There was quite a stink over the design of Major League Baseball’s commemorative T-shirt celebrating the Rangers AL West title. People were yelling at each other on talk radio, Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and all the other available social media channels, and it even made the local TV station newscasts. All of them.
I read or heard lots of discussion about this, ranging from “It’s an outrage, no one in my family will wear one!” (I might have said something like that, myself) to Dustin Dietz’ articulate summation: “It’s just a t-shirt.”
Well with all respect to my SDI colleague, no it’s not. Let me give you some perspective on why the choice of the Dallas skyline for that T-shirt was such a bad idea.
First, it was short-sighted and tone deaf. Obviously, no one in the commissioner’s office cares that it’s not just Dallas and hasn’t been for decades. It’s been D-FW (or, as I prefer, FW-D) since the airport opened. We are one region, almost homogeneous, from Rockwall to Mineral Wells. But MLB’s choice of the Dallas skyline pointedly and deliberately excluded that portion of us who don’t identify with Dallas.
Why should you give a rip about that? Well, if it weren’t for the civic and business leaders of Tarrant County, we wouldn’t have had major-league baseball here in the first place, and probably would not have kept it here for very long.
The only reason owner Bob Short got permission to move his Washington Senators to Arlington in 1972 was the persistent, energetic, politically savvy, persuasive and downright stubborn Tom Vandergriff, then Arlington’s mayor. The “Boy Mayor” conducted what amounted to a one-person campaign with MLB owners, local citizens and members of Congress for more than two years.
After the move, the team went through a couple of owners pretty quickly, including oilfield millionaire Eddie Chiles. When Chiles’ company went bankrupt, he had to unload the team in a hurry and in 1988 signed an “agreement in principle” to sell the club to a New Jersey real estate man and a Florida car salesman. Rumors flew that they planned to move the team to Tampa.
Fort Worth billionaire Richard Rainwater got wind of this and assembled a local group – fronted by soon-to-be governor George W. Bush – to buy the Rangers and keep them here. That was the first truly stable ownership group the Rangers had ever had.
Then, thanks to Arlington voters who approved a tax increase, the team was able to fund and build The Temple. It was a huge step up from Arlington Stadium, and its increased comfort and capacity boosted revenue for a team that had struggled, on and off the field, since its arrival.
So that’s the history. Leaders from Tarrant County got the team here, and kept it here, and helped it grow financially strong.
Off in the background is an added piece – the persistently recurring rumor that the team will stay in the region but move to downtown Dallas. I hear lots of Dallas-Plano-McKinney-etc. folks complain about how far they have to drive, or ride, to get to a ball game. It reminds me of a friend who lived in Lakewood. I called one afternoon, inviting her and her husband to come to our house for dinner that weekend. Her response: “Oh, gosh, that’s so far! Why don’t y’all just come over here?”
The fact is that, unlike Arlington, Dallas elected officials don’t have a history of supporting public funds for sports stadiums. Since the late 1980s, at least three proposals have been floated for building a downtown Dallas baseball park, and none of them even got as much as a private hearing, much less public discussion. Two of the most powerful voices in opposition have been outspoken former mayor Laura Miller – christened “Madame No” by the Star-Telegram’s Randy Galloway – and long-serving county commissioner John Wiley Price.
To top it off, the current ownership group also owns the land around The Temple. They would be unlikely to surrender that investment unless Dallas put something of equal or greater value on the table and, as I said, that has not been part of their approach for decades.
One final idea I want to talk about is, “Well, if the Rangers would move to Dallas they’d get a lot more fans to their games, more than enough to make up for any Fort Worth fans they might lose.” For me, that’s a non-starter. If it were really true, I believe the Rangers themselves would already have moved.
So that’s my take on how stupid the T-shirt design was. We old-timers who live in Tarrant County and have a sense of history, kind of don’t like it when people who are not from here, pretend like the Rangers are Dallas’ team. They’re not, never have been. They’re FW-D’s team, a truly regional baseball franchise. We can all, FW-ers and D-ers alike, share equally in the enjoyment of this team and this miraculous season.