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Liverpool sale shuts another sports door for Hicks, 1st Ld-Writethru, SOC

A decade after his epic signing of Alex Rodriguez, Tom Hicks is one sale away from becoming a former pro sports owner — probably for good.

The date of that record-breaking $252 million contract between Rodriguez and Major League Baseball's Texas Rangers — Dec. 11, 2000 — is noteworthy because it is widely viewed as the moment Hicks began to slide from the perch of popular owner with a golden touch to a man reviled on two continents by fans who couldn't wait for his tenure to end.

Two months ago, Rangers fans celebrated a bankruptcy auction that ended with new owners. And Friday, supporters of the famed English soccer club Liverpool were doing the same thing after the rocky three-year tenure of Hicks and co-owner George Gillett Jr. concluded with a contested sale to the owners of the Boston Red Sox.

Debt approaching $900 million forced the two sales and has played a role in Hicks putting his remaining pro sports franchise — the NHL's Dallas Stars — up for sale. The Rangers were caught in a messy bankruptcy while trying to make the playoffs, so fans blamed Hicks for the distraction. Liverpool followers see a legacy of broken promises for a franchise that is off to its worst start in more than 50 years.

Hicks didn't exactly vanish Friday, calling the Liverpool sale an "extraordinary swindle." Hicks even said there was "a conspiracy of the British establishment" that included his own "highly compensated employees."

Former Hicks executives see a man troubled by the way fans perceive him, but ready to leave the public eye and return to the world of obscure leveraged buyouts that made him rich.

"Tom's a pretty resolute guy," said Michael Cramer, who served under Hicks in roles with the Rangers and Stars. "Tom is going to look to the future. You can't let what happened yesterday impact you in business or things will pass you by."

Liverpool fans are so upset with Hicks, four of them showed up in downtown Dallas for a 7 a.m. hearing on the Liverpool case Friday. They stuck around even after learning that the outcome of the hearing was predetermined — in their favor.

"I just wanted to be down here," said Rob Ashfield, a Liverpool season ticket holder who has lived in the Dallas area the past 12 years. "They promised a new stadium. They promised spending on the team. And they have not done it."

Hicks has a mixed legacy among his American fan base. He helped finance, along with Dallas Mavericks owners, a new arena now considered one of the best in both leagues, and the Stars were a strong playoff team for most of his first decade as owner.

Hicks hired Rangers president Nolan Ryan and made Jon Daniels the youngest general manager in baseball. Together, they committed to a rebuilding plan that bore fruit this year, but money problems with Hicks' sports entities left Major League Baseball in charge of many financial decisions in the year before the sale was completed. Now Ryan is one of the owners, a move Hicks applauded when it happened back in August.

"Once you get past some of the more recent occurrences and look more at the body of work, I think it's generally positive," said Jeff Cogen, another former Hicks executive with his Texas teams. "His intentions were always pure and positive. To the extent that there were mistakes, they were errors of aggression, not omission."