When George W. Bush first embarked on a deal to buy the Texas Rangers professional baseball team in 1988, he already had his eye on the governor’s mansion in Austin. But he knew that to have a shot at winning, he would need better credentials than a string of unsuccessful oil companies and a failed bid for a seat in the U.S. House of Representatives. In 1989 he told Time magazine, “My biggest liability in Texas is the question, ‘What’s the boy ever done?’ He could be riding on Daddy’s name.”
But his father’s connections were instrumental in helping Bush overcome that perception. Back in 1973, when the senior George Bush was the chairman of the Republican National Committee, Bush befriended one of father’s assistants, Karl Rove. Rove cut his teeth alongside the senior Bush’s chief political strategist, Lee Atwater. Rove would become George W.’s own Atwater, helping to run his 1978 bid for Congress and laying the groundwork for his 1994 run for governor. As the Rangers deal got under way, Rove told Bush that baseball was his ticket to the big time. “It gives him ... exposure and gives him something that will be easily recalled by people,” Rove said.
Rove’s calculation turned out to be right on the money.
It all began in fall of 1988, when William O. DeWitt Jr., Bush’s partner in a Texas oil-and-gas exploration company called Spectrum 7, called to let him know that Eddie Chiles, the owner of the Texas Rangers, was looking for a buyer.
Ueberroth Presses for Deal
Chiles, a family friend who called Bush “Young Pup” when he was a kid, was eager to sell to Bush. And so Bush and DeWitt quickly assembled a team of investors. They hit a snag when Peter Ueberroth, then commissioner of Major League Baseball, told them he wouldn’t approve the sale without more investors from Texas. Ueberroth believed that local owners would be less likely to relocate the team. The commissioner, a GOP donor himself, wanted the deal approved before his term expired at the end of 1...