The Texas Rangers are getting closer to getting out of federal bankruptcy protection.
Just a few hours after a marathon auction of the team, a hearing began Thursday to go over the team's bankruptcy plan. If a judge signs off as expected, it will clear the way for Major League Baseball to formally approve a group led by Hall of Fame pitcher and Rangers president Nolan Ryan as the team's new owner next week.
The court-appointed restructuring officer is backing the plan after earlier objections. And creditors who had stalled the sale said they no longer oppose the plan because the auction resulted in a higher price for the Rangers.
"I was wrong," said Andrew Leblanc, an attorney for some of the top creditors. "I've never been happier to say I was wrong."
Just after midnight, the group led by Ryan and sports attorney Chuck Greenberg won a showdown with Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban for the AL West-leading Rangers. Court documents say the winning bid is valued at $590 million.
Cuban and Houston businessman Jim Crane's bid was valued at $581 million, discounted some $17 million because of deductions and a breakup fee of $10 million to $13 million that would have gone to Greenberg-Ryan had they lost.
Some of 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, his best moment yet may have come in the federal courthouse in Fort Worth after an auction spanning 10 hours. When Ryan's group was announced as the winning bidder, the packed courtroom erupted in cheers and a standing ovation.
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. "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. He testified calmly that the team should exit bankruptcy quickly so it has enough money to keep star players and land new talent.
The Rangers haven't made the playoffs since 1999 and the ownership situation has been closely followed by the players as well as those in the front office.
The much-anticipated auction started Wednesday afternoon. The stop-and-start showdown was delayed for hours by closed-door haggling over the complicated nature of each bid, but it heated up at night, with competing bids and tense exchanges among the attorneys. Finally, just before 1 a.m., Crane shook Ryan's hand in the corridor and said his group was dropping out after reaching a predetermined limit.
Despite losing, Cuban was smiling after the auction. After making an unsuccessful bid for the Chicago Cubs last year, he said he remains an enthusiastic fan of the Rangers — and of Ryan, the native Texan who starred with the Astros and now has banking and ranching interests.
"I wish them the best," Cuban said before ducking out a back door so the attention would remain focused on Greenberg and Ryan, adding, "It's their moment."
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?"