FORT WORTH, Texas – The Texas Rangers auction was delayed a couple of hours Wednesday as officials in the team's bankruptcy case determined which of the two bids is higher.
U.S. Bankruptcy Judge Russell Nelms said the bidding cannot start until the highest offer is revealed. Nelms said attorneys for the team and the court-appointed restructuring officer had determined that there were two qualified bids but did not yet know which was higher.
The auction pits a group led by outspoken Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban and Houston businessman Jim Crane against a group led by Hall of Fame pitcher Nolan Ryan and Pittsburgh sports attorney Chuck Greenberg. The Greenberg-Ryan group, Major League Baseball's preferred buyer, has the base bid because it was named as the team's buyer months ago, before the deal was stalled by creditors.
Before the judge's announcement Wednesday, Louis Strubeck, the restructuring officer's attorney, told The Associated Press that lawyers were still trying to determine if the Cuban-Crane bid was qualified.
The terms of the Cuban-Crane offer will be revealed in court, but the bid must be at least $15 million higher than $306.7 million, the cash portion of the Greenberg-Ryan offer. The offers will not be identical, so their values will be based on which assets and liabilities are included in each bid.
Early Wednesday, the Greenberg-Ryan group said it had removed a $70 million side deal to buy stadium parking lots because those are not part of the team's assets. The group said it wanted to ensure a "level playing field" at the auction. That did not change the group's $520 million bid for the team.
The auction in federal bankruptcy court is the most dramatic development yet in one of the most contentious sales of an American professional sports team. The last Major League Baseball team to be auctioned off in such a way was the Baltimore Orioles in 1993.
The courthouse in downtown Fort Worth was abuzz Wednesday. Cuban, Ryan and team owner Tom Hicks arrived separately to hordes of television cameras on the usually quiet and deserted sidewalk.
Final approval of the Rangers sale rests with MLB, which has the option of choosing the second-highest bid instead.
The league intends to work with the winning bidder, a league official told The AP, speaking on the condition of anonymity.
Crane reportedly had the highest bid during the Rangers' original sale process last year, but MLB was hesitant since his deal to buy the Houston Astros in 2008 fell through. Cuban got negative feedback from MLB when he was ready to pony up more than $1 billion for the Chicago Cubs, which wound up briefly in bankruptcy before Tribune Co. sold the team to the Ricketts family last year.
"Mark Cuban could take the Rangers to the next level, but Major League Baseball has been wary of his personality. It would not surprise me if he would be highly critical of umpires or disagree with (commissioner) Bud Selig and maybe side with the players' association," said Wayne McDonnell, a professor at New York University's Tisch Center for Hospitality, Tourism and Sports Management. "He's a bit of a wild card and very different from the good ol' boys network in baseball, but he has a burning desire for victory and the financial wherewithal to buy the Rangers and increase their value."
The Greenberg-Ryan group still has a good chance at the auction, McDonnell said, "because they've been in this process the longest, and their persistence and perseverance could pay off."
The Greenberg-Ryan group was announced as the new buyer in January, but the sale was stalled by angry creditors who said other bids were higher. Lenders feared they would not be repaid the $525 million in loans that team owner Tom Hicks' sports group defaulted on.
Hoping to push through the sale to the Greenberg-Ryan group, the Rangers filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in May. Since then, the case has been anything but smooth or predictable, and the auction was among many unpleasant surprises for the team.
The judge has said creditors will only get $75 million from the team but they can go after Hicks' other companies. Unsecured creditors are expected to be paid the full $204 million owed to them — including Alex Rodriguez, who's owed $24.9 million in deferred compensation six years after he was traded to the New York Yankees.
AP Sports Writer Ronald Blum in New York contributed to this story.