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October 30, 2009 5:10 PM

The Nolan Ryan Chronicles: A Big Firm Look at Sports and the Law

Posted by Zach Lowe

The Texas Rangers are for sale, and an Am Law 200 lawyer is leading one of the three finalists to purchase a controlling stake in the team from its cash-strapped owner, according to the Associated Press.

The lawyer in question: Charles "Chuck" Greenberg, a partner in the Pittsburgh office of Pepper Hamilton. Greenberg has had an unusual career, to say the least. Greenberg, who grew up in Pittsburgh, has played a role in several landmark Pennsylvania sports-related deals, including representing Pittsburgh Penguins legend Mario Lemieux in a deal through which Super Mario and his investment team bought the Penguins out of bankruptcy in 1999. Greenberg also represented the buyers who purchased the Florida Panthers hockey team in 2001. 

But there are lots of M&A lawyers who dabble in sports. What separates Greenberg from the pack is that he decided to become part owner of three minor league baseball teams: the Altoona Curve in Altoona, Pa., a minor league affiliate of the Pittsburgh Pirates; the State College Spikes, an affiliate of the St. Louis Cardinals; and the Myrtle Beach Pelicans, an affiliate of the Atlanta Braves. Greenberg is now the president and managing partner of all three teams.

He declined to comment on the Rangers situation, since the talks are very much ongoing. (The other two groups of finalists are headed up by Dennis Gilbert, a former sports agent and currently an advisor to the Chicago White Sox, and Jim Crane, a Houston businessman, according to the AP). 

Some interesting legal tidbits. A source familiar with the matter tells us Weil, Gotshal and Manges is representing Tom Hicks, head of the Hicks Sports Group and current owner of the Rangers. A spokesperson for Hicks did not immediately return a message seeking comment; a Weil spokeswoman was not immediately available for comment.

Another interesting tidbit: The same source tells us Greenberg's lead counsel is Mary K. Braza, a partner at Foley & Lardner who also represented the bid team that wound up winning the battle for the Chicago Cubs earlier this year. This is interesting because Braza is longtime outside counsel to Major League Baseball and MLB Commissioner Bud Selig, the latter of which would be intimately involved in the approval of any new team owner. (Three-quarters of MLB owners have to approve the sale of a club to a new owner.)

Braza has represented MLB and the Commissioner's office in several high-profile matters, including the potential contraction of the Montreal Expos franchise, the defense of MLB's landmark antitrust exemption, and television rights disputes, according to her bio. We emailed Braza to ask how she juggles representing potential new owners and MLB, but she hasn't responded yet to our inquiry. We reached out to two MLB spokesmen, but they were traveling to Philadelphia for the World Series and were not immediately available. (Side note: Go Phillies!)

We'll let you know more next week. 

Also in the world of sports law:

• The National Basketball Association has once again reached out to Wachtell, Lipton, Rosen & Katz partner Lawrence Pedowitz to conduct an internal investigation related to Tim Donaghy, the infamous former NBA referee who gambled on NBA games and is serving a 15-month prison sentence after pleading guilty to providing gamblers with inside information. Pedowitz previously led a team of Wachtell lawyers in a separate internal probe of the NBA's referee system in 2007, according to this piece from our colleague Brian Baxter. The Wachtell team ended up billing the NBA more than $760,000 for the investigation, which involved interviewing 57 NBA officials and concluded that Donaghy's wrongdoing represented an isolated aberration. Pedowitz billed $875 per hour in that investigation, court records show.

Well, now Donaghy has written a book called "Blowing the Whistle," in which he attempts to expose what he portrays as a culture of corruption and conspiracy among the league and its officials. The book does not have a publisher after a Random House Publishing imprint backed away at the last minute; the NBA and Random House have both denied earlier claims from a Donaghy associate that the publisher dropped the book after the NBA threatened a lawsuit. 

In any case, you can read several excerpts of the book at the popular sports blog Deadspin. Among other things, Donaghy writes that referees made friendly bets among themselves to see how long they could go without calling a foul or who could be the first to whistle an unpopular player for a technical foul. (The loser would often have to pay the group's tip to their locker room attendant; coincidence or not, the NBA banned tipping referee locker room attendants the day after Deadspin ran the leaked book excerpts. The league denied any connection between the new ban and Donaghy's book, according to ESPN.com.)

Of more pressing importance to the league: Donaghy's allegations that the NBA conspires with certain officials to help more popular and ratings-friendly teams, especially the Los Angeles Lakers, advance in the playoffs. The league has long denied such allegations and has pointed out that Donaghy's credibility is--to put it kindly, perhaps--questionable. 

Pedowitz did not immediately respond to a message seeking comment.

• Finally, one entry in the debate over whether athletes are really more likely to commit crimes than the average citizens. Read and judge for yourselves.

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