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September 8, 2010 2:56 PM

Foley Lawyers Talk About Rangers Deal, 'Noogie' Anniversary

Posted by Brian Baxter

UPDATE: 9/13/10, 10:15 a.m. The Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel has more on Foley & Lardner's efforts in brokering a sale of the Texas Rangers.

We've described some of the drama surrounding the Texas Rangers's epic bankruptcy battle, which finally ended in August. But it wasn't until we read this new account by the Wisconsin Law Journal that we learned a key rallying point for the Foley & Lardner lawyers advising Reed Smith counsel Charles Greenberg on his successful acquisition of the team was the anniversary of a famous baseball brawl.

Foley sports industry chair Mary Braza and corporate partner Kevin Schulz in Milwaukee shared that detail and more with the WLJ, offering a peek into their contentious negotiations over the future ownership of the franchise as the bankruptcy proceedings came to a head over the summer.

As previously reported by The Am Law Daily, the Rangers emerged from bankruptcy in early August, a little more than two months after entering Chapter 11 in Fort Worth as a means of expediting a sale to a group led by Greenberg and Rangers president Nolan Ryan. But a quick sale of the franchise was complicated by the objections of creditors to deal terms. (Click here for a list of just some of the firms that landed roles on the team's adventures in bankruptcy court.)

Braza, a longtime legal adviser to Major League Baseball who has also handled (along with Schulz) the sales of the Chicago Cubs in 2009 and Milwaukee Brewers in 2005, told the WLJ that she was confident the Rangers deal would be just another sports transaction.

But from the time Braza, Schulz, sports industry vice-chair Irwin Raij, and corporate partner Patrick Quick began leading an eight-office, 35-lawyer team from the firm advising Greenberg and his group around Labor Day 2009, the WLJ reports that the proposed Rangers sale threw more than a few legal curveballs at its external advisers. "It was difficult to imagine anything getting dicier than the Cubs transaction," Schulz told the WLJ. "It's not something we were looking for, but it's just the way the deal evolved."

What started as a competitive bidding process earlier this year between rival ownership groups eventually concluded with a court-ordered bankruptcy auction that ended with MLB's approval of the $593 million sale to Ryan and Greenberg.

As the WLJ reports, it just so happened that the Aug. 4 auction date also served as the seventeenth anniversary of Ryan's famous on-field fisticuffs with former Chicago White Sox third basemen Robin Ventura. A 46-year-old Ryan was pitching for the Rangers at the time, and after being hit with a pitch, Ventura, 20 years his junior, made the ill-advised decision to charge the mound. Ryan promptly put the young whippersnapper in a headlock, landing several punches to the top of his head that have been memorialized as "noogies" in baseball lore.

The story of that brawl galvanized the Foley team representing Greenberg. "That had become sort of a rallying point for us," Braza told the WLJ. "We found some significance around that date and thought we're going to use this."

At one point in the team's Chapter 11 proceedings, Greenberg, who recently defected from Pepper Hamilton to Reed Smith, estimated that the legal bills for his efforts to acquire the team had risen to nearly $10 million. And that was before the marathon, late-night auction concluded that put the Rangers in Greenberg's and Ryan's grasp.

White & Case global financial restructuring and insolvency chair Thomas Lauria, who advised Greenberg in bankruptcy hearings, told USA Today last month that as much as $1 million in legal fees could have been racked up on that last day alone.

While Braza said she couldn't remember another transaction being as complicated, she and Schulz told the WLJ they would welcome a similar challenge in the future.

"There wasn't a lot of precedent for something like this," she said. "But now I think we feel like there isn't much we haven't seen."

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