The Magazine

Texas Ranger

Did running a baseball team help prepare George W. Bush to run America?

Dec 13, 1999, Vol. 5, No. 13 • By DAVID BROOKS
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Tom Schieffer was given broad authority in the Rangers organization. Schieffer, the brother of Face the Nation host Bob Schieffer, was a Democratic state representative in Texas who was swept out of office in 1978. He went into law, specializing in the oil and gas business, and prospered. In 1989, when Bush, Rusty Rose, and others were organizing the group to buy the Rangers, they were told they would have to include more Texans. Schieffer was invited to join the partnership and did, investing $ 1.4 million for a 4.2 percent interest in the club (actually a greater share than Bush owned).

Schieffer was not an obvious choice to be team president, having rubbed a lot of people the wrong way during his political career. But in 1989 Schieffer attended almost as many games as Bush, and the two became close friends. In the Rangers' front office, they established a seamless and highly successful working relationship. "He's not much on details," Schieffer told the San Antonio Express-News. "But he likes to participate in strategic decisions, and then he likes to recruit people to his staff." From the pattern Bush set at the Rangers, one could infer that the chief of staff in a George W. Bush White House would be the most powerful one in history. But Bush disagrees. "I wouldn't draw a conclusion that a single person would have a lot of authority," he says. "As governor, I've got a much flatter organizational chart. I have direct access from more than one person."

Their biggest accomplishment, and Schieffer's major responsibility, was building a stadium. When the Rangers moved to Texas from Washington, they were housed in a glorified minor-league ballpark, with lousy seats and few luxury boxes to generate revenue. Bush, Rose, Schieffer, and Richard Greene, the mayor of Arlington, developed a proposal to hike the city's sales tax by half a cent to raise $ 135 million for the new stadium. It was put to the voters in a referendum. Bush campaigned for it, while critics called it welfare for millionaires. In the biggest turnout in Arlington history, the measure passed by 2 to 1.

They drew up a list of 100 features they wanted in the new ballpark. "I wanted grass of course," Bush says. "It's like foreign policy. You're either an isolationist or an interventionist. You're either for grass or artificial turf. There are certain threshold issues." They wanted an asymmetrical outfield, to increase the number of triples, which Bush says are baseball's most exciting play. They wanted tight space around the foul lines so fans would be closer to the game. They wanted old-fashioned lighting pillars. They wanted plenty of features for families, so that fans would bring along the spouse and kids when they went to games. They also wanted a lot of nooks and crannies throughout the stadium. "We noticed that different culture clusters grow up in different sections of a ballpark. We wanted the nooks and crannies for the cultures to develop," Bush adds. He says the weeks doing stadium design were some of the most fascinating of his life.

They selected Washington architect David Schwartz and asked him to build the park -- Baltimore's Camden Yards, the first of the retro-parks, was just under construction. Schwartz came up with an art deco design and an old-fashioned one. Bush chose the more traditional one. Bush insisted that the stadium have a Texas feel. When they talked about concession stands, Schwartz says, Schieffer wanted to know how many points of sale there would be from a revenue standpoint; Bush wanted to make sure there would be quality Texas barbecue.