FORT WORTH, Texas (AP) Some of Nolan Ryan’s best moments occurred in a Texas Rangers uniform: turning the struggling franchise around after he was brought in as a free agent in 1988, his 5,000th strikeout and his 300th victory.
But 17 years after retiring and two years after becoming the team president, the Hall of Fame pitcher’s best moment yet may have been in a federal courthouse, where he won the team early Thursday in a contentious and unusual auction spanning 10 hours.
When Ryan’s group was announced as the winning bidder, the packed courtroom erupted in cheers and a standing ovation.
Ryan and his business partner, sports attorney Chuck Greenberg, won the team with a $593 million bid, including $385 in cash, surviving the fierce bidding war with a group led by billionaire Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban and Houston businessman Jim Crane.
The Greenberg-Ryan group had Major League Baseball’s endorsement since being named the new team owners after last year’s original sale process. But the deal was stalled by angry creditors – and then unexpectedly put in limbo by the team’s May bankruptcy filing.
“It was an emotional roller-coaster,” a smiling Ryan said between hugs with colleagues and well-wishers in the courthouse. “You go to court one day and it didn’t go your way, but you go back another day and it would. It’s a relief.”
In the middle of the Rangers’ best season in years, Ryan attended nearly every bankruptcy hearing the past two months, wearing a suit and tie while sitting quietly in the courtroom. Last month the star was called to the witness stand, where he told the judge that the team should exit bankruptcy quickly so it would have enough money to keep star players and acquire new talent.
The much-anticipated auction started Wednesday afternoon, with the announcement that the Cuban-Crane bid was about $25 million more than the Greenberg-Ryan group’s offer, which was the starting bid. The stop-and-start showdown was delayed for hours by closed-door haggling over the complicated nature of each bid.
But bidding heated up late Wednesday and included tense exchanges and even yelling between the attorneys before Crane, during a break after midnight, shook Ryan’s hand in the corridor and said his group was dropping out.
The confirmation hearing on the team’s bankruptcy plan was scheduled for later Thursday, bringing an end to one of the most contentious sales of an American professional sports team.
Final approval of the Rangers sale rests with MLB, which is expected to wholeheartedly approve the deal next week before the Greenberg-Ryan group’s funding guarantee expires Aug. 12.
Despite losing, Cuban was smiling after the auction. His group dropped out of bidding after reaching a predetermined limit. Cuban, who also made an unsuccessful bid for the Chicago Cubs last year, said he wanted to buy the Rangers but remains an enthusiastic fan of the team – and of Ryan.
“I wish them the best,” Cuban said, later ducking out a back door so television cameras and photographers would remain focused on Greenberg and Ryan, adding, “It’s their moment.”
Although the Cuban-Crane group had made a $390 million cash offer, part of a $598 million bid, the Greenberg-Ryan bid was considered higher because of how the bids were structured.
Each group’s bid included $208 million of team debt – including $24.9 million in deferred compensation owed to Alex Rodriguez six years after he was traded to the New York Yankees.
Top creditors will only get about $75 million from the team. But the judge has said lenders, who are owed about $525 million after team owner Tom Hicks’ financially strapped ownership group defaulted on loans, can go after Hicks’ other companies.
The auction had been the talk of the team Wednesday in Seattle, where the Rangers beat the Mariners 11-6. The players learned of the auction’s outcome about 15 minutes after the game, and a clubhouse shout of “We have an owner!” drowned out another yell of “Aw, sweet!” from across the room.
“Ever since Nolan’s been part of our franchise, we’ve gone nowhere but up,” said David Murphy, who hit the go-ahead, three-run homer – but only wanted to talk about the new owner. “He’s not just a native Texan, a guy who is obviously very, very respected and admired in the state of Texas, but nationally he is one of the best pitchers ever. He’s one of the most respected players ever.
“Of course we want a guy like that as our owner. In the end, we wanted the best group to represent us. Obviously, how could you not want a group with Nolan Ryan in it?”
AP Sports Writer Gregg Bell in Seattle contributed to this report.
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