George W. Bush Purchases a Share of the Texas Rangers

Returning to Texas after the successful campaign, he purchased a share in the Texas Rangers baseball franchise in April 1989, where he served as managing general partner for five years.

He actively led the team's projects and regularly attended its games, often choosing to sit in the open stands with fans. The sale of Bush's shares in the Rangers in 1998 brought him over $15 million from his initial $800,000 investment.

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 1989, and so he and then-American League president Bobby Brown took it on themselves to line up Fort Worth financier Richard E. Rainwater.

Rainwater and Bush weren’t exactly strangers. Rainwater was a contributor to his father’s presidential campaigns and, later, an overnight guest in the Bush White House. Until 1986, he was the chief money manager for the Bass brothers, Fort Worth billionaires who financed drilling in Bahrain by the Harken Energy Corp., a company that in 1986 had bought out Spectrum 7, one of Bush’s oil companies.

By 1988, Rainwater was managing his own fortune. He agreed to put money in the Rangers, but only if his trusted associate, Edward “Rusty” Rose, was installed as general managing partner along with Bush.

With this arrangement in place, Bush and his partners bought the team from Chiles on April 21, 1989, for $86 million. To scrape together his $500,000 stake in the Rangers, Bush borrowed the money from a bank in Midland where he once was a director. He owned 1.8 percent of the Rangers. (He later invested an additional $106,302).

Bush made up for his minor stake by taking more than his share of credit for bringing the owners together. “I wasn’t going to let this deal fail,” he said last year. “I wanted to put together the group. I was tenacious.”

Others close to the deal paint a different picture.

“George W. Bush deserves great credit for the development of the franchise,” Ueberroth said. “However, the bringing together of the buying group was the result of Richard Rainwater, Rusty Rose, Dr. Bobby Brown, and the commissioner.”

Bush Gets Another 10 Percent

Nonetheless, Bush’s partners rewarded him by upping his ownership stake in the Rangers, giving him another 10 percent of the team.

“He had a well-known name, and that created interest in the franchise,” Tom Schieffer, the Rangers’ former president, said last year. “It gave us a little celebrity.”

Usually parked in a front-row seat by the dugout, with his feet up and a bag of peanuts perched in his lap, Bush put a congenial face on a crooked deal, at the heart of which lay a complicated land play.

When they bought the team, the Rangers were playing in an old minor-league stadium. It didn’t have the fancy sky boxes and other amenities that helped make other franchises much more profitable. As a result, the team couldn’t compete with other big-city teams for good players. But the new owners weren’t willing to finance the construction of a new ballpark . They decided to hit up taxpayers for the money.

First, the new owners threatened to move the team out of Arlington, Texas, sending local officials scurrying to put together a deal they couldn’t refuse. Under the resulting agreement, the taxpayers of Arlington would raise $135 million, the bulk of the cost of construction, through a hike in sales taxes. During a campaign to sell the sales tax increase to Arlington voters, then-mayor Richard Greene said the team owners would put $50 million of their own money into the deal up front. It didn’t quite work out that way; the owners raised a hefty portion of their down payment from fans, through a one dollar surcharge on tickets.

After working on his father's successful 1988 presidential campaign, Bush purchased a share in the Texas Rangers baseball franchise, in April 1989, where he became managing general partner.

On November 8, 1994, Bush defeated popular incumbent Ann Richards to become Governor of Texas. That same year, he and his partners sold the Texas Rangers with the governor realizing a profit of nearly $15 million. He went on to become the first Texas governor to be elected for two consecutive four-year terms. His tenure in office featured a positive reputation for bipartisan leadership.