|The conclusion of this ESPN.com four-part series exploring the impact of baseball on the political career of Republican presidential candidate George W. Bush focuses on the bonanza he found in the new ballpark.
ARLINGTON, Texas -- George W. Bush was walking a reporter around the sparkling Ballpark in Arlington, the Texas Rangers' brand-new $191 million ball yard, showing off the home run porch in right field and the manual scoreboard in left like the one in Boston's Green Monster, the seats by the dugouts less than 60 feet from home plate and the distant wall in right center, a 407-foot drive for the home team's sluggers and their foes.
"When all those people in Austin say, 'He ain't never done anything'," Bush proclaimed, "well, this is it."
What people in Austin, and all over Texas, said about him mattered very much to Bush at that time in 1994 because he was running to unseat Gov. Ann Richards. The managing general partner of the Rangers had never won an election, while Richards could trumpet a list of accomplishments in Austin that included overseeing rising student test scores and falling crime rates, presiding over the state's smallest tax hikes in a decade and the largest number of new jobs created in the nation.
Richards was nationally famous and locally popular. The Democratic incumbent was a formidable opponent for the Republican aspirant. She had a track record. He had a ballpark.
"On the eve of the election, it was a shining example and something rare that you could point to," says Dan Bartlett, spokesman of the Bush 2000 campaign for president. "It gave him an identity."
To Bush critics, that identity remains rich with irony.
|The Ballpark at Arlington offers, clockwise from upper left, team offices that overlook center field, a brick exterior, good views from the upper deck and classic field dimensions.|
Candidate Bush got the taxpayers of Arlington to spend $135 million toward building his team's stadium, yet the Republican party espouses keeping government out of the way of private enterprise. The Ballpark stands as a monument to what critics call corporate welfare, yet his party advocates reducing welfare rolls. The entire complex stands on land that includes 13 acres taken by eminent domain, yet when campaigning in rural Texas Bush told voters he would keep the government from seizing their private land for public use.
Ironic or not, it all made Bush a rich man. When the Rangers were sold in 1998 for $250 million, a price reached largely because of the new revenues delivered by The Ballpark, Bush as part owner turned his relatively modest $606,302 investment into $14.9 million. His windfall was greatly enhanced by an extra 10 percent of the team he was given by his fellow owners when the sale was completed. According to J. Thomas Schieffer, club president during Bush's time with the Rangers, such a bonus is a common reward for the general partner who brought the original ownership group together.
Jim Runzheimer, an Arlington attorney, has been a longtime vocal critic of the stadium deal, to little public sympathy.
"It's the glamour of sports," says the exasperated, self-described conservative Republican, arguing that The Ballpark deal "exposes the hypocrisy with people like Bush who call themselves 'compassionate conservatives.' The way he made his $15 million violates the basic principles of conservatism, which say that what the private sector can do for itself, it should do for itself."
Of course, Bush was playing a game he did not invent. Taxpayers have been the primary builders of sports venues since the '50s and criticism of the deal had no effect on Bush's popularity.
"I certainly give George credit for being able to pull it off with limited acrimony," says Jerry Reinsdorf, whose Chicago White Sox moved into a new, $137 million ballpark in 1991. "Our stadium was built with a hotel tax, so that people in Chicago wouldn't have to pay for it, and it still was a difficult issue."
The key to smooth sailing in Texas was isolating the financing on the voters of one city, and a suburban city of 300,000 residents at that, rather than hitting up the county or state as is commonly done. The $130,000 pro-referendum effort overwhelmed the disorganized, poorly funded opposition with a variety of national consultants, phone banks and other sophisticated campaign techniques.
Bush worked mostly behind the scenes. In a rare public appearance at a large black church in Arlington, he told the congregation that a new ballpark would be good for local African-American businesses. He spoke at a rally at Arlington Stadium, where enough supporters of the half-cent sales tax hike to finance the new stadium showed up that they were able to form a human chain that extended almost all the way around the old park.
In January 1991, Arlington voted thumbs up, 2 to 1.
The Ballpark in Arlington
Luxury suites: 120
Features: Baseball museum, children's learning center, four-story office building within ballpark, youth baseball park.
Cost: $191 million
Public subsidy: $135 million, through bond measure that raised city sales by half cent.
Team contribution: Rangers owners paid nothing but helped fund rest of project by dedicating a cut of future stadium revenues, largely in the form of a $1 per ticket surcharge.
Lease: Rangers agreed to pay up to $5 million a year in rent and maintenance with the option of buying the ballpark after 12 years. The club also provided some land. In exchange, the club got control over the project, relief from local taxes and $17 million in cash.
Bottom line: Deal gave the Rangers the highest stadium revenues in baseball, $25.5 million in 1996, according to Financial World magazine. City of Arlington retained its place in North Texas an an entertainment center.
The campaign was not without rancor. Bush and Schieffer, the club's point man on the stadium project, negotiated the deal with Arlington mayor Richard Greene, who then played on civic fears by suggesting that if voters turned down the park the Rangers might bolt for Dallas, where officials had expressed tepid interest in the team.
At the time, Greene was a defendant in a lawsuit brought by federal regulators for activities as a former savings-and-loan executive. Then, 12 days before the vote on the park and with passage all but assured, the lawsuit was dismissed for a $40,000 fine. (In 1993, after President Bush had left office, Greene headed off a second lawsuit by regulators by paying $125,000.)
"It was case of quid pro quo" says Runzheimer, the stadium critic. "Greene negotiated favorably for the Rangers because he was over a barrel by Bush and the Bush administration. George W. Bush had access to his father's administration."
Greene denies the charge. He says he never talked to Bush during the stadium negotiations and that his legal predicament was never mentioned to any Rangers official. Schieffer said he didn't know that Greene had been an S&L executive, despite local newspaper coverage of the lawsuit .
The Rangers also encouraged the state legislature to allow creation of the quasi-governmental Arlington Sports Facilities Development Authority as owner and developer of the ballpark with the power of eminent domain. Never before had a Texas municipal authority had the right to seize private property for the benefit of a sports facility, and it used its power to condemn 13 acres for half of the appraised value. The owners sued the authority and won, and in 1999 after years of haggling, the Rangers agreed to reimburse the authority for the $11.2 million total plus interest.
Four years after The Ballpark opened, Tom Hicks of Dallas bought the Rangers for $250 million, at the time the second-highest amount ever paid for a baseball team. Boosting the price were the development rights held by the Rangers on the 253 acres surrounding the park, which itself occupies just 17 acres.
Bush critics howled conflict of interest. A year earlier as governor, Bush had signed legislation permitting Texas cities to impose new taxes for the financing of sports facilities. Dallas voters soon approved $125 million toward the $230 million American Airlines Arena, which opens next year and has increased the value of the NHL Stars, owned by Hicks, and the NBA Mavericks.
"Bush says he's a great entrepreneur but all he did was feather his own nest and that of his friends," says Molly Beth Malcolm, chair of the Texas Democratic Party.
That's a contention that Bush, who was unavailable to comment on this series, has denied in the past.
Either way, The Ballpark in Arlington has been very, very good for George W. Bush.
Tom Farrey is a Senior Writer at ESPN.com and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Game not over
If George W. Bush is elected president, he is likely to make more money from baseball next year than he will in salary for running the nation.
That's because loose ends still need to be tied up in the 1998 sale of the Texas Rangers to Tom Hicks. Bush retains sole ownership of GWB Rangers Corp., according to campaign-related financial statements filed by Bush in May. Other than cash on hand, the corporation's only asset is a general partnership interest in B/R Rangers Associates LTD, the entity that previously owned Rangers.
The corporation has yet to be dissolved because of pending litigation stemming from the condemnation claim of the Mathes family, one of the landowners whose property was seized to build the ballpark, said former Rangers president J. Thomas Schieffer. Beyond the $14.9 million that he received for the sale of the club, Bush set aside money to address those claims if required.
Bush received $1 million from that account in June 1999 and is due to receive the final $500,000 to $700,000 sometime in the next year, Schieffer said. That's more than the $400,000 that the next president is due to receive in salary.
"Yes," Schieffer said, "but that doesn't include his housing allowance."
Friday: Bush gets to know Texas
Thursday: Texas gets to know Dubya
Wednesday: Bush establishes a management style
Slideshow: Photos that defined a candidate
Timeline: George W. Bush and Rangers
Bush family links to sports go back a century
Politicians who rubbed up against sports
Gore can play that game, too