The younger Rangers (and general baseball) fans might not know G.W. was a minority Rangers owner from 1989 to 1998, four years after he became Texas governor. But his time with the Rangers was, as far as I remember, his first significant public identity other than being his dad’s son, and this post will explore that identity. Way back in May 1989, with G.H.W. settling into the presidency, the Dallas Morning News profiled G.W. as being “MORE THAN MEETS THE NAME,” as the headline said:
The telephone call from Tokyo to Plano was familial and frank, from one George Bush to another.
“Dad, what’s up? George W. asked brusquely, a little annoyed at the interruption. “I’ve got to make a speech in five minutes.’
“How’s the deal coming?’ George H.W. asked.
“Dad,’ the eldest son said, “I’m fixin’ to give this speech. Everything’s fine. Call me when you get back from Japan.’
George W. made his speech. George H.W. made Emperor Hirohito’s funeral. And George W. eventually made the deal to buy the Texas Rangers, backed by his father’s name, Edward “Rusty’ Rose’s money and George W.’s bulletproof confidence that he could get the job done.
Bush’s brass, as indicated by the telephone conversation, is polished just enough to keep him from seeming abrasive. He is blunt. But he gets away with it because of his boyish good nature and his political knack for remembering names and making people feel important.
His repertoire also includes foresight, timing and luck, as indicated by two successive mergers he forged to save his interests in a foundering oil business. He will use those same instincts to decide this summer whether to run for governor of Texas next year. His decision on the governor’s race likely will be a prudent one, friends say. One friend credited Bush’s fortune to a “white cloud’ that follows him. The Rangers may think so, too.
The Bush-Rose group bought the team just before it broke to the best start in its history, which can only be good for business. The Rangers, 17-6 after Monday night’s loss against Cleveland, are coming off an Arlington Stadium series against Boston witnessed by a club-record 116,919 fans, including sellout crowds Saturday and Sunday. Through 11 home dates, the Rangers were averaging 30,067 fans, another club-record pace.
The symbiotic relationship between Bush and Rose, who hadn’t met before the partnership germinated in mid-February, has a bedrock purpose: make money. To that end, Bush’s ebullient public role would seem to be a good front for the reclusive Rose’s financial backing. Bush’s name gets his foot in the door; his mouth keeps it open.
But if all Rose and his partners wanted was a spokesman, they may have gotten more for their money.
“He’s not going to be the front man for anybody,’ said Charles Younger, a Midland orthopedic surgeon and friend. “One thing he is aware of is people using him for who he is. He’s got a good handle on that. And he has a low tolerance for it.
“I promise you he’ll be involved in this thing from top to bottom.”
Bush’s interest in baseball is genuine and layered. He grew up as a Houston Astros fan. Younger, who lived across the street from the Bushes in Midland, says George W. could recite such exotic information as the St. Louis Cardinals’ 1958 starting infield.
Somewhere in the attic of his Preston Hollow home, Bush has a collection of autographs and baseball cards. He’s just as interested in newer players. He reads box scores daily. The first thing he wanted April 17 on his first work day in the Rangers ‘ offices was copies of the 26 major league media guides, as well as the Baseball Register, which lists year-by-year statistics for every major league player, among other vital data.
Growing up, he said, “all I lived was baseball.” He was a catcher in a West Texas Little League and a junk pitcher for his Massachussetts prep school team, as well as a Yale University freshman. “I was not what you would call a reliable starter,” he said, when asked to characterize his contribution. . . .
One of his most poignant memories is of his father telling him the two could play catch without dad holding back on throws; George W. called it one of his proudest moments. He had a similar experience during the presidential campaign last year, when his father realized George W.’s value during 18 months of campaigning.
“He had a different view of me, as a person who could perform,” Bush said, a smile faintly evident in his expression. “He relied on me to do things.”. . .
He moved back to Texas in December, this time to Dallas. A conversation with Astros owner John McMullen convinced him he should pursue the Rangers.
Bush had an inside track to buy the Rangers because of his long acquaintance with majority owner Eddie Chiles, who has known the family since George W. was 6. But the original deal wasn’t good enough for baseball commissioner Peter Ueberroth, who said Bush’s partnership with DeWitt didn’t involve enough Dallas-Fort Worth money.
Bush reorganized quickly. He contacted Fort Worth businessman Richard Rainwater, whose name also had surfaced in talks with the commissioner, and asked for a meeting. The two sides got together, a deal was struck, and after minority owner Edward Gaylord’s purchase bid was rejected, the Bush-Rose group moved in.
At the news conference announcing his group’s approval as the new owners, Bush was blunt when asked why he was named a managing general partner when his financial contribution to the $25 million cash portion of the deal reportedly was $500,000. “Because I put the deal together,” he said. “I thought of it, worked it, and I was the one Eddie wanted to sell to.”
Bush was just as forthright when asked why he wanted to buy the Rangers in the first place.
“I think it’s a business, and it was an opportunity for me to accumulate some money over a period of time,” he said last week. “I do expect a return on my investment, and at the same time, the thought of doing it in a sport I love was really attractive.”
The Rangers, however, had not been a particularly profitable team. They finished in the black the last three years but not by much. Bush said the new owners hope to increase that profit margin by selling more season tickets, expanding the radio-television market and even looking at cable.
Bush, however, declined specify his goals for marketing expansion, even appearing deliberately vague.
What he inherits is a Rangers’ TV network that includes flagship KTVT-Channel 11 and 14 affiliates in Texas, Oklahoma, Florida and Utah. The radio network, anchored by flagship WBAP-820, counts 20 affiliate stations in Texas, Oklahoma and Florida. Also, Home Sports Entertainment, a regional pay cable network, telecasts 60 Rangers home games to subscribers.
The Rangers this season have sold a club-record 7,009 season tickets, but the most money to be made, Bush says, is either from a refurbishing of Arlington Stadium or construction of a new stadium. Luxury boxes. More comfort, more fans. Increased accessibility to the stadium, too. “My wife (Laura) took a long time to get here the other night,” he said. “She missed dinner.”
G.W. said: “I’m not here just to make money. It fits into my lifestyle. I don’t think I could be reclusive. Hey, my dad is the president of the United States. I love dealing with the public. I’m fascinated by the sport itself, too.
“This job has very high visibility, which cures the political problem I’d have [running for office]: ‘What has the boy done?’ Well, I’m the businessman who came to town and, at the very minimum, kept the Rangers from moving out.”
Bush and the Rangers did get that new stadium of course, and his meet-and-greet activity in ’89 helped. The Houston Chronicle tracked him down that summer and reported:
On home-game nights, George W. Bush tries to leave the office by 5:30 p.m., driving his 4-year-old black Pontiac to Arlington Stadium and wandering between the concession stands, ticket windows and the first base dugout. He welcomes fans, chats with vendors and talks baseball with the athletes whose contracts he now owns.
Last Monday, he left his jacket in the car – he was not wearing a tie – rolled up the sleeves of a sweaty blue dress shirt and plunged in. Waving, smiling, greeting, Bush shatters the aloof-robber-baron-industrialist-as-baseball-owner image.
Two hours before game time, only the hardcore fans had arrived to engage players in conversation and cadge autographs. But Bush attracted as much attention as power-hitter Ruben Sierra.
Men named Lenny and Bob, wearing gimmie caps and T-shirts, asked Bush to autograph their ticket stubs.
“This is Mr. Bush. He owns the team,” dads told their bashful sons and daughters.
“I named my daughter Reagan and if I have a son, I’ll name him George,” a woman said as Bush signed her program.
Two pre-teens approached as closely as their nerve allowed. Their parents watched from several feet away. The girls could not bring themselves to speak.
“I’d be happy to,” Bush said without being asked about the hoped-for autographs.
On the field, Bush headed for Sierra, whose statistics already have prompted his nickname as The Franchise. Bush took small talk as far as he could in acquired Spanish – a thoughtful touch intended to remove barriers between player and owner.
The contrast between Bush and previous Rangers owners – between Bush and virtually “all” owners – was apparent.
He’s a baseball romantic. He sees the sport in a historical context. He does not think America would be America without baseball.
He believes baseball is “important.” He loves it and admires it; seeks to promote and protect it. He wants to share his franchise with millions of people, every one of whom he is willing to thank personally for their interest.
He is dedicated to being what he calls a fans’ owner.
“Even if you’re a recluse and your father’s president of the United States, you’re going to be public whether you want to be or not,” he said. “Everybody knows who I am and if you can put out good positive things about baseball and the Texas Rangers and what we’re trying to do, hopefully that will make people want to come to the game.
“What really makes them want to come to the game is a good team.”
Bush’s eyes almost glaze in a distant vision – a dream that answers the question about the Rangers and Arlington Stadium.
“What’ll also make ‘em want to come to the game is a nice stadium …”
Arlington Stadium is nice. But it is not very big (43,508 capacity) and it is not new (built in 1964 for a minor league franchise and expanded three times since). It has a greater ratio of bleacher seats (19,981) to reserved seats (23,527) than any stadium in the American League.
Bleacher tickets cost from $2 to $5. A box seat costs $10. When a good match-up brings out a big crowd, box seats are at premium.
Although the Rangers never have won their division and although ticket prices have risen steadily through the years, attendance has crept upward to profitability while remaining well below capacity.
If the team is not playing to a full house, does it need a new house? The decision rests with Bush and his partners.
“Whether or not we play in the new stadium is a really interesting idea,” Bush said. “We’ll determine whether or not this stadium works the way it is and if it doesn’t, we’ll build a new one. Where we build is an exciting issue. We don’t know.”
Clues litter the conversation like hot dog wrappers in the grandstand.
“… think about a group of young guys who, if everything goes right, has the ability to build a monument to the sport …”
“… we can design a stadium that promotes the great parts of the game …”
“… you can design one with a roof that slides down …”
“… an exciting opportunity to be in a position to really build an architectural piece that’s going to be unique to this area and will be kind of a lasting statement …”
Not quite four years later, in February 1993, the Dallas Morning News checked in on Bush again, this time about potentially running against Governor Ann Richards in ’94:
Texas Democrats, citing Gov. Ann Richards’ high popularity ratings, said that they are far from worried about Mr. Bush’s political plans and that his lineage will mean little in the next governor’s race.
“Hope springs eternal the year before it hits the fan,” said Ed Martin, the executive director of the Texas Democratic Party. “If he can’t run for office any better than he runs the Texas Rangers , he doesn’t have any advantages. He seems like a nice guy, a nice guy to watch a ballgame with. But I don’t know that he has any particular qualifications for the governor’s office.” . . .
Mr. Bush, no longer trailed by a Secret Service detail, said he wants to enjoy life as a former first son, and particularly his role as managing general partner of the Rangers.
“I’m one of the lucky people to be involved in baseball. I love it,” Mr. Bush said. “I also love politics. I’ve got some deep-seated concerns about our state.”
Mr. Bush said his baseball work would not interfere with any political plans, despite the next year’s scheduled opening of the new Rangers stadium. He also derided reports that management would consider selling the team after the stadium is opened.
As for the link between Nolan Ryan and George W. Bush, in late October 1994, with G.W. campaigning for governor, the Corpus Christi Caller-Times reported:
Baseball legend Nolan Ryan made a pitch in Corpus Christi Wednesday – this one for his ally and Republican gubernatorial candidate George W. Bush.
“Not only is he a friend, but I know the job he’ll do for South Texas,” Ryan told more than 2,000 students and faculty members at Ray High School. “It’s important we get (a governor) with family values, somebody who cares about the state and was raised in the state.”
Ryan, former pitcher for the Texas Rangers, Houston Astros, California Angels and New York Mets, stopped in Corpus Christi with former first lady Barbara Bush, the candidate’s mother, and George W. Bush ‘s wife, Laura Bush. The campaigning threesome also made appearances Wednesday in McAllen and Brownsville.
George W. Bush is challenging Gov. Ann Richards, a Democrat, in the Nov. 8 election. The Harte-Hanks Texas Poll, conducted earlier this month, showed the two candidates in a deadlock, with the Republican drawing 45 percent of Texans’ support and Richards garnering 44 percent.
Students and teachers jammed into Ray’s gymnasium Wednesday morning, filling the bleachers and blanketing the hardwood floor.
Applause broke out as the crowd recognized the white-haired Barbara Bush – with trademark pearls around her neck – entering the gym. But when Ryan appeared a few seconds later, high-pitched cheers rang out and the applause intensified – Ryan was the attraction of the day.
“He’s the No. 1 athlete, and he’s not conceited,” said Jennie Johnson, a 17-year-old senior. “This is very exciting.”
Students snapped pictures and sought autographs from Ryan, who donned a red Ray Texans baseball cap. Even Barbara Bush, who addressed the crowd after Ryan, realized she ranked behind the baseball great.
“I’d rather speak before Nolan Ryan,” Barbara Bush joked. “Somehow, I suspect you would rather hear Nolan Ryan talk about baseball than listen to a white-haired old lady.”