Hedge Funds, Baseball, Aliens: How Ackman Trumped Einhorn ... Again

NEW YORK ( TheStreet) -- Last week, I teased had a really good story coming up involving hedge funds, baseball and aliens. I hope this one doesn't disappoint.

By now, everyone knows Greenlight Capital's David Einhorn, he of the Apple ( AAPL) iPref idea, and the guy that desperately wanted to own a piece of the New York Mets when the National League franchise was in serious financial trouble, stemming from the Wilpon's losses in the Bernie Madoff scandal.

At the Ira Sohn conference in 2011, Einhorn even gave a "Let's go Mets!" cry at the end of his presentation, and referenced former slugger Ken Griffey Jr. during his speech, showcasing his passion for the game of baseball. I picked up on the "Let's go Mets" immediately, but didn't know exactly what Einhorn was referencing until a few days later when the announcement came.

Einhorn had agreed to buy a $200 million non-controlling minority stake in the baseball franchise, providing the Wilpons with some much needed relief and cushion. Ultimately, the deal did not come to fruition and both sides parted ways with Einhorn left out in the cold.

It's also a well-known story that Einhorn used to be great friends with another hedge fund honcho, Pershing Square's Bill Ackman. Ackman once called Einhorn his "marketing adviser," after lauding his investment returns on air in a 2010 CNBC appearance together.

Since that time, the relationship between the two has been strained. Ackman and Einhorn are no longer as close as they once were, with baseball playing a major role in the falling out process. Ackman told The New York Times in 2011 about Einhorn's interest in buying the Milwaukee Brewers in 2004. ( Vanity Fair has an excellent piece on the issues between Ackman, Einhorn, and other hedge fund heavyweights, and is well worth the read.)

Einhorn declined to comment for this story, and Ackman could not be immediately reached.

What does this have to do with baseball and aliens?

Howard Hughes Corp. ( HHC) is in talks to buy the Las Vegas 51s (Area 51 and aliens go hand-in-hand), the New York Mets AAA minor league affiliate. Ackman, of course, is chairman of Howard Hughes, after having successfully engineered the spinoff of the real estate development company in 2010, after General Growth Properties ( GGP) emerged from bankruptcy.

A statement provided by Jim Gemma, media relations director for the Las Vegas 51s franchise, noted Howard Hughes' heavy involvement with trying to purchase the club:

"The Howard Hughes Corporation is working, along with partner Steve Mack, to acquire the Las Vegas 51s Triple-A baseball club. Concurrently we are collaborating with a number of other parties, including the LVCVA, the City of Las Vegas, Clark County, and the Pacific Coast League to plan, finance and build a new state-of-the-art baseball stadium in Summerlin.

The cooperation of all of these entities is critical to the success of this project, and that success will provide benefits for the entire community as well as the parties involved.

If our efforts in this complicated transaction succeed, families not just in Summerlin but across the valley will have a wonderful new venue in which to enjoy affordable professional baseball."

It's pretty ironic, and perhaps a tad bit sad, that Ackman (through his chairmanship of Howard Hughes) is trumping his old pal Einhorn when it comes to owning a baseball team. Yes, owning a minor league team through your chairmanship of a publicly traded real estate development company isn't the same as owning a large stake in one of the National League's most storied franchises. I get that.

I just think it's pretty sad, that Einhorn, who grew up in Milwaukee playing baseball near Commissioner Bud Selig's house, gets the short end of the proverbial stick in this.

I guess it really is "One, two, three strikes you're out..."

-- Written by Chris Ciaccia in New York

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