On April 21, 1989, a 39-member ownership group led by George W. Bush and a Fort Worth financier closed a deal to buy the Texas Rangers, installing Bush as the managing partner. When the group sold the team last year for $250 million, Bush's share was $14.9 million after an initial investment of a relatively modest half-million dollars. His handsome profit raised questions about whether his name had landed him a sweetheart deal.
But most of those close to the 1989 purchase of the team credit Bush's tenacity, contacts and persuasive personality for getting the deal done in the first place. For that -- and serving as the team's managing director and public face -- they say he deserved to be rewarded.
Bush was initially contacted about buying the Rangers in the fall of 1988 by William O. DeWitt Jr., a friend and former business partner. One of Bush's calls was to the team's owner, Eddie Chiles, an old friend of the Bush family, beginning a relentless courtship whose ultimate success the other partners say was just as important as having his own money to invest.
DeWitt, whose father had owned the Cincinnati Reds in the '60s, began lining up investors in Ohio, while Bush worked his Yale, Washington and family connections.
By the end of the year, the so-called Cincinnati group had raised enough to buy the team for the price at which it was valued -- $86 million. But it encountered a significant roadblock when Baseball Commissioner Peter Ueberroth would not sign off on a group dominated by non-Texans. Major League Baseball at the time was committed to finding local ownership to ensure that buyers wouldn't relocate franchises.
Anxious to get the franchise sold before he completed his tenure as commissioner in March 1989, Ueberroth and American League president Bobby Brown approached Richard Rainwater, a prominent Forth Worth financier, and asked him to buy the team. Rainwater, who had already rebuffed Bush's request to become part of his group, invited Dallas financier Edward "Rusty" Rose III to come with him to the meeting.
Both men quickly concluded that they weren't interested, mostly because they didn't want to get saddled with the day-to-day operations of the team and did not want to deal with the media. Ueberroth suggested they meet with Bush, who was eager to run the franchise.
Within days, the seeds of a partnership were formed, with each side agreeing to provide half the money. Rainwater's one demand was that Rose have half the say in the club's management.
The group purchased 86 percent of the team for $75 million, a price based on the team's full value being $86 million. By the time the group sold the club last year, it had acquired the other 14 percent.
Bush's initial investment was $500,000, which he borrowed using the stock he owned in Harken Energy as collateral. He later brought his total Rangers investment up to $606,302 -- or 1.8 percent of the purchase value. For running the team and his role in putting together the deal, Bush was promised an additional 10 percent share when the team was sold -- after all other investors received a return.
Bush has often cited his efforts to put together the deal as one of the greatest accomplishments of his career. Ueberroth sees it differently.
"There is no question that Rainwater and Rose were the primary investment group and I asked them to consider taking George in," Ueberroth said in an interview. "He was an asset because his father's career was going up and reaching the top. We just brought the young man over somewhat out of respect for his father."
Several major investors disputed Ueberroth's recollection. "It was a merger of the two groups," said Gerald Haddock, Rainwater's attorney and later the Rangers general counsel. "It is a fact that Eddie Chiles wanted to give the deal to George W. . . . Without George, this group could not have done the deal."
Running the team together, Rose and Bush were a study in contrasts -- Rose is as studied, cerebral and shy as Bush is impulsive, loquacious and brazen.
"George is very intuitive, very quick to come to the path he wants to take," said Rose. "And I'm pretty plodding. Never in our partnership did we have a disagreement over the paths. But George came up to a path in 15 minutes, and I never was able to come with the path until three days. . . . Sometimes he called me daily and I'd say, well, I still got the abacus whirling."
In 1992, Bush was mentioned as a possible successor to Baseball Commissioner Fay Vincent after Vincent lost a vote of confidence and resigned. Bud Selig, owner of the Milwaukee Brewers and the interim commissioner, let the idea quietly die because he wanted the job permanently. He eventually got it.
"If baseball had come back and said, `You're our guy,' " said Bush's cousin by marriage Craig Stapleton, "he might be commissioner of baseball today."