SURPRISE, Ariz. -- Rangers owner Tom Hicks is attempting to sell a minority share of up to 49 percent of the ballclub he purchased in 1998, he said on Tuesday at the team's Spring Training complex.Merrill Lynch, the international investment banking firm, which became a unit of Bank of America last year, has been hired to sell minority shares of the team either in whole or part, two baseball sources said. The Rangers were born as the expansion Washington Senators in 1961 and moved to Arlington a decade later. Hicks also owns the National Hockey League's Dallas Stars, 50 percent of American Airlines Center, where the Stars play, and 50 percent of Liverpool Football Club, an English Premier League soccer team. Hicks said he's trying to sell minority shares of the Stars as well. "I've been quietly looking for minority investors to come back into the ownership of the Rangers as a way to be prudent in a bad economy," Hicks said. "I'm doing the same thing with the Stars. At the end of the day, I'll still have 51-to-60 percent of the ballclub and have new partners. That doesn't change anything. "I own 95 percent of the Rangers. I started out owning 55 percent and over the past 10 years I've been slowly buying out partners that wanted to sell. There's no reason to own 95 percent. There aren't many owners who own 95 percent." A venture capitalist, Hicks owns Liverpool FC with George Gillett, the owner of the NHL's Montreal Canadiens, and reports have circulated for months that the soccer franchise is on the market. It was reported recently that Gillett is trying to sell the Canadiens. Two other Major League Baseball franchises are currently also for sale, either in whole or part -- the Cubs and the Padres. Tribune Co. is in the process of selling the Cubs to Tom Ricketts, and former Diamondbacks general partner Jeff Moorad has a deal to join the Padres as a one-third minority partner with the intent of buying out John and Becky Moores within three to five years. Both sales are projected to be closed on or around Opening Day, which is less than two weeks away. Hicks purchased the Rangers on Jan. 7, 1998, for $250 million from a group headed by future U.S. president George W. Bush, and under Hicks' ownership, the club immediately captured consecutive American League West titles, winning a franchise-record 95 games in 1999. But the Rangers/Senators have never been to the AL Championship Series, let alone the World Series. This past April, Forbes Magazine valued the Rangers at $412 million, 16th among the 30 Major League teams. Hicks poured money into the Stars, which he bought in 1996 for $84 million, and won the Stanley Cup with that team in 1999. But his attempts at similarly rebuilding the Rangers fell short after he signed Alex Rodriguez to a then-record 10-year, $252 million contract prior to the 2001 season. Though A-Rod was the AL MVP in 2003, the Rangers had three losing seasons with him and Hicks decided he needed to unload the contract. That offseason, Rodriguez was traded to the Yankees, and the Rangers responded by enjoying an 89-win, third-place 2004 season. But they haven't been above .500 in the four seasons since. This past season, they finished in second place at 79-83, but a distant 21 games behind the division-winning Angels. Prior to last season, Hicks handed the presidency of the club over to Hall of Fame pitcher Nolan Ryan, a former Ranger who is trying to bulk up the pitching staff and instill an old-school philosophy in the Minor League organization by banning pitch counts on young hurlers. Hicks, who has been seeking partners since the economy went into a downturn, said Ryan is a prospective shareholder. "It's better to have partners and have more community support," Hicks said. "It's a way to get the local community involved, increase sponsorship and it's good for the team."
Barry M. Bloom is a national reporter for MLB.com. MLB.com reporter T.R. Sullivan contributed. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.