New Book Renews Debate: Who Was Greater, DiMag or Mick?

Joe DiMaggio and Mickey Mantle at spring training camp in 1951.

Joe DiMaggio and Mickey Mantle at spring training, 1951, DiMag’s last season, Mick’s rookie year.

 

Since 1951, Joe DiMaggio‘s last season and Mickey Mantle‘s rookie year, fans have been debating which of the two New York Yankee icons was the greater ballplayer.

Until his death in 1999, four years after Mantle’s passing, DiMaggio had a contractual deal at every appearance that he would be introduced as “the greatest living ballplayer,” even in the presence of Mick, Ted Williams, Hank Aaron and others.

But a new book, DiMag & Mick: Sibling Rivals, Yankee Blood Brothers, has produced a retrospective on baseball’s legends, in particular DiMaggio and Mantle.

“If you could magically teleport him to today’s game,’’ says John Thorn, the official historian of Major League Baseball, about DiMaggio, “he would not be the same player. In 1969 he was voted baseball’s greatest living player. Today we would find that hilarious, considering that Ted Williams and Willie Mays were alive at the time.”

What makes this re-assessment possible, says author Tony Castro, is the evolution of analytics in baseball, particularly defensive metrics in this case.

“There is this image of the Yankee Clipper sailing so gracefully in the outfield that he never had to dive for a ball,” says Thorn. “But the reality is that his contemporaries recorded more putouts.

“There is a trend toward baseball analytics now and the more you apply them, the more you chip away at the DiMaggio myth,” continued Thorn, elaborating on DiMaggio who would have turned 100 last year. “On his 100th birthday you can still call him an all-time great but he was not the peerless center fielder he was made out to be.”

On the other hand, says Thorn, under sabermetrics, Mickey Mantle “looks great” and possibly closer to Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig in a different era.

“Their reality is closer to the myth,” says Thorn. “They were all greater players than DiMaggio in my estimation.”

A Conversation With Tony Castro About Hemingway

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Looking for Hemingway: Spain, The Bullfights and A Final Rite of Passage by Tony Castro is now available at Amazon.com.

 

 

What brought you to this subject and then what compelled you to write an entire book on it?

 I think my lifelong fascination with Ernest Hemingway had its genesis in my youth when an English teacher who had taken a special interest in my insatiable appetite for reading introduced me to The Old Man and The Sea. I quickly found myself devouring that book and in rapid succession every Hemingway short story and novel that I could find – and eventually earned me the reputation of having read every book in my hometown public library in Waco, Texas.

The obsession with Hemingway eventually led to an unauthorized visit to Cuba in the 1960s along with a group of Chicano movement activists and members of the Students for a Democratic Society. The revolutionary romance of Fidel Castro’s Cuba had made it a popular destination for the New Left, but I was hardly the political sort. I was an undergraduate at Baylor University, a conservative Baptist college in the heart of the South’s Bible Belt, and through a Latin American studies professor at the University of Texas made the connection of a lifetime. He had known Fidel Castro in Mexico in the 1950s, and he arranged for me a special tour of La Finca Vigía, the Hemingway home in San Francisco de Paula, Cuba.

So I guess I was a romantic with a destiny of which I wasn’t even aware. A few years after college, I moved into a writer friend’s house in Houston, which had an unexpected connection to Hemingway. Was it simply an incredible coincidence that my friend’s previous housemate had been Teo Davis, the son of the wealthy American expatriates who had hosted Hemingway in his last two visits to Spain before his suicide?

A couple of years later, while on a Nieman Fellowship at Harvard, I shared this story with the two professors with whom I was studying literature – the Mexican writer and future Nobel laureate Octavio Paz and Homeric scholar Robert Fitzgerald. Both urged me to also spend time during my fellowship studying the newly opened collection of Hemingway papers at the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library. Both Paz and Fitzgerald joined me the first time I visited the collection. Fitzgerald bailed on us afterward, but Paz and I closed down the Faculty Club at Harvard that night toasting Hemingway with shots of tequila.

Then in the 1980s, in yet one more twist of coincidence, I finally met Teo Davis in Los Angeles where we began a friendship that has spanned over three decades. It was Teo who introduced me to Mike Hamilburg, a literary agent who represented me until his illness and death. Mike had known Teo for several years, and he tried for well over twenty years to convince Teo to write a book about his experience as a child with Hemingway when he had stayed in Spain at the Davis villa La Consula in 1959. Mike said he didn’t think Teo had ever written a single word, and if he did, I never read a word of it either. Teo didn’t want to write that book or couldn’t. Finally, after years of trying to coax the story out of him, I gave up. It was then that Teo, somewhat relieved that I was going to stop pestering him about his story, said that I should write the story and that he would help as best he could. This book, though, isn’t the book Mike had envisioned Teo writing, nor is it the book I tried to get him to write. That book Teo took with him to the grave.

 

So what is this book about?

For me, there has always been in the story of Hemingway and Spain an allure so sharp and fresh that there was never any question of writing this book. There has been, from the start, the joy of rediscovering the world in which he walked and traveled, both in the 1920s and again in 1959. Here was a canvas as generous, colorful, and grand as any in Hemingway’s life. As the story pushed forth, there was at every turn the excitement of history never told, of connections hidden for decades, of old mysteries answered.

The story of Hemingway the icon was well known. The story of Hemingway the man and his friendship with Bill and Anne Davis at their magnificent home had been buried. Getting that story was slow work. After a good while, I felt I had become the crypt of Hemingwayolé en La Consula. As my patient wife Renee used to say (but seldom aloud – for which I thank her) about this project, great effort went in but nothing came out until now.

For me, too, as a child of the 1950s who read The Old Man and The Sea thinking I was the boy Manolin, I suppose I have been looking for Hemingway all my life, and perhaps it seems fitting that I think I have found him at an age when I now see myself in the old man Santiago. Looking for Hemingway is about Hemingway at that age we all dread of being: Old, losing our train of thought, unable to do what once came so easily, too quick to show our frustration at our slowness but still holding on to the hope of one last glimmer of youth. And it is not an easy age to face, especially for publishers. More than a few just flat out said they didn’t think any readers, especially Hemingway fans, wanted to read about him as an old man, pathetic at times, feeble and paranoid.

Being a life-long Hemingway lover, I found that hard to believe, unless it’s just simply old age some of us don’t want to face, whether Hemingway’s or our own. For those who fear this life stage, I can only say that I found it inspiring in the research to learn that Pablo Picasso in his sixties was having affairs with gorgeous youthful women more than forty years younger – young enough to be his granddaughters. A dirty old man? Maybe not so dirty if you’re Picasso.

Today, the aging, dying Hemingway is one I have come to love and appreciate as much as the young romantic Hemingway, for in his mortality lie the same fears, regrets and self-recriminations that all of us face in our own way as we reach that stage in our lives.

 

A theme in the book is the Lost Generation. Explain why.

Hemingway made famous the Lost Generation of post-World War I in Europe — American expatriates thought by many to have been drunkenly decadent, wildly self-indulgent, and irretrievably ruined. It was the cultural backdrop for his breakthrough novel The Sun Also Rises, published in 1926. And it’s a theme not that dissimilar from what emerged in the months of Hemingway’s 1959 visit to Spain. Ernest chased young women as unashamedly in 1959 as he had pursued the beautiful and recently divorced British socialite Lady Duff Twysden in 1925, being as insensitive to Mary as he had been his first wife Hadley back in the mid-1920s. And Hemingway in 1959 behaved almost as badly as he and his entourage did back in 1925. But there were other similarities. A writer who visited the Davis villa in Spain in 1959 said Bill and Annie Davis were “the Gerald Murphys of the fifties, transferred to the new high bohemian playground of the Gold Coast of Spain.” The Gerald Murphys were a wealthy American expatriate couple known for their own lavish soirees on the French Riviera where they entertained writers and artists of The Lost Generation in the 1920s. And this was the exact kind of setting surrounding Hemingway in Spain in 1959.

 

You did a lot of research. Tell us about it.

Of course, there were countless interviews with my friend Teo Davis, son of Bill and Anne. But there was a matter also tracking down memoirs, unpublished and published, letters, journals and books, particularly some in Spain. This period of Hemingway’s life was never written about in any depth by anyone but instead it was finding bits and pieces in various sources, mostly in Spain and Paris where the Davises had homes. I was also incredibly fortunate while I was a columnist at the Los Angeles Herald Examiner of being a desk mate to the late Jim Bacon, who was perhaps the most famous print journalist who ever covered Hollywood. He knew a number of people in Hollywood who had known Hemingway and the Davises, people like Lauren Bacall and Orson Welles. Even in the 1980s, as I was playing around with the idea of a book about Hemingway in Spain, Ms Bacall and Mr. Welles were gracious in providing me with their insights.

 

In addition to Hemingway, who was the most compelling figure in the book to you?

Without a doubt Bill Davis. It seems that almost everyone who knew him came away feeling that he remained a mysterious stranger to them, no matter how much time they spent with him. To many of them he was Rick Blaine, the Humphrey Bogart character from Casablanca. It took me a long while to understand that even his children, Teo and his sister, had deeply-seeded personal issues with their father that were never resolved. It is one of the tragedies in their lives that the children never felt as loved by their father, nor their mother, as Hemingway had been. As Teo sadly put it: “We weren’t Hemingway.”

What Eric Garcetti’s White House dreams mean for Latinos

Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garretti, here greeting then President Barak Obama, has let it be known that he is thinking of running for the Presidency.

Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garretti, here greeting then President Barak Obama, has let it be known that he is thinking of running for the Presidency.

IF ERIC GARCETTI RUNS FOR PRESIDENT, what will it mean for Hispanics not only in his hometown but beyond?

For Garcetti is the new face of being Latino in America, even as some of his critics have charged in the past  that he wasn’t Hispanic enough, raising a more serious question in this nation’s multi-ethnic society:

Who is or who isn’t Latino?

As for Garcetti, Los Angeles’ 46-year-old mayor’s grandfather was born in Mexico. His great-grandfather, Massimo Garcetti, was a Mexican judge who was hanged during the Mexican Revolution. Garcetti speaks perfect Spanish. He not only considers himself Hispanic, he has also called himself Chicano.

“I’m just your average Mexican-American Jewish Italian,” Garcetti told the 2016 Democratic Convention where he liberally sprinkled his address with Spanish phrases. In his address he described his Italian-Mexican grandfather’s journey across the U.S. border as an infant and the persecution faced by his maternal ancestors, Jewish immigrants from Eastern Europe and Russia.

His Latino critics, though, may have been judging Garcetti as much on his skin coloration. He is as huero as they come in a city and in the Southwest where caramel brown-skinned Mexican Americans make up the majority of Latinos.

Perhaps those critics don’t watch Spanish televisions novelas which is full of hueros speaking Spanish – and on which Garcetti would easily pass.

Just as he easily has passed the test among Latino voters in Los Angeles where, they have largely voted for Garcetti – though in his first mayoral campaign his opponent in a runoff  had the lion’s share of endorsements from Hispanic politicians and leaders, including farm workers co-founder Dolores Huerta, County Supervisor Gloria Molina and Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa’s cousin, Assembly Speaker John Perez.

Villaraigosa, who didn’t endorse in that race, had been mayor and city’s consummate Latino politician – the first Hispanic elected mayor in modern times and at one time the hope of Latino aspirations to higher office.

But he left with those hopes dashed, though he is running for governor next year, and replaced both in office and in promise by Garcetti, who wasted little time in being embraced by all the Latino organizations, especially those that lean Democratically, looking for a fresh face for national leadership.

In his time as mayor, Garcetti has matched or exceeded Villaraigosa’s appointments of Latinos to city boards and commissions — and he has been at the leadership in making Los Angeles a sanctuary city for the undocumented and DREAMers.

“I am proud [that}Los Angeles is the strongest defender of immigrants perhaps of any city in this country,” he told NPR earlier this year. “we absolutely are a city that not only does provide sanctuary to immigrants, but we defend them. I think that’s a step further.

“And instead of getting caught up in terms, it’s important for us to do the work to defend refugees, immigrants, legal immigrants and those undocumented immigrants who haven’t committed serious violent felonies who we should make citizens. And I think the proof is in the pudding. LA stands strong. We are probably the strongest city in the country when it comes to that, and we’re not going to back down.”

In Garcetti, America’s young DREAMers have an ideal role model and candidate: A former Rhodes Scholar at Oxford, one of the few American Latinos so honored; a graduate of Columbia who also studied at the London School of Economics; the son of a former district attorney; a lieutenant in the U.S. Naval Reserves; and scandal-free, married to Amy Wakeland with whom he has a daughter, Maya Juanita, a name after any Latino’s heart.

Add to that a built-in political asset that few other Latino politicians have.

Garcetti is Jewish. Jews in Los Angeles today are celebrating that he has been the city’s first Jewish mayor.

“Weekends involved bowls of menudo at my grandparents’ and bagels at my cousins’ house,” Garcetti says of his childhood with a Mexican and Jewish background. “I think if you’re Latino, you’re very comfortable with the idea of mestizo, being mixed.

“So I kind of joke that I’m mestizo double, double mixed.”

It enabled Garcetti to fashion a coalition built around two of the most powerful political elements in Los Angeles – and in America today – Latinos and Jews.

It is also a natural native constituency for Garcetti that now has almost elevated him to a recognizably national level and the precipice of even higher office in America.

And in upsetting preconceived notions about what being Hispanic and what Latino power is today, Garcetti has shown he may have a unique understanding that Latino voters want more than just pandering to their ethnicity

“My grandparents were from northern Mexico, Chihuahua and Sonora,” Garcetti told a Latino group in Spanish at one of his mayoral campaign stops. “But I don’t want your vote just because I speak Spanish.”

Saving Anne Frank

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For two years, Anne Frank’s family hid in secret rooms in Amsterdam, knowing that a curtain left open by mistake, a wayward noise or a nervous conspirator’s phone call to the Nazis could land them all in concentration camps. Of the eight Jews hiding, seven died before the Holocaust was over, including Anne, whose diary was a testament to the horrors of the Nazi regime. She died of typhus at age 15 at Bergen-Belsen camp in Germany.

By Tony Castro

 

AS A THIRTEEN-YEAR-OLD schoolboy I grew up wanting to save Anne Frank.

Allow me to clarify that.

As a young man, the son of a World War II army veteran, I grew up wanting to save Anne Frank.

I’m still not clear, I fear.

As the son of a World War II decorated veteran who told me stories of the horror he saw at Nazi concentration camps, I grew up wishing there was some way I could go back in time and save the six million Jews killed in the Hitler holocaust. And when I read Screen Shot 2017-11-12 at 2.45.03 PMThe Diary of A Young Girl.  I wasn’t sure if I’d fallen in love with young Anne and wished I could save this damsel in distress or whether I simply wanted to save mankind.

I must confess that about that time I had also seen Elizabeth Taylor in National Velvet and had fallen even deeper into a trance of fascination with Anne Frank, whom I saw personified in this beautiful young actress.

Anne Frank. Elizabeth Taylor. What can I say? I was a child of the 1950s. I knew no no young Jews in my hometown. I knew of Jews only through my religion, Catholicism, and its claim at the time that Jews had killed Jesus Christ, which I knew in my heart wasn’t true. Each Sunday at my church, with those enormous murals of the Stations of the Cross adorning its walls, I would see Roman soldiers leading Christ to his death and crucifying him. I didn’t see Jews hammering nails into his hands and feet.

So the only other Jews I knew about were those killed in the Holocaust from the stories I heard my father tell. They were more like confessions, as if he were trying to exorcise those scenes from his mind, to rid himself of the worst horrors he had seen in the war.

And, of course, I knew Anne Frank. I knew of Anne Frank. I was among the many millions touched by her story, her fears, her aloneness, her hopes.

She haunted me, her story and her photograph. She looked unlike any young woman I knew at that time. Of course, as I said, there were no Jews in my hometown, though that’s not correct I now realize. There were no Jewish people  who lived in my side of my home town, Waco, Texas. And, to be honest, for the longest time, I had no idea that my side was the wrong side of town, the poorer, working side of Waco where I felt out of place, as if I didn’t belong there or any other place. Like the Jews the Nazis had killed in Europe.

“Are we sure we’re not Jewish?” I asked my family at the dinner table one night.

“No, we are Roman Catholics,” my mother quickly answered me.

“But that bothers me,” I said. “Wasn’t it the Romans who crucified Jesus?”

“No, the Jews killed Jesus,” mom said.

“Who said so?”

“The church said so,” she said.

“No, they’re wrong.”

“The Bible says they did.” Mom was insistent.

“No, the Bible doesn’t say that,” I said. “It says that the Jews turned Jesus over to the Romans and left it up to the Romans to decide.”

“You shouldn’t be reading the Bible by yourself,” mom said. “Father Dols says you should only read the Bible with the guidance of a priest.”

“Why? What’s to understand that I would need a priest to explain?” I said. “Quod scripsi scripsi, Pilate said. What I have written I have written. Jesus was the King of the Jews, Pilate wrote, and Pilate’s Roman soldiers crucified Jesus.”

Mom looked at my father.

“Eat your dinner before it gets cold,” he said.

I looked at my little sister who appeared to be in another world.

“What are you day-dreaming about?” I asked her.

“I’m thinking about how I really love fillet mignon,” she said.

She was crazy, of course.

“This isn’t filet mignon we’re eating,” I said. “It’s spaghetti.”

“I’m imagining it’s filet mignon,” she said.

This was my family. Full of denial. My mom didn’t believe that it was the Romans who had crucified Jesus Christ. My sister wanted her pasta to be steak. And my father would have nothing to say if it weren’t about the Dallas Cowboys.

And I was in love with Anne Frank, a girl my age, once, whom I felt I knew better than anyone else in the world. For what was it she had written?

“Writing in a diary,” she had said, “is a really strange experience for someone like me. Not only because I’ve never written anything before, but also because it seems to me that later on neither I nor anyone else will be interested in the musings of a thirteen-year-old schoolgirl.”

One day all the world would wish it had saved Anne Frank.

 

Tony Castro is the author of  Looking for Hemingway: Spain, The Bullfights and A Final Rite of Passage.

 

The Baseball Presidency: The Making of George W. Bush

This story was originally published in Inside Houston magazine in 2001.

George W. Bush may have symbolized the perennial Baseball Presidency.

George W. Bush’s life and White House years may have best symbolized the perennial Baseball Presidency that has long existed in America.

GEORGE W. BUSH REMEMBERS THE most memorable experience of his freshman year at Yale being the April day in 1965 that he left the campus and boarded a flight for Houston. When his mother Barbara picked him up at Hobby Airport, she could barely contain her own excitement. She was treating her son to the first game to be played at the Astrodome, the world’s first domed stadium billed as the “Eighth Wonder of the World” by the Astros’ original owner, Judge Roy Hofheinz.

“I’ve got the best seats in the house for us,” she told her son. Fittingly, some would say for the Bushes, a family with its roots in Connecticut, the Astros were playing the Yankees. The New York Yankees were the most storied team in baseball, and their aging superstar Mickey Mantle was one of George’s favorite players.

“Great, mom,” said Bush, who was then eighteen. “I can’t wait.”

“They’re called skyboxes.”

Today, Bush shakes his head when he recalls that day and arriving at one of the Astrodome’s 53 luxurious skybox suites. “We got up in the skybox,” he says. “It was the very top of the Astrodome. The players looked like ants. I said, ‘Mom, these may be wonderful seats, but where are the players?’”

It may be that the source of some of President George W. Bush’s greatest political strengths ­ — the unpretentiousness and mellow good nature that warm up voters and are serving him well in Washington –­ goes back to his childhood and to his unquenched and impassioned love of baseball, a game never so rhapsodized in the nation’s capital as it has been since Bush became the country’s 43rd president.

President George W. Bush throws out the first pitch at a Washington Nationals game.

President George W. Bush throws out the first pitch at a Washington Nationals game.

“Baseball,” Bush said in an interview during the 2000 presidential campaign, “has been a part of my life since before I can remember. It is a pursuit for optimists. To come to the park every day, you have to believe you can win.”

Perhaps it is the optimism built on baseball that, in part, explains how Bush became president, surprising critics who said he wasn’t smart enough, defeating a Democratic candidate who had been bred for the presidency, confounding journalists who almost universally opposed him in the sanctity of their own private voting booths. How else is this second Bush presidency to be explained? Had it been not a case of enough Clinton helping Democrat Al Gore’s presidential campaign or of too much Clinton personal hijinks in the public consciousness? How had Bush done what few thought he could do? And if this marks the end of what the historian Arthur Schlesinger Jr. once called the “imperial presidency,” as Washington pundits are saying, what will the Bush years be called?

Call it perhaps the Baseball Presidency. What Bush himself might say is that it just goes to show how far the America of soccer moms and hip-hop sports culture mentality has strayed from its traditional national pastime. The America that Bush grew up in ­ and the America that brought major league baseball to Houston and built the Astrodome ­ remains an America with an undying game that has been slowly reclaiming its place as a cultural expression of the national character. As cultural historian Jacques Barzun once observed about the country and baseball: “Whoever wants to know the heart and mind of America had better learn baseball.”

Perhaps part of understanding Bush is understanding baseball — that the game has the image of stability and conservatism, that it is individualistic but still emphasizes teamwork, that it is anti-intellectual but cannot be won through sheer brute force or strength or emotion but through cleverness, thought, guile, and technical mastery of small details. “Baseball is, to be sure,” as American Studies expert Gerald Early has put it, “an American cultural Declaration of Independence… There is something about baseball’s checks and balances that mirrors those checks and balances of the Constitution.”

And baseball, in the famous words of Saturday Night Live’s mythical baseball great Chico Escuela, has been vetty, vetty good to George W. Bush. It has been, other than his family, the most important aspect of his life. Baseball made him a success after a series of business failures. Baseball made him rich, and baseball launched his political career. Baseball was his vehicle both for embracing a family tradition and for leaving his father’s shadow. Baseball also gave Bush a powerful, if intangible, asset: It made him what he always claimed to be: a “regular guy,” not a president’s son from Andover, Yale and Harvard, but a guy who spit sunflower shells in his box seat while hobnobbing with the on-deck batter.

Indeed, if ever a new American president itched impatiently for baseball’s traditional opening day with its red, white and blue stadium bunting and the innocent expectation of the long season ahead, the day when, as chief executive, he might stroll out to the mound at the heart of a lush, manicured diamond and from there throw out the first pitch of the season — that president is George W. Bush, who when he was the owner and managing partner of the Texas Rangers attended nearly every home game in the old Arlington Stadium, sitting in his front row seat in Section 109, Row 1, behind the Rangers’ dugout, with his cowboy boots perched on the railing, passing out autographed baseball cards of himself to fans.

“I want the folks to see me,” Bush said of his non-skybox persona, “sitting in the same kind of seat they sit in, eating the same popcorn, peeing in the same urinal.”

When he attended the opening day game at the Astrodome’s successor — the new retractable-roof stadium Enron Field

George W. Bush's autographed baseball collection, which once adorned the Oval Office, is now housed at the Bush Presidential Library.

George W. Bush’s collection of baseballs autographed by some of the game’s all-time greats, which once adorned the Oval Office in the White House, is now on display at the Bush Presidential Library.

with a full-size, detailed vintage locomotive that runs on 800 feet of railroad track beyond the left field wall ­ Bush had moved up from the skybox set. Last April 7, two days shy of 35 years since attending the opening of the Astrodome, Bush and his father, former President George Bush, were guests of Enron chairman and chief executive officer Kenneth Lay. It was a union made of money, politics and baseball. Enron, the largest supplier of electricity and natural gas in the United States, was the single largest contributor — more than $555,000 through its employees — to Bush’s political dream. Lay had personally given over $100,000 to Bush’s political campaigns, more than any other individual. He was also one of the “Pioneers” — a Bush supporter who had collected at least $100,000 in direct contributions of $1,000 or less.

Critics have long claimed that Lay and Enron have had Bush and his father in their hip-pocket, pointing to favorable treatment the company has received in deregulation legislation in Texas while Bush was governor and in what may be ahead for Enron’s interests in world markets. For baseball purists, more interesting than the charges of political favoritism may be the metaphor Bush used in dismissing the allegations on the day of the Astros’ 2000 season home opener. “The governor,” said Bush spokesman Scott McClellan, “is an avid baseball fan who has attended games his entire life. And we’re not going to swing at a political wild pitch that’s low and in the dirt.”

In a sense, Bush’s life has been one long baseball metaphor, his personal field of dreams, his connection to a happy childhood when he collected bubble gum baseball cards, played Little League baseball and, like other youngsters of his time, wanted to be Willie Mays or Mickey Mantle. Baseball had also been bred into him. His grandfather, Connecticut Senator Prescott Bush, had played baseball at Yale. His father had been the star Yale first baseman who met Babe Ruth, and George W. attended his first baseball games as a baby when his father played for the Yale team.

As young Bush was growing up in Midland, Tex., his father helped coach his son’s Little League team. “It was the one sport my dad shared with us as kids,” says Marvin Bush, who is 10 years younger than George W.In Midland, young Bush spent long hours playing baseball in a field behind his house and became a catcher on his Little League team, the Cubs. Barbara Bush was the only Little League mother who could keep score at games, and she remembers her son as “the most enthusiastic player” who made the all-star team as a catcher. George Bush, in a letter at that time to his father-in-law, described “Georgie” as “so eager. He tries so very hard.”

“He had trouble,” says Fay Vincent, the former baseball commissioner and a friend of the Bush family who spent a summer in Midland in the 1950s. “I used to tease him about it. I remember him striking out a lot.”

“Well, he was a good catcher,” says his Little League coach, Frank Ittner. “But he was like his daddy. He couldn’t hit.”

George W. Bush played Little League Baseball in Midland, Tex.

George W. Bush played Little League Baseball in the 1950s in Midland, Tex., where his family knew future Commissioner Fay Vincent.

Young Bush didn’t have to hit. His future, financially at least, was secure. Though he might not have known it, he was a stockholder in father’s booming oil company. “Little George,” says Ittner, “had a million shares of letter stock, so he probably was one of the richest Little League players in Midland.”

More importantly, during this period, Bush gained an intangible quality from his family’s competitive nature and from having to overcome his limited physical talent to acquit himself as a Little Leaguer.

“The blind drive to win is a hallmark of the Bush family clan,” says Gail Sheehy, who wrote the controversial profile on Bush for the October 2000 Vanity Fair, claiming he suffered from undiagnosed dyslexia. “One thing that G.W.’s childhood friends told me repeatedly was that he has to win, he absolutely has to win and if he thinks he’s going to lose, he will change the rules or extend the play. Or if it really is bad he’ll take his bat and ball and go home. So I had very little doubt that he would win this election in the end, no matter how long he had to play it out.”

Like countless other youngsters of his time, Bush also collected Topps and Bowman baseball trading cards that came wrapped with a piece of bubble gum in the pre-collectibles rage era. Bush, however, went one step better. He sent cards with self-addressed, stamped envelopes to big league players, asking for their autographs. Most of them obliged and returned the cards. A decade later, he gave the cards in a leather-bound collection to younger brother Marvin. Later Bush tried to get them back only to be told by Marvin that they had been lost, “just to get him off my back.” When informed by a reporter that Marvin admitted still having the collection, Bush’s face lit up. “This is a breakthrough story! I finally found my Willie McCovey autograph!”

Bush’s great-uncle, Herbert Walker, was then one of the original owners of the New York Mets, so George W. and his brothers attended the team’s first spring training. Uncle Herbie even named his dogs Metsie and Yogi, after manager Yogi Berra, the former New York Yankee catcher and another of Bush’s favorite players. “George always wanted to buy a baseball team,” recalls First Lady Laura Bush, “to be an owner like his Uncle Herbie.”

Bush himself, however, was not destined to be even the ballplayer his father had been. At Andover, he still organized an intramural stickball league. At Yale, he was a pitcher his freshman year but didn’t stick with the team. After college, Laura Bush recalls that Bush coached a Midland Little League team through “quite the poor season.”

After completing a Harvard MBA, Bush, like his father before him, went into the oil business. Oil had made his father rich, but young Bush struggled. His oil company failed, and he had to be bailed out by relatives and powerful friends of the family. It was in the oil business, however, that Bush made the connection that would ultimately change his fortunes. In 1984, Bush merged his small company with the oil exploration operation of family friend William O. DeWitt Jr., whose father had owned the St. Louis Browns baseball team and later the Cincinnati Reds — and who later alerted Bush that the Texas Rangers were for sale.

Former President George W. Bush talks baseball with new MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred.

Former President George W. Bush talks baseball with new MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred.

In 1989, as part of a consortium of investors, Bush became an owner of the Texas Rangers with whom he became the highly visible managing partner. Ultimately, however, what would transform the fortunes for the Rangers franchise was the $190 million Ballpark in Arlington, which replaced the team’s outdated minor league park in the same city. Bush became one of the leading campaigners on behalf of a local sales tax election that paid for two-thirds of the facility.

After he was elected Texas governor, Bush withdrew from the day-to-day operations of the Rangers and put his interest in a trust. With a presidential bid looming, the partners eventually decided to sell the team to Dallas businessman Thomas O. Hicks in 1998 for $250 million. Bush’s $606,000 investment turned into $14.9 million, mostly because of the new ballpark and because, through his original contract with his partners, Bush’s stake in the team went from 1.8 to 11.8 percent.

“He’s probably retroactively gotten a lot more credit for running the Rangers than he really did,” says Houston Chronicle sports columnist Mickey Herskowitz, who collaborated with Bush on his campaign biography but was later dumped and replaced by campaign communications director, Karen Hughes. “Bush was the front man, the PR man, the hand-shaker.”

During his years with the Rangers, Bush became particularly close to Hall of Fame pitcher Nolan Ryan, whom he had met on the campaign trail for his father in 1980. Bush helped to convince the aging pitcher to stay five years, rather than the single season Ryan had planned — in part because Ryan liked what he saw. “He promoted the ball club as much as anybody I’d seen,” says Ryan, whom Bush later appointed to a state wildlife commission.

“I enjoyed being a Ranger and getting to know (President) Bush and his family, finding out about his dad and what kind of baseball fans they were. I really respected the fact that he always sat in the front row at the ballpark, whether we were doing well or not doing well. Sitting with the fans, he didn’t hide, he always signed autographs and talked about the team.

“I think the fans realized he was a baseball fan and was committed to doing everything he could to make the Rangers a top-notch organization.”

Bush took something else away from the Rangers besides friendships and a small fortune. In his years with the Rangers, he also developed a management style that served him well while he was governor ­ and which has helped him in the first few months of his administration.

“I’m not so sure you can segue from baseball to a presidency,” Bush says of his management style, “but there are some lessons about management, about developing a strategy. Baseball is a marketing business. It’s a business of being able to relate to fans and convince fans to come out. This is a business about adding value.

“I do build teams. That’s what a president does. He builds an administration of people heading in the same direction with the same goal.”

Yankee legend Derek Jeter gets a congratulatory pat during his finale game in Texas from President George W. Bush.

New York Yankees legend Derek Jeter gets a congratulatory pat during ceremonies before  his farewell game in Texas from President George W. Bush.

In his young presidency, Bush has had one evening that aides say has stood out from all the rest. On the first Wednesday of February, not even the mid-day drama surrounding the capture of a gunman outside the South Lawn of the White House could sidetrack the president’s evening plans. George F. Will, the Pulitzer Prize winning columnist and intellectual laureate of conservatives, had arranged a relaxing evening for the new president with some people he regards as being among the most gifted individuals in America.

When John F. Kennedy was president, he hosted a dinner at the White House to honor Nobel Prize winners and welcomed the guests by saying, “This much genius has not been in the White House except possibly when Thomas Jefferson dined alone.”

On this evening, President Bush would not be equal to that kind of wit, but then again Thomas Jefferson never won a Cy Young Award, managed four World Series champions, been named the American League’s Most Valuable Player, or broken Lou Gehrig’s Iron Man record.

That evening, Atlanta Braves pitcher Tom Glavine, New York Yankees manager Joe Torre, Chicago Cubs skipper Don Baylor, and Baltimore Orioles’ future Hall of Famer Cal Ripken, their wives and Oakland A’s general manager Billy Beane were all getting their spring training sendoff. They dined with the president on veal chops and salad in the old family dining room, then had ice cream and cookies shaped like French fries and hot dogs for dessert.

“He was so gracious,” said Glavine. “He said, ‘If you don’t mind, I’d like to show you around.’ We were looking at each other like: ‘Are you kidding me?’”

The guests got the presidential tour, although it was not the extensive one Bush wished he could have given them. For the first time in his nineteen days in office, Bush was struck with a tinge of regret that he had not yet brought to the White House the more than 250 autographed baseballs, collected since his childhood, that had adorned his gubernatorial office in Texas. The balls were signed by Joe DiMaggio, Mantle, Stan Musial, Ted Williams, and other legends of the game.

Bush had also left behind several baseball bats, including one from his beloved Texas Rangers with his name engraved and another from home run record-breaker Mark McGwire, wishing him luck in his presidential campaign. Bush, however, added to that collection that night, getting autographed baseballs from his guests and even putting his presidential signature on baseballs that some of the players brought with them.

“I never dreamed about being president,” Bush told his guests, rephrasing a line he has used often in talking about himself. “When I was growing up, I wanted to be Willie Mays.”

 

Tony Castro, a former Sports Illustrated staff writer who covered George W. Bush’s presidential campaign, is the author of the forthcoming biography, Mickey Mantle: America’s Prodigal Son (Brassey’s, Inc.).

Copyright, Tony Castro