What if MLB Said Yes to Edward L. Gaylord Instead of George W. Bush?
By Evan Weiner
Sunday, January 18, 2009
5:30 PM EST
What if, history is filled with that simple question. What if? As George W. Bush's tenure as the United States 43rd President comes to an end at noon, eastern standard time on Tuesday, there are two what if questions that need to be pondered although there is no answer to either of them. The first what if came in September 1986 when the American League baseball owners rejected the transfer of the ownership of the Texas Rangers from majority owner Eddie Chiles to minority owner, the Gaylord Broadcasting Company.
Until the 1990s, Major League Baseball owners, whether they were in the American or National League made some really stupid decisions when it came to technology. The baseball barons feared radio back in the 1920s and 1930s because they felt it would cut into attendance instead of realizing that it could be a revenue producer for them along with a two and a hour long commercial selling the product. The same thinking took place in the 1940s, 1950s and 1960s when it came to embracing TV. They knew it could make money sure, but they were afraid the showing of games on TV would cut into attendance.
In the 1970s, cable TV came along and it was made with suspicion but there was no stopping Ted Turner from owning the Atlanta Braves or the cable TV network TBS. In 1981, the Chicago Tribune Company purchased the Chicago Cubs. The Tribune Company also owned WGN-TV, which was a superstation and broadcast Cubs games. A company called Eastern Microwave signed agreements with WSBK in Boston, which televised Boston Red Sox games and WOR in New York, a station that had the rights to New York Mets games. All of a sudden Braves, Cubs, Red Sox and Mets games were available to a good number of subscribers throughout the United States. Baseball owners began to worry that the national cable channels would start cannibalizing local home teams (not those with the national cable deals) cable and over-the-air TV ratings and needed to put a stop to any media company that had national cable TV aspirations that wanted to buy a baseball team
Gaylord was already a one-third owner of the Rangers and had KVTV-TV in Dallas, Channel 11 and beginning in 1985, Gaylord's station added Texas Rangers baseball to the station's lineup. Gaylord had been able to distribute Channel 11's programming onto about 400 cable companies and was well on the way to becoming a superstation like TBS, WGN, WSBK and WOR. That didn't make American League owners very happy and in September 1986, they voted against Edward L. Gaylord's bid to take over controlling interest of the Texas Rangers. After the bottom fell out of the oil industry in 1987, Chiles needed money in a hurry and once again sold the team to Gaylord and once again the American League owners said no.
In 1986, American League owners also went a step further by adopting a rule which said that no television company could purchase a major league baseball team in the future, a rule that was obviously ignored in 1997 when Rupert Murdoch and his FOX Group, purchased the Los Angeles Dodgers from Peter O'Malley. In 1997, under Commissioner Bud Selig and his associates, baseball owners finally understood what technology could produce and was producing. In September 1986, that wasn't the case nor was it the case two years later.
The biggest what if here is what if Gaylord was successful in getting the team. Would that have denied George W. Bush a platform that pushed him into the role as the face of the Texas Rangers and eventually give him the recognition which helped him in his gubernatorial battle against incumbent Ann Richards in 1994?
Bush, who was the son of the sitting American President in 1989, jumped at the opportunity to buy into the Texas Rangers baseball team ownership with a push from William DeWitt, whose father had owned the Cincinnati Reds. His initial attempt to buy the Rangers was turned down by the soon to be outgoing Baseball Commissioner Peter Ueberroth because Bush's partners were not from Texas. After a series of moves orchestrated by Ueberroth, Bush was able to put together a group from Texas that was able to buy the Rangers from Chiles in April 1989.
The next biggest what if here is Ueberroth's role. After rejecting Bush's bid, he put together a deal that ultimately married Bush with Rusty Rose, the Dallas businessman who was the real power of the franchise, not Bush who was just a two percent owner although he was the general managing partner.
What if Rose and others rejected Bush? What would have happened? Bush was not the typical owner; he was the guy who sat behind home plate and shook hands with fans, joked with the sports media and knew ballpark personnel by their first names. One of the Rangers partners told me in 1992 after watching Bush shake hands with fans at the team's Port Charlotte, Florida spring training home to look at George, "he thinks he is really important but all he does is shake hands."
That was Bush's perceived perception among fellow baseball owners, including the baseball ownership powerhouses in Chicago, White Sox owner Jerry Reinsdorf , Chicago Cubs chairman Stanton Cook, Minnesota owner Carl Pohlad, Dodgers owner Peter O'Malley and Brewers owner Bud Selig.
In his 2002 book, Fay Vincent who was dumped by the Reinsdorf-Selig faction as Major League Baseball Commissioner in 1992, "The Last Commissioner, A Baseball Valentine, wrote, "What do you think about me becoming commissioner? and Do you think I'd be a good commissioner? He added, I've been thinking about it. Selig tells me that he would love to have me be commissioner and he tells me that he can deliver it."
What if Bush impressed Reinsdorf and his associates? Would George W. Bush have put off a political career to be the Commissioner of Major League Baseball after Vincent was fired? It apparently never got that far as Selig wanted the job and got it with a little help from his friends in the Great Lakes and LA. Bush was never in the running although he thought he was. The power base was less than impressed with the Rangers managing general partner and his business acumen.
Bush decided to get into the family business after striking out in baseball, politics. His last act as a baseball owner was being found guilty along with his fellow owners of bad faith bargaining in the 1994-95 baseball strike.
Bush was out of baseball by 1998. He leaves the Oval Office on Tuesday, a place that he might never have occupied if baseball owners had embraced cable TV back in 1986 or 1988 or embraced him in 1992 when he was interested in becoming the Commissioner of Major League Baseball.
What if. Historians can review documents and actions, but what if isn't the real world. Had baseball said yes to Edward L. Gaylord, somebody else might have been the 43rd President but baseball said no more than once to Gaylord and once to Bush. History has recorded all of those decisions.