Mr. Bush became a multimillionaire in the process, setting himself up financially for his run for the presidency. In one blow, he acquired not only wealth but also the resume he would need to triumph in politics.
Yet a close look suggests that Mr. Bush got the opportunity to be a baseball owner mostly because of his connections. Moreover, his investment was immensely profitable in part because he and his co-owners were shrewd bargainers who charmed and bullied the city of Arlington into giving them a great deal, with the local taxpayers paying more than $135 million to help build the Rangers a stadium.
''The largest welfare recipient in the state of Texas is George W. Bush,'' said Mark S. Rosentraub, a sports economist who formerly taught in Arlington and is now at Indiana University. ''The numbers speak for themselves. You cannot accept $135 million from the taxpayers of Arlington and then be against welfare.''
Mr. Bush and his fellow owners even got the local government to seize the property of other landowners and, in effect, hand it over to the Texas Rangers so that they could make a profit on it. All this was shrewd business and a tribute to Mr. Bush's savvy and vision, but critics complain that it is hard to reconcile with his speeches about limited government and private property rights.
''If a conservative is one who believes in limited government, this whole transaction shows how hypocritical it is for Bush to claim to be a conservative,'' said Jim Runzheimer, a lawyer in Arlington who opposed the public subsidy to build the stadium. ''He got the government to pay his expenses, and that flies in the face of capitalism.''
Yet Mr. Bush was simply doing, exceptionally successfully, what sports franchises everywhere have frequently tried: getting taxpayers to swallow some of their business costs. And to the extent that Mr. Bush's job at that time was to make money for the team's owners, he was eminently successful. ("The 2000 Campaign: Breaking into Baseball; Road to Politics Ran Through a Texas Ballpark, by Nicholas D. Kristof, Published Sept. 24, 2000.)
Yup, they seized private land for the new stadium complex. So much for small gummint.
I recall reading that he never really made any money in oil, but kept getting jobs in the industry because of his dad's connections. And that he'd always wanted to be baseball commissioner. Why didn't he get that job instead?