Published: Aug 03, 2010 10:56 PM EDT
Updated: Aug 04, 2010 4:31 AM EDT

FORT WORTH, Texas (AP) — The Texas Rangers will go on the auction block in federal bankruptcy court Wednesday, the most dramatic chapter 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 Orioles in 1993.

The bidding will pit Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban against MLB's favored bidder, a team led by Rangers president Nolan Ryan and Pittsburgh sports attorney Chuck Greenberg.

Cuban's group, which includes Houston businessman Jim Crane, was the only bid submitted by Tuesday night's deadline, the court-appointed restructuring officer, William K. Snyder, said in an e-mail to The Associated Press. Snyder did not reveal the amount of the bid but said he and team attorneys were reviewing it to make sure it meets certain qualifications.

For starters, the bid must be at least $15 million higher than $306.7 million, the cash portion of Greenberg-Ryan offer that totals about $520 million for the team. Crane, who made an unsuccessful bid during last year's original bidding process, opted to join Cuban's group instead of submitting his own offer.

Dallas businessman Jeff Beck had been pre-qualified by MLB to participate in the auction, but his attorney had not attended recent meetings or hearings. Fox, a unit of Rupert Murdoch's News Corp., said Tuesday it did not plan to bid after speculation it wanted to firm up its hold on Rangers' TV rights through Fox Sports Southwest.

Whatever the auction's outcome, final approval of the sale rests with Major League Baseball. A league official, speaking on the condition of anonymity, told the AP on Tuesday that MLB intends to work with the winning bidder — although it has the option of choosing the second-highest bid.

Outside experts say "astronomical" bids are unlikely. Cuban was ready to pay 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 is an absolutely brilliant businessman who has shown he'll do anything for his players," 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."

If Cuban is the winning bidder, Ryan would most likely exit the team — so Cuban and his investors had to consider how to continue the Rangers' on-field success, McDonnell said.

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."

That group has the endorsement of some community leaders who clearly want Hall of Famer Ryan in place to keep drawing fans and steering a team that's now leading the AL West.

"Nolan exceeded our expectations on the mound. He has exceeded our expectations as president of the team. Now, we as fans are even more hopeful for the future if Nolan's group takes ownership of the Texas Rangers," Fort Worth Mayor Mike Moncrief said Monday, echoing the comments of Arlington Mayor Robert Cluck, whose city is home to Rangers Stadium.

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. Angry creditors have accused the Rangers of bankruptcy code violations, and at one point the court-appointed restructuring officer was negotiating with Crane to make his offer the starting bid — which never materialized.

The judge has said creditors will only get $75 million from the team but they can go after Hicks' other companies. The unsecured creditors are expected to be paid the full $204 million owned to them — including Alex Rodriguez, who is owed $24.9 million in deferred compensation six years after he was traded to the New York Yankees.

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AP Sports Writer Ron Blum in New York contributed to this story.