Nolan Ryan group wins Rangers auction

FORT WORTH, Texas -- An investment group led by Hall of Fame pitcher and Texas Rangers president Nolan Ryan won a contentious and unusual auction for the team early Thursday, beating back a nearly $600 million offer from outspoken Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban.

Officials in federal bankruptcy court announced the winning bid to cheers and a standing ovation in the packed courtroom, shortly before 1 a.m. CT and some 10 hours after the auction began.

The group led by Ryan and Pittsburgh sports attorney Chuck Greenberg had Major League Baseball's endorsement, and its final $593 million offer included $385 million in cash. The final hearing on the team's bankruptcy plan was scheduled for later Thursday.

"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."

Final approval of the Rangers sale rests with MLB, which had the option of choosing the second-highest bid instead. But it didn't come to that.

Said league president Bob DuPuy outside the courtroom: "I'm very pleased, and I look forward to Chuck Greenberg and Nolan Ryan leading the team for many years to come."

Cuban also was smiling after the auction, despite losing. His group, which included Houston businessman Jim Crane, decided against making another bid after reaching a predetermined limit. Cuban, who also looked into buying the Chicago Cubs last year, said he wanted to buy the team but had no hard feelings afterward.

"I wish them the best," he said after shaking hands with Greenberg, Ryan and their attorneys. "They deserve all the credit in the world, and I wish them complete success," Cuban said.

"We had our price we were willing to go up to, and their last bid pushed us to our limit. We couldn't bid again without going over our price."

A short time later, Greenberg was in a nearby parking lot, happily raising a champagne toast with colleagues.

The winning bid was made just after midnight. 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 are structured; it included a $10 million to $13 million breakup fee that would have been paid to the Greenberg-Ryan group if it lost.

The winning bid came through as the AL West-leading Rangers were in the midst of defeating the Mariners 11-6 in Seattle. The team's reactions to the news that Ryan and Greenberg would be the new owners were positive.

"I think it's a great thing for the Texas Rangers organization," manager Ron Washington said. "Those guys work awfully hard and they are committed and dedicated, and I'm glad it worked out for them and for us."

"It was a big day on and off the field for the Rangers," said Michael Young, whose seventh-inning grand slam put the game out of reach.

Each group's bid included more than $200 million of the team's debt -- including $24.9 million in deferred compensation owed to Alex Rodriguez six years after he was traded to the New York Yankees.

The Greenberg-Ryan group had the starting bid -- about $520 million -- because it was named as the team's buyer months ago, before the deal was put in limbo by angry creditors and then by the team's May filing for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection.

The stop-and-start showdown was delayed for hours at a time Wednesday by closed-door haggling over the complicated nature of each bid. The bidding picked up and the courtroom grew more crowded as the night wore on, with attorneys and even fans crammed on the wooden benches or standing along the walls.

The auction started Wednesday afternoon, six hours late, at which time Rangers attorney Martin Sosland said the bid by Cuban's group was about $25 million more than the bid submitted by the Greenberg-Ryan group. Later, Greenberg-Ryan offered $2 million more than Cuban's group, which then upped the ante by $15 million -- to about $335 million as the cash portion of the total offer.

After approximately 20 minutes of heated debate about the Cuban group's bid in the courtroom, Lou Strubeck, attorney for chief restructuring officer William Snyder, and Greenberg-Ryan group attorney Thomas Lauria exchanged profanities in the hall of the courthouse.

After a Greenberg-Ryan attorney unsuccessfully tried to stop the auction and said the process was unfair, the group bounced back with a $365 million bid that also dropped provisions worth $12 million. That beat the $355 million cash bid from the Cuban-Crane group.

During lengthy breaks, attorneys scurried back and forth between small rooms set aside for the team, creditors and each bidder. Reporters and courtroom spectators wandered the hallways, and at one point, 10 pizzas and a case of bottled water and soft drinks were delivered to Cuban's camp.

Earlier, Ryan signed autographs for some fans, many of whom said they arrived after work to take in the action -- only to end up sitting for hours on the courtroom benches.

The snail's pace auction, which included tense exchanges and even yelling between the attorneys, was the latest twist 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.

According to the team's bankruptcy plan, creditors will get only about $75 million from the team, no matter who ends up buying it. 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.

Information from ESPNDallas.com's Jim Reeves and Richard Durrett and The Associated Press was used in this report.