There is a tempting political spin to impose on the 2010 World Series: it’s the ultimate red-state/blue-state showdown. In one corner, you have the Giants from the People’s Republic of San Francisco and across the ring you have the Texas Rangers, hailing from a state that repeats "Don’t Tread on Me" like a religious catechism. The Giants best player is two-time Cy Young award winner and long-haired midnight toker Tim Lincecum. Their top reliever, Brian Wilson, sports a Mohawk, tattoos and an epic beard that would shame a Crown Heights Chasid. In contrast, the Rangers best player, top-line starter Cliff Lee, leads the team with a style that’s more Johnny Appleseed than Johnny Rotten.
Then there’s the owner’s box: in the Giants luxury suite, you have Bill Neukom, who made his fortune as the chief attorney for Microsoft as it grew from garage startup to leviathan of digital doom. His team plays in a stadium, AT&T Park, that much to the chagrin of Major League owners was built with private funds. In the other owner’s box, you have former Rangers Hall of Fame pitcher and proud political conservative Nolan Ryan. Ryan is seen on camera often this post-season with his dear friend, former Rangers "owner" George W. Bush.
Thanks to Bush, the Rangers play in a park that represents perhaps the pinnacle of taxpayer-gouging, public stadium financing. Two decades—not to mention two wars, a gutted economy and a wrecked New Orleans—ago, Bush and his team of owners threatened to uproot the team if the city of Arlington did not foot the bill for a new park. The local government caved and in the fall of 1990, forked over the entire near-$200 million tab. (One wonders if the bankers who received the largesse of Bush’s Wall Street bailout were taking notes.)
But the scam did not end there. As part of the deal, the Rangers’ ownership was given acres of free land around the stadium to create a dingy amusement park for the kiddies. But most of this land-gift was left to sit, increasing exponentially in value after the stadium’s construction. To make this happen, the late Democratic Governor Ann Richards established the Arlington Sports Facilities Development Authority, which was granted the extraordinary power to seize privately owned land deemed necessary for stadium construction. Then Bush sold his stake in the team to billionaire and friend of the family Tom Hicks in 1998 for $15 million, making a 2,400 percent profit on his original $600,000 (borrowed) investment.
Seems pretty cut and dry for the political sports fan: you line up with either San Fran or Bush Country, right? But even though it would be great to see Dubya cry if the Rangers lose, people should resist easy political labels for either team. The field manager for the Rangers is Ron Washington, who could become the second African-American manager in baseball history to lead a team to championship glory. Washington must be as surprised as anyone to be in the World Series, let alone employed. To the credit of the Rangers organization, they kept Washington at the helm even after the 57-year-old manager failed a drug test during the 2009 season and then admitted this Spring that his drug of choice was cocaine. The Rangers are also led by another player many teams would have thrown overboard: probable 2010 AL MVP Josh Hamilton, who has been on and off the substance-abuse wagon so many times, his blood might be 90 proof.
Also, for those sneering at the red-state owners box in Texas, remember that the Giants ownership team is hardly the Grateful Dead. In addition to being the consigliere for the Microsoft Mafia, Bill Neukom’s team has gobbled $80 million in public financing for park upgrades and untold millions in tax exemptions. They also have a sixty-six-year lease on the primo 12.5 acres of park real estate at a cost of just $1.2 million a year. Then there is the Giants organization’s treatment of forcibly retired home run king and suspected steroid user Barry Bonds. The reviled Bonds is still popular in the Bay, and he sold out the park during the leanest years for the franchise. No one should nominate Bonds for sainthood, but he deserved far better than being released after leading the league in on-base percentage and having every last picture and memento from his historic career removed from team headquarters. Bonds did make a token appearance on the field before game three of the National League Championship Series, but maybe if he had played for Texas, they would have treated him more the way they’ve treated Ron Washington and Josh Hamilton: like a human being.
Far more interesting is what unites both franchises: failure. The San Francisco Giants, despite their storied history have never won a World Series since their 1958 move from New York to the Bay; and the Texas Rangers before this season, had never even won a playoff series. Both teams will be playing with a desperate ardor in front of tortured crowds conditioned for failure. Nope, there are no easy labels in this series: just two teams looking to make their mark on baseball history and two fan bases desperately waiting to exhale. I can’t wait.