Gravypan's take on Tom Hicks

Yesterday, news that the holding company of the Dallas Stars and Texas Rangers defaulted on $525 million in loans once again brought Tom Hicks into the limelight for reasons he'd rather not be in them in.

One that is very familiar to Hicks given the strong feelings that fans, around here and across the pond, have about him. Unlike polarizing owners like Mark Cuban or Jerry Jones, Hicks seems to elicit one kind of feeling from Dallas sports fans, primarily because of his stewardship of the Texas Rangers. Liverpudlians (at least the ones who support LFC) have taken that feeling and amplified it at least two fold.

I'm in the unique position of being a fan of all three teams that Hicks has an ownership in.

Ironically enough, I have three different opinions regarding Tom Hicks, the owner of Liverpool FC, the Rangers, and the Stars.

When Tom Hicks partnered with George Gillett 26 months ago, Liverpool FC fans had visions of finally being able to financially compete with the likes of their hated rivals to the east, Manchester United, as well as Arsenal and Chelsea.

Afterall, all they had known about the man is that he signed A-Rod for a contract that was worth more than the amount he originally paid for the Rangers in 1998. He announced plans to build a new stadium to replace venerable Anfield and increase the club's revenue. And of course, he said winning silverware was the name of his game.

But it wasn't long before they saw the man for what he is first and foremost. A businessman who cares more about his own bottom line than putting a winner out on the pitch.

First, came a dustup over closing a deal to sign midfielder Javier Mascherano when funds that were going to be used to sign the Argentinian were held up by Hicks and Gillet. Hicks defended the move by pointing to his first summer transfer period as an owner when Benitez was allowed to sign world class striker, Fernando Torres.

The brilliant ThisIsAnfield took a closer look at that statement and found that...well...you'll see.

Personally though, I disagree with the opening line of the statement ""We made a significant investment in the playing squad during the summer". Let’s take a look at the summer arrivals and departures counting major signings (first team squad not youth players etc.) only.

Obviously there was a heavy amount spent on Torres (reportedly ₤26m), Babel (₤11.5m), Benayoun (₤4.5m), Lucas Leiva (₤6.5m) and Leto (₤2.5m). So we have a total expenditure of around ₤51m.

But there was a significant amount brought in with the sale of Cisse (₤5.4m), Bellamy (₤7.5m), Gonzalez (₤3.5m), Sinama Pongolle (₤2.7m), Garcia (as part of the Torres deal, ₤4m) and Paletta (undisclosed) so at least ₤22m recouped. Leaving a defecit of ₤29m - less than what Man United spent on Nani and Anderson combined, plus they added Hargreaves and Tevez!

Now we have the opportunity to purchase one of, if not the best holding midfielders in the world - a player happy at the club and who fits into the team brilliantly. ₤17m for a player of Mascherano’s calibre and age is a good price. It’s understandable why Benitez is so desperate to get the deal sorted and therefore begin focussing on other targets in January.

Just traverse the timeline and you can see just how quickly the trust between Hicks and Liverpool FC supporters deteroriates. The situation came to a head when Hicks directly butted heads with manager Rafa Benitez, who just a few years earlier, gave Liverpool it's first major piece of hardware in over 15 years when he led the Reds to the Champions League title with a 4-3 win over AC Milan. Reds fans responded by holding a march outside Anfield before a match against Aston Villa to show support for their beloved Rafa and their opposition to Hicks.

And the relationship hasn't gotten any better despite Liverpool being in it's best position in years to end their Premier League title drought of 18 seasons.

We're familiar with Tom Hicks, the baseball owner. We know he signed Alex Rodriguez to a $252 million contract back in December of 2000. We also know that he allowed John Hart to go on a free agent spending binge that included the failed Chan Ho Park experiment the following season. When both versions of the Rangers fell flat on their face, he decided his big spending days were over.

Which I couldn't really blame him for not wanting to try and keep up with the Red Sox. Much less, the Yankees. I just didn't expect him to drop the Rangers payroll to the lowest in his own division and even lower than the Kansas City Royals

And when you ask any Hicks hater that roots for the Rangers, that's the first thing they'll point to. A point that certainly has it's merits.

Still, nothing inflates that number more than big name free agent signings. And to the Rangers' credit, they have tried to go after big names in an effort to lure them to Arlington only to come up short. When they've failed, they've tried the Plan B rout, like they did in 2001, when they tried to compliment the A-Rod signing with the signings of veteran free agents such as Ken Caminiti and Andres Galarraga.

The results of that season were disastrous as the Rangers finished 73-89. A year later, John Hart was brought in, given the OK to essentially do the same thing in free agency by signing Juan Gonzalez, Chan Ho Park, and trade for John Rocker.

They finished a game worse.

So I can see where Hicks would be gun shy about spending excess money in free agency. And if anything, Ranger fans should have been blasting Hicks for not doing what he finally did several years ago and that's settle on a strategy of stocking up on draft picks and developing talent within the Rangers farm system.

It's taken a few years to restock the system, but it's back now. And according to Baseball America, it's the best farm system in the majors. When you can't go out on the free agent market and buy an ace, you've got to develop one.

Like Neftali Perez.

Stars fans are the luckiest of all. You see, when it comes to spending money in the free agent market, Hicks has spent on big names such as Brett Hull, Ed Belfour, and Bill Guerin. He's also taken care of the face of the franchise, Mike Modano, and extended Sergei Zubov, Marty Turco, Brenden Morrow and Mike Ribeiro.

You need look no further than the fact the team has spent up towards the cap every year in the post lockout era. Now, does the cap help his PR cause here?

Certainly. Based on the comments he made to the team after Colorado eliminated them in the first round back in 2004, it's conceivable the days of a $70 million payroll would have been over with or without an overhaul of the NHL's economics during the lockout season of 2004-05.

But the system is what it is. And from a personnel standpoint, there's nothing major you could criticize Hicks for if you're a Stars fan.

So what are we left with?

Well, three different owners, basically. The one thing that makes it hard to judge Hicks from a composite standpoint is the fact he's owning teams in not only three different sports, but three different sports economic climates. Especially when comparing Liverpool FC to either the Stars or Rangers.

Whereas you can supplant spending in baseball and hockey with drafting, you can't in the world of English football. There is no draft.

Obviously, the NHL has a salary cap to level the playing field across the board. Baseball has a soft cap, but that hasn't stopped teams like the Yankees and Red Sox from spending big. And Ranger fans, I would think, can't possibly expect Hicks to compete with either of those two teams regardless of the market size here.

In the world of English football, Liverpool is either the Yankees or Red Sox, depending upon your POV. In spite of being at a financial disadvantage to Manchester United and Chelsea, they're still comparable to the Red Sox in their ability to financially compete.

From a historical standpoint, they are certainly comparable to the Yankees by virtue of their five European championships and 18 league titles.

That's what we call history (for all you Chelsea supporters out there).

And that's what Tom Hicks' history is up to this point.

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