It doesn’t come with a ring, but this week was still special for former George W. Bush admirer. Nearly three decades after he sold the Texas Rangers, the team that pushed him into politics finally won its first World Series title.
Mr Bush launched the series last week throwing out the first pitch and cheered from home in Dallas on Wednesday when his old team win game 5 in Phoenix. For the one-time Rangers chief executive, it was a shocking finale to a league that eluded him when he signed the cheques.
“I think he likes it,” said Tom Bernstein, a longtime friend and partner in ownership of the Rangers at the time. Mr. Bush, he said, had always been fascinated by baseball. “She’s just talking to him. It sounds gross but the rhythm of the whole thing. He is a student of the game. He is immersed in it. It always was. Why baseball? It’s a crazy game. But it resonates with him. It’s part of who he is.”
The former president, who generally stays out of the business of issuing statements these days, made an exception, saying he was “thrilled” with the victory. “I congratulate the owners, the managers and the coaching staff, the front office and the whole organization,” he said. “And, of course, I congratulate the players on this great team for winning the first World Series in our club’s history. This was baseball at its best and Laura and I are proud of this team.”
Baseball has long been the sport of presidents, from the days when Andrew Johnson brought the first players of an organized team to the White House and William Howard Taft became the first commander-in-chief to throw out the first pitch on Opening Day. But perhaps no one had more direct ties to America’s pastime than Mr. Bush and his father, President George H.W. Bush, a star at Andover and Yale.
Young George dreamed of becoming another Willie Mays as he played catch in the backyard in Midland, Texas, with his father, who coached the Little League team. However, while he followed his father to Andover and Yale, he could not match Poppy’s glory on the diamond. Instead, she was a cheerleader and formed a stickball association, serving as commissioner called “Tweeds Bush,” a play on Boss Tweed, the old political kingpin.
According to Mark K. Updegrove, author of “The Last Republicans,” a book about the presidential couple, baseball “acted as a bonding agent” between the two Bushes. Although football dominated sports culture in Texas, “it was baseball that captured the imagination of the 43, as it did the 41,” Mr. Updegrove added, using their nicknames by presidential order.
For years, George W. Bush found little success in business or politics, but any unspoken rivalry between the two Bushes peaked in 1989 when the son recruited investors to buy the Rangers, finally allowing him to begin to break away from the significant shadow of his father.
“It might have meant a little more to 43 that when he finally made something of himself in business after struggling in the oil industry that his father had succeeded in, it was in Major League Baseball, given the family’s reverence for the sport.” said Mr. Updegrove.
It was also a sweet deal. Mr. Bush put up just $606,000 as his share of the $86 million purchase, but as administrator he was the group’s accessible public face. He sat most nights not in the owner’s box but in Section 109, Row 1, Seat 8, behind the dugout, signing autographs. He printed baseball cards with his face on them and traveled the state giving speeches at Rotary and Kiwanis Club luncheons.
Mr. Bush orchestrated a referendum on a temporary tax increase to build a new stadium, and while traded Sammy Sosa to his eternal regretthe Rangers went from losers to winners in seven of the next 10 seasons while nearly doubling attendance and increasing revenue.
For a political scion with his own ambition, the recovery also laid the groundwork for a gubernatorial campaign in 1994. The property’s success “solved my biggest political problem in Texas,” he once remarked. “My problem was, ‘What did the boy ever do?’ He soon moved his autographed baseball card collection to the governor’s office, and in 1998 sold his stake to the Rangers for $14.9 million, quite a return.
Mr. Bush’s most famous baseball moment, however, came after the September 11 attacks, when threw out the first pitch in Game 3 of the World Series in New York to demonstrate the country’s resolve. Wearing a Kevlar vest, he was nervous before taking the field.
Yankees shortstop Derek Jeter broke it down to fly from the mound: “This is New York. If you jump off the base of the embankment, they’ll make fun of you.” Mr. Bush’s smack in the middle was widely cheered.
Mr. Bush reunited with Mr. Jeter on Friday at the Rangers’ ballpark at Globe Life Field in Arlington before throwing out the first pitch of the team’s opener against the Arizona Diamondbacks. “I’m excited,” Mr. Bush told the camera before predicting the Rangers would “win in six games.”
He recalled Mr. Jeter’s taunt 22 years later — “all I was thinking about on the mound was you!” — but said this time he will pitch from the base of the mound. “Totally different environment,” said Mr. Bush, now 77.
“Well, this is Texas, so if you bounce it, they won’t make fun of you,” Mr. Jeter replied.
Mr. Bush agreed. The pressure was off. “It’s okay now.”
Wearing a Rangers jacket, Mr. Bush actually flew a monoplane. But the crowd cheered and Mr. Bush left with a huge smile on his face.
His daughter, Jenna Bush Hager, later noted that he was still recovering from back surgery, a detail confirmed by his chief of staff, Freddie Ford. “President Bush is not one to make excuses, but this is true – he had fusion surgery on his lower back earlier this year,” Mr. Ford said. “He continues to recover well and is actually looking forward to mountain biking with wounded warriors at his ranch over Veterans Day weekend.”
It’s been an exciting few weeks. Mr. Bush maintains ties to the group in the form of Kenneth A. Hersh, chairman of the George W. Bush Presidential Center, who is also a minority owner. Roland W. Betts, a longtime Rangers associate, said he and Mr. Bush “were e-mailing each other throughout the postseason” and that the former president was still “a dedicated fan of Rangers”.
All remember the night Mr. Bush first took the pitcher’s mound as a young owner three and a half decades ago. “How cool is that?” he asked that night. Still pretty cool.