Tom Vandergriff dies at 84

DALLAS -- Tom Vandergriff, the former Dallas-area mayor who lured the Texas Rangers out of Washington nearly 40 years ago, died Thursday. He was 84.

The former Arlington mayor's son, Victor Vandergriff, said his father died of natural causes at a Fort Worth hospital. Tom Vandergriff had Alzheimer's disease in recent years.

Vandergriff brought the Rangers to the city halfway between Dallas and Fort Worth in 1972. It took the Rangers almost 25 years to reach the playoffs, and another 14 to win a postseason series.

The younger Vandergriff said his father was in attendance when the Rangers beat the New York Yankees in October to win the AL pennant and advance to their first World Series.

The morning after that historic win, Tom Vandergriff fell and broke his hip, preventing from attending any World Series games, his son said. The Rangers lost the World Series to the San Francisco Giants in five games.

"If he had known he'd have to do that to watch the Rangers beat the Yankees, he would have done it in a minute," Victor Vandergriff said. "He'd have taken one for the team."

Born in Carrollton, another Dallas suburb, on Jan. 29, 1926, Vandergriff moved to Arlington when he was 11 and later planted the seeds for what many consider the entertainment center of Texas.

He was elected the city's youngest mayor at age 25 in 1951 and soon helped lure a General Motors plant to Arlington, then welcomed another developer's idea to build an amusement park for the plant's employees. Six Flags over Texas grew into one of the state's top tourist attractions.

In 1965, Vandergriff brought Dallas and Fort Worth officials together to help build a minor league baseball stadium that was later expanded to accommodate the Washington Senators when they relocated. It was renamed Arlington Stadium after Vandergriff declined an effort to name it after him.

Vandergriff gave up the mayoral post in 1977, served one term as a Democrat in the U.S. House of Representatives in the 1980s and was a Republican judge in Tarrant County from 1991 until he retired in 2007. In his last elected role, he was instrumental in the building of Rangers Ballpark in Arlington, which opened in 1994.

The Rangers' stately red-brick stadium now sits a few hundred yards from the glass walls and retractable hole in the roof of $1.3 billion Cowboys Stadium, the year-old home of the Dallas Cowboys and site of the Super Bowl in February.

Both stadiums are near Six Flags and just across Interstate 30 from a major water park that is always bustling during Texas' blistering summer days.

"The thing I prize the most is that I think I helped, at least in part, to develop a confidence, a spirit in Arlington that we could dream the big dream," he was once quoted as saying, according to a news release from the city.

Vandergriff worked for 13 years to bring Major League Baseball to Arlington, and threw out the first pitch on April 21, 1972, after he finally succeeded.

There is a statue of Vandergriff in the center field plaza that bears his name at Rangers Ballpark.

"His tireless efforts to make the Texas Rangers a reality will never be forgotten," Rangers managing partner Chuck Greenberg and team president Nolan Ryan said in a joint statement.