|In a four-part series, ESPN.com explores the impact of baseball on the political career of Republican presidential candidate George W. Bush. Part three focuses on how he got to know Texas through the Rangers.
ARLINGTON, Texas -- George W. Bush was in the broadcast booth, at the microphone, on air, actually doing Opening Day play-by-play:
"Un hit de Juan! El primer hit de Texas del juego!"
How the future Republican presidential candidate came to be describing the action as Juan Gonzalez broke up a no-hitter tells a lot about how Bush used his years as managing general partner of the Texas Rangers to educate himself about the state of Texas and, in time, convince the electorate that he ought to be their governor. How he happened to be describing the action in Spanish says even more.
A former keeper of the office Bush now seeks, Ronald Reagan, was known as The Great Communicator. But talk about sending a message. Bush was renewing a long-time relationship when he joined regular announcer Luis Mayoral during the Rangers' Spanish-language broadcast of that game in 1999. And, he was continuing a long-time effort to communicate with Hispanics.
Mayoral, director of Spanish broadcasting for the Rangers during 1992-99, remembers the days when Bush was an owner of the team and how, twice a week, sometimes more, Mayoral would be in his office and Bush "would walk in, plop his feet on my desk and we'd talk about life, Latin America, politics."
For half an hour or so, Mayoral says: "He'd pick my mind, how Latin Americans feel about Americans. What Latinos went through in the (United) States. Why some Latinos did well in the U.S. despite having no education."
Mayoral, now with the Detroit Tigers, still feels exploited. And he kind of likes it.
"He used me for research," Mayoral says. "Many times my office would be the first one he stopped by that day."
As much as Bush loves to talk box scores and batting averages, he rarely steered the conversation to baseball, Mayoral says. Instead, Bush, who grew up in largely white Midland and played Little League ball with the sons of Ivy Leaguers who moved their families and their old-money Yankee attitudes to West Texas in the 1950s in search of oil fortune, would ask Mayoral about the life he knew.
Mayoral could educate him in the Hispanic experience the way a New York cabbie knows the truth of the city. A Puerto Rican native, Mayoral explained to Bush why some people from his island want their independence. They talked of the need for cheaper medicine, of corrupt governors, and of how the language barrier makes not just Puerto Ricans, but other nonbilingual Hispanics, feel left out of the political process.
With Mayoral, Bush worked on his classroom Spanish, which they spoke about a quarter of the time. Mayoral could hear improvement, and in 1993 Bush did a 10-minute interview in Spanish about the Rangers on Telemundo, the second-largest Spanish-language broadcaster in the United States.
Mayoral believes that during his years with the Rangers, Bush gained a better understanding of Hispanic voters, who largely followed the team on radio because of the high-ticket cost.
But, it wasn't only with Hispanics that Bush sought to develop a relationship. He sought insight in many places. He used his five years of active ownership to educate himself about Texas and all Texans. With baseball as his entree, he had comfortable access to the diverse range of communities, groups and perspectives that coalesced around a major league team. If a unique power of sports teams is that they unite, however superficially, groups that otherwise would never come together, then Bush used that magnet to his advantage.
Sometimes those resources could be found on his payroll, as with Mayoral. More often, they existed in the tiny suburbs north of Dallas, in the small towns of East Texas or in the black churches of Arlington, where Bush was invited to talk about baseball. While then-Gov. Ann Richards was busy running the affairs of the state in Austin, Bush was getting to know real people out in the Rotary Clubs and office complexes all over Texas.
"He was everywhere," says Edward "Rusty" Rose, co-general partner of the Rangers with Bush.
Rose estimates that Bush gave five speeches a week, sometimes in remote areas of the sprawling state where there was little chance of selling season tickets to a team located halfway between Dallas and Fort Worth. Asked if he thought Bush was at least in part laying the groundwork for a gubernatorial run, Rose says, "He never said so. But I think so."
Jim Oberwetter, a Hunt Oil executive and former press secretary to George W.'s father in the late '60s, saw the son speak in 1992 at a Republican gathering and says the message was an odd, inspiring mix of baseball and traditional American values.
"It struck me as baseball patriotism," Oberwetter says. "It didn't feel like a political speech, but it made you feel comfortable with him as a person and what this country is all about."
|The ballpark was a magnet for Bush, who often signed autographs for fans and future voters.|
His standard speech lasted between five and eight minutes, says Taunee Taylor, who as director of community relations for the Rangers accompanied Bush on his caravans. According to Taylor, that left plenty of time for Bush to work the room, where his formidable communication skills -- the excellent handshake, the knowing nod, the ready laugh, the West Texas twang -- readily connected with people.
"He had the gift of remembering people's names," Taylor says. "He would walk into an office with 500 people and remember everyone's name. To me, that's a great politician."
As the son of a sitting president, Bush had access to a built-in network of influential corporate leaders even before he joined the Rangers. Still, that network was not so encompassing that he could put together an ownership group on his own. Concerned that Bush did not have enough Texans in the consortium that he cobbled together to bid on the club, baseball commissioner Peter Ueberroth called Dallas-area billionaire Richard Rainwater, who had previously rejected Bush's overture. Rainwater was prodded into becoming the team's largest investor, and the $89 million deal came together.
Making personal calls on corporate leads as an owner of the Rangers to sell season tickets expanded Bush's circle of powerful allies. Doors opened to key fund-raisers at a time when the GOP power base was shifting from Houston, where his parents had deep roots, to Dallas. Many would later contribute to Bush's massive campaign war chests; Rainwater gave $100,000 to Bush's 1994 gubernatorial campaign.
Reggie Bashur, a GOP strategist in Texas, recalls that in November 1993, just after Bush declared for the '94 race, the first poll showed that he was already the favorite of 40 percent of the voters, compared to Ann Richards' 47 percent. Right then, the popular incumbent knew she was in a real fight to keep her job, even though Bush had yet to openly campaign in earnest.
Through the Rangers, Texas and Bush already had gotten to know each other very well indeed.
Tom Farrey is a Senior Writer with ESPN.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Read part four of his series on Saturday.
||He would walk into an office with 500 people and remember everyone's name ”
||— Taunee Taylor,
Rangers director of community relations
Wednesday: Bush establishes a management style
Thursday: Texas gets to know Dubya
Slideshow: Photos that defined a candidate
Bush family links to sports go back a century
Politicians who rubbed up against sports
Timeline: George W. Bush and Rangers
Gore can play that game, too