Tom Schieffer helped lay the foundation for today’s Texas Rangers
08/22/2014 8:22 PM
11/12/2014 8:04 PM
Tom Schieffer twice changing his mind was the precursor for changing the fortunes of both man and baseball team.
All he wanted originally was to be part of the ownership group of the Texas Rangers.
What he became was a driving force for one of the most dramatic makeovers in professional sports.
Some 25 years later, the Fort Worth native will become the 17th member of the team’s Hall of Fame during a pregame induction ceremony before Saturday’s game against the Kansas City Royals.
He’ll be honored for his contributions as a team executive during the team’s most pivotal era of positive change.
It was actually a convergence of events that transformed the Rangers from an illegitimate carpetbagger from Washington, into a big-market, major-league power broker with influence and intrigue.
Without the acquisition of Nolan Ryan and the April 1989 sale of the team from Eddie Chiles to the George W. Bush-Rusty Rose group there possibly would no longer be a baseball team called the the Texas Rangers and certainly no new stadium.
Schieffer, part of the Bush-Rose ownership group, was right in the middle of all the change.
Bush first asked Schieffer to head the effort to build a much-needed ballpark to replace Arlington Stadium, which had long been inadequate to produce the revenue to make the Rangers competitive. Schieffer initially declined before his wife asked him to reconsider.
Bush then asked Schieffer to become team president. He accepted only after again initially declining.
“I again changed my mind. I agreed to do it, but only until the ballpark was built,” said Schieffer, who was also managing general partner after Bush was elected governor from 1994 until his exit from the team in 1999. “But I fell in love with it and never went back. It changed everything.”
Schieffer had initially inquired about becoming a part of an ownership group headed by Fort Worth car dealer-now-turned politician Roger Williams. That effort dissolved, but Bush inquired about Schieffer’s interest in joining his group, which also included Richard Rainwater of Fort Worth.
It was a case of baseball makes strange bedfellows for the 1966 Arlington Heights graduate and attorney and lifelong Democrat and the son of a Republican president with ambitions of his own.
“He said [their politics] doesn’t make any difference,” Schieffer said of his first conversation with Bush about joining. Bush said, Schieffer went on, “ ‘We’re not trying to put together a Republican baseball team or a Democratic baseball team.’ That was the last that was ever heard about.”
Schieffer said he and Bush “instantly hit it off.” One likely reason, he joked, was the bond they shared as losing political candidates. “There’s not anything quite as humbling as being the loser in a political race,” Schieffer said.
The Rangers were in trouble by the time the Bush-Rose group took over in 1989. The team had been a signature loser since arriving in 1972 and attendance lagged.
Owner Eddie Chiles, a Fort Worth oil man who had bought the team from Fort Worth’s Brad Corbett, mistakenly signed a letter of intent to sell the team to a Tampa-based group. Unbeknownst to Chiles, the group planned to move the team to Florida.
After that was scuttled, Major League Baseball owners squashed a bid by Edward Gaylord.
“They were in position to do a lot of things to enhance [the team] that Eddie just wasn’t able to do,” said Tom Grieve, a Rangers television analyst who was the team’s general manager at the time. “Eddie was a great owner and would have done those things, but the financial backing of the team wouldn’t let him.
“When Tom and that group came in, they took the signing of Nolan Ryan, legitimizing the franchise to a whole different level.”
The Rangers increased payroll the first year of Bush-Rose ownership from $6 million to $10 million and in five years had doubled revenue from $30 million in that initial year of ownership.
During the first year of the new ballpark in 1994, revenue increased to $127 million, Schieffer said.
“We never took any money out,” Schieffer said. “We just kept putting it back in the team.”
As the point person for negotiating the site for a new ballpark, Schieffer toured proposed sites in five North Texas cities that had expressed an interest, including Fort Worth, Dallas, Irving, Plano and, of course, Arlington.
It was Arlington’s to lose, said Schieffer, who, along with Mayor Richard Greene built the political bridge needed to create a public-private partnership between the city and the team.
Within three months a deal was struck and voters overwhelmingly approved the city’s share of construction costs.
“We became partners,” Schieffer said. “We tried to under-promise and over-deliver, and I think we did. I think we earned the trust on the the other side.”
The Ballpark in Arlington opened in April of 1994 at a cost of $191 million, $65 a square foot. The Chicago White Sox’s new Comiskey Park (now U.S. Cellular Field) opened at about $130 a square foot.
The Rangers finally produced that long-awaited winning season, capturing their first AL West title in 1996. The Bush-Rose group sold the team to Tom Hicks in 1998 for $250 million.
The foundation for two additional division titles in 1998-99 had been set.
The team’s future was finally secure, too.
“He was a meticulous planner, he forced you to look at things differently,” said Grieve. “He understood the game, knew the history of the game.
“And when you walked into the new stadium, I think you said, ‘Wow, this is a major-league team, for sure.’ ”
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