Riches from Nat. Gas Fuel Acquisition of Texas Rangers

The Rangers Baseball Express, racing full speed ahead for home plate, is being fueled by natural gas.

The Express, the investment group poised to become the new owners of the Texas Rangers, is apparently drawing a significant chunk of its bankroll for the $500-million-plus acquisition from Bob Simpson of Fort Worth and Ray C. Davis of Dallas.

Both have made their fortunes from natural gas and benefited from the riches of North Texas' Barnett Shale, perhaps the hottest gas drilling play in the nation over the past several years.

An announcement Saturday by Hicks Sports Group, controlled by current Rangers owner Tom Hicks, said that "co-lead investments" in the Express will be made by Ray Davis and the family of Bob and Janice Simpson.

Simpson and Davis will be co-chairmen of the board of the Express, which is headed by Pittsburgh attorney Chuck Greenberg and legendary pitcher Nolan Ryan, the team's current president.

About Bob Simpson

Simpson is chairman of Fort Worth-based XTO Energy, which is being sold to Irving-based oil titan ExxonMobil, pending approval of XTO stockholders, in a deal valued at $41 billion.

Simpson co-founded XTO, originally known as Cross Timbers Oil Co., and stepped down as CEO in late 2008. Exxon is acquiring XTO primarily because of its expertise in "unconventional" shale plays such as the Barnett, which has about 14,000 producing wells thanks to advances in horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing.

Simpson, long praised by investment analysts for his leadership of highly successful XTO, is expected to reap more than $300 million from the company's sale to Exxon. Simpson received compensation of $44.7 million in 2008, including a $30 million cash bonus. And that was a 21 percent decline from his $56.6 million in compensation in 2007.

About Ray Davis

Davis is much less known to Tarrant County residents than Simpson.

Davis is the retired co-CEO and co-chairman of Dallas-based Energy Transfer Partners, an owner of natural gas pipelines and a leading pipeline operator in the Barnett Shale. Davis was No. 367 on the 2009 Forbes magazine list of the 400 richest Americans, with his wealth estimated at an even $1 billion.

Davis is still a director of Energy Transfer Partners and an affiliate, Energy Transfer Equity.

Team's past energy ties

Simpson and Davis won't be the first Rangers owners connected to the energy business.

Before he was president, George W. Bush, a one-time West Texas oilman, was a Rangers executive. He was part of an investment group that bought the team in 1989 from an owner group led by Eddie Chiles. Bush was co-managing general partner of the team, a title he shared with another co-owner, Dallas investor Rusty Rose. But Bush was a high-profile front man for the team, while Rose preferred the shadows.

Chiles, the principal owner of the Rangers for nine years, was the longtime CEO of the Fort Worth-based Western Co. of North America, an oilfield firm that specialized in services such as cementing, acidizing and fracturing of wells and offshore drilling.

Chiles was perhaps best known for his "I'm Mad" radio commercials complaining about the federal government, which prompted a wave of bumper stickers declaring "I'm Mad Too, Eddie." Chiles also was known for his company's ad slogan, "If you don't own an oil well, get one." He died in 1993.

The purchase of the Rangers by the Greenberg-Ryan group could be consummated by April 4, the team's season opener. The deal is expected to pass muster from baseball's executive committee and eight-man ownership committee. The 40 lenders who hold $525 million in Hicks Sports Group debt also are to review the agreement.

(This report includes material from the Star-Telegram archives.)

Copyright (c) 2010, Fort Worth Star-Telegram, Texas. Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.