Commissioner Bud Selig wants Greenberg and Ryan to own the team, and he will not allow Hicks to go behind the league's back to negotiate with Crane (or any other would-be buyer) and the lenders delaying the deal from getting done.