Tom Hicks, who is a few months away from officially selling the Texas Rangers to a group led by Chuck Greenberg and Nolan Ryan, talked to ESPN Dallas on Friday before heading to Europe on business with his Liverpool Football Club.
Hicks reflected on his years as Rangers owner, dating back to the 1998 AL West championship in his first season with the club. He acknowledged mistakes along the way but said he feels he's left the franchise in good shape and in position to win in the future.
Here is some of what Hicks had to say:
Q: What are some of your fondest memories as owner of the team?
A: The first champagne bath the first year I owned the team. That was special, and I've got pictures of it that remind me of it. I honestly believe there was a good chance in 1999 that we'd follow up our Stanley Cup [Hicks also owns the Dallas Stars] with a chance to win the World Series. We ran into a buzz saw in the Yankees, and that was probably the best Yankee team in the last 30 years.
”-- Tom Hicks, on his worst decision as Rangers owner
Going to Opening Day with my family and friends was fun. It's like a national holiday in that it's a slice of Americana. All 30 teams think they have a chance to win, and in 15 ballparks it's pretty exciting. When we open at home, I think that's one of the special days. I always enjoyed spring training and taking my family there and watching them shag balls in the outfield during batting practice. It was nice to teach my daughter, who's 16 now, about baseball. I remember a lot of decisions, too, but it's the family aspect that sticks with me.
Q: What were your best decisions you made for the business and the team?
A: Putting the two teams together, we were able to make a really attractive local television contact with Fox that gave us a revenue boost particularly in the early years. That was smart to have two teams that way.
I'm impatient by nature and I want to win by nature, and I think I learned the hard way that there are no shortcuts in baseball. I think about five or six years ago we started a direction that's the plan that JD [Jon Daniels] and Nolan will carry forward, and Chuck buys in as well. You have to develop your own players, particularly when you're not in a market like New York or Boston or L.A.
John Hart should get a lot of credit for coming up with the plan. JD has taken it to a level of commitment that the organization is 100 percent behind. You see it in our rankings of our minor league system. I think we'll be a contender this year. Hiring Nolan was a good decision. It was perfect timing. He was unable and unwilling to commit the time before he did it. It was the right timing for him and the Rangers organization.
Q: What was your worst decision?
A: In hindsight, it was trying to jam in A-Rod and Juan Gonzalez and Chan Ho Park and three overpaid bullpen pieces in one year to try and win it all. It was a painful lesson. I never did that again.
Q: Talk about your decision to sell the team and not take an active role going forward.
A: It's bittersweet to be looking forward to having a small involvement. I'm looking forward to being a fan. My family is looking forward to being fans. I'm glad to step out of the media limelight. But it was tough because I really wanted to have an active role.
Chuck presented me with the opportunity to take larger cash notes and value for the real estate and a smaller role in the team. I looked at it from the standpoint of my family's future. I'm still going to be a Ranger fan. The realization that I was no longer going to be able to be as active as I wanted to be is just a smart business decision to take the money.
I've got a suite for my family and seats down low, and I'm going to be out there cheering.
The important thing is, assuming the Greenberg group is able to finalize all their financing, which I'm confident they will and the league is confident they will, is that it's a good outcome for the Texas Rangers. It assures we stay on course. Nolan is committed to staying on that path philosophically. I think he feels that we had a great offseason, and I agree with him. It's the first time in a long time we can start a season and believe we can be a serious candidate to be a contender.
Q: How close did you come to getting your own group of investors to buy the team?
A: I exhausted every possibility. I worked hard on it for two years. This has been a long process. Like a lot of companies in this economy, HSG [Hicks Sports Group] got overleveraged and when the world changed, this was the only answer. It's now behind us.
Q: Talk about your decision to promote Jon Daniels when you did, making him the youngest GM in baseball at that time.
A: I'm very proud of that decision. I think JD deserved it. What the fans may not appreciate is that we were already well under way on the plan. To hire a new GM to start all over, I didn't want to take that risk. Even though he was young, I knew he was one of the smartest guys in baseball. He didn't have baseball experience. A couple of mulligans that Jon would like to have to do some decisions differently wouldn't have happened had Nolan been there. But the two are a great duo.
[Former GM] John Hart had gotten to the point where he had such success at Cleveland and had never faced criticism the way he faced it in this market. He found it unpleasant. He avoided it, and guess who got it? It was time to have him do something different in baseball. John has been a very close adviser, a lot closer than people realize, to JD and to me. His fingerprints are still on this organization. John did some good things for the Rangers. It was not the same situation in Cleveland. He built that team from scratch like we're doing now. I had him try to execute a shortcut, and it didn't work.
Q: What was it about the Greenberg-Ryan group that made them the winning bidders?
A: I think both I and Major League Baseball felt they would be really good for keeping the momentum of the team with our fans. I think baseball is a sleeping giant in North Texas. We're the only large market team that doesn't regularly draw 3 million a year. We should and I think we will because this community is all about winning. When we start winning, I think the Ranger fans will be very supportive. I think Nolan plays a very important part of maintaining the credibility of fans. People trust him and respect him and give him the benefit of the doubt.
Q: Will you still be at games and spring training?
A: Yes. I'm still the owner. I think it [final approval] won't happen before Opening Day. I've got a suite for my family and seats down low, and I'm going to be out there cheering.
Q: What kind of general managing partner do you think Chuck Greenberg will be?
A: I think he's got tremendous enthusiasm and will share that with the organization and with the fans. I think he will do a great job of selling tickets and sponsorships and all the things you have to have to drive the business. He will allow Nolan to do what he needs to do. I think they'll stay on course. I feel very proud of where I'm leaving my control ownership of this organization. We're poised to be a contender for many years to come.
Q: Will the Stars be impacted by this sale?
A: No, because they were separated from the Rangers. We separated the two teams financially last summer. We would intermix funds, and we've physically separated that process. So no impact on the Stars.