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Why I hope the Texas Rangers never win another game

by Ogi Overman

No matter where I go or what I write, there he is. You know who, the guy with the middle name that starts with the same letter as the word weasel. Him. He has polluted my life for seven long years and, with apologies to Crosby, Stills & Nash, made me crazy old before my time.

Even when I try to change the subject, somehow he rears his oversized head to ruin it. He did it again last week as I was writing my indictment of baseball commissioner Bud Selig and his culpability in the steroid scandal. Researching Selig’s tenure since 1994, who pops up but one of his contemporaries, the former general managing partner of the Texas Rangers, one George W. Bush. Turns out Bush’s name was being bandied about as a potential successor to outgoing commissioner Fay Vincent before Selig got the job.

That’s not all. It may be of no consequence, but while he was part-owner of the Rangers from 1989-’94, four juicers named in the Mitchell report were playing for them: Jose Canseco, Rafael Palmeiro, Kevin Brown and Juan Gonzalez.

But even if there is no real story in Bush’s looking the other way while his players were bulking up overnight, the backstory of how he got the job in the first place deserves retelling. It presents a compelling case that cronyism, hypocrisy and backroom dealing were his modus operandi long before he and Rove brought those character defects to the White House.

In 1988, Rangers owner Eddie Chiles made it known that he wanted to sell the team. William DeWitt, Bush’s backer in one of his oil and gas exploration companies, Spectrum 7, had planned to invest and told Bush about the opportunity. Bush borrowed a half million dollars from a bank on whose board of directors he once sat, later adding another 100 grand, and bought a 1.8 percent stake in the franchise. Bush was charged with – and later took credit for – putting the deal together, but when the only high roller he could bring to the table was an old Yale frat brother, Commissioner Peter Ueberroth stepped in and rounded up a group of investors himself. In ’89 they purchased the club for $89 million, and Bush was rewarded with an extra 10 percent stake in the club. (The fact that his father had just been elected president may have factored into the bonus, but I’m just guessing here.)

At the time, the Rangers were playing in an old minor-league stadium and desperately needed a new park, but the owners were not willing to put up the dough themselves. So – what else? – they hit up the taxpayers for it, threatening to move the team out of Arlington if they didn’t raise $135 million through a half-cent sales tax increase. The voters approved it, and with other tax incentives the figure rose to $200 million.

But the owners needed more. They not only wanted a new stadium but the land around it, so they put together a puppet group called the Arlington Sports Facilities Development Authority, which seized several tracts of land around the ballpark for far less than its market value and over the objections of many of the landowners. One of the Rangers owners just happened to be a realtor (imagine that!) who gave them a lowball offer and when they rejected it simply invoked Texas’s eminent domain law and condemned it and foreclosed on it. The original landowners eventually sued and were awarded $11 million, but by then the Ballpark at Arlington was a reality. Bush, not surprisingly, pled ignorance to the whole shady land grab, even though he was apprised of it continuously. (Ring a bell?)

Now, Rove’s plan all along was that this job would give Bush the exposure he needed for his gubernatorial bid, and it worked. When he was elected governor of Texas he put all his assets in a blind trust … except one, his stake in the Rangers. Then, in 1998, the franchise was sold to Thomas O. Hicks for $250 million. That figure was three times what Bush and his partners had paid for the club 10 years earlier, but for Bush’s personal investment it represented a 25-fold return. For his 600 Gs he pocketed a cool $14.9 million – while he was governor of Texas.

Not bad work if you can get it.

And the beat goes on. Hicks is also Bush’s No. 4 political contributor, with $300,000 to his campaigns over the years. DeWitt is now owner of the St. Louis Cardinals and has kicked in over $200,000. Likewise former Rangers partners Marshall Payne and Craig Stapleton. Fellow ex-Ranger brass, Mercer Reynolds III, became his campaign finance chairman. Even Rafael Palmiero anted up $2,000.

And I’m left to wonder what a better world we’d be living in if Bush had become Major League Baseball commissioner instead of that other job for which he was unqualified.

Ogi may be reached at ogiman100@yahoo.com, heard Tuesdays at 9:30 a.m. on “The Dusty Dunn Show” on WGOS 1070 AM, and seen on “Triad Today” hosted by Jim Longworth Fridays at 6:30 a.m. on ABC 45 and Sundays at 10 p.m. on WMYV 48.

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