Q&A: George W. Bush The President discusses Aggies and Horns, his Rangers days and his sports idol

September 28, 2003

President George W. Bush has been a Texas sports fan since he was
a young child. He grew up in the West Texas town of Midland,
where his family moved from Connecticut when he was two. The
former governor and onetime managing partner of the Texas Rangers
recalls his excitement at seeing the first issue of Sports
Illustrated at a friend's house in 1954. On the occasion of the
magazine's 50th anniversary, he sat down with SI's Don Yaeger to
talk about sports and the Lone Star State.

SI: Why is Texas such a big sports state?

GWB: First of all, the weather is pretty darn good, so people can
stay outside a lot. The main sport is football, and it's probably
because years ago high schools became the center point of the
small towns. High school football became the thing to do on a
Friday night.

The elementary school I went to was in front of Midland Memorial
Stadium. And Wahoo McDaniel was the Midland High football star.
He went on to [Oklahoma] and then played linebacker for the Jets,
and then became a professional wrestler. I remember as a kid
watching Wahoo McDaniel play football.

SI: What's your favorite Texas rivalry?

GWB: I'd have to say the Texas-Texas A&M football game. It's the
kind of game where all records go out the window because of the
intensity of the rivalry. When Texas A&M comes to Austin to play,
the Aggie band and the Corps of Cadets march down Congress
Avenue, which is the main street, to the stadium. The whole
series is full of tradition. Plus they're good games, generally.

SI: You've been quoted as saying that as an athlete you peaked in
Little League.

GWB: Right.

SI: Tell me about your Little League career.

GWB: Well, I was a pretty good catcher. In Midland we lived right
behind an old buffalo wallow that they'd converted into a Little
League park, so all I had to do was walk out our backyard, and
there I was in the field. And I played for hours. You hear the
stories about the mother leaning out the door screaming for the
son to come back for dinner--that was me. The other thing I
remember about Little League is that my mother was at every game.
She was the scorekeeper and, believe it or not, actually didn't
yell a lot at me or the umpires.

SI: How did you become a baseball fan?

GWB: Well, my dad and mother were fans. I was born my dad's
sophomore year in college, and he was a baseball star. And Mother
would take me to the games. I can remember being a little guy and
going through his scrapbook, looking at the box scores for the
Yale team. And I remember playing catch with him.

SI: At Yale you were a pitcher, right?

GWB: I was a middle reliever my freshman year. And I was mediocre
at best. And then I went on and played rugby my senior year.

SI: As a boy did you have a role model who was an athlete?

GWB: I was enamored with Willie Mays because of his speed, his
power. He was such a charismatic ballplayer. When I went to visit
my grandparents, who lived in Greenwich, Connecticut, my Uncle
Buck took me to the New York Giants game at the old Polo Grounds,
and I saw Willie firsthand and then followed him from that point
on.

SI: What was your best move with the Texas Rangers?

GWB: Convincing the citizens of Arlington [to build The Ballpark
in Arlington]. It changed the franchise.

SI: What was your worst move?

GWB: Some of our trades coming down the stretch. Of course the
[1989 Sammy] Sosa deal [with the White Sox] has to be one of the
alltime failed trades. The idea was to get Harold Baines to help
kick-start the offense. Sammy was a young ballplayer, and the
front office came to the conclusion that while he could be a good
ballplayer, he'd be nothing like Juan Gonzalez.

SI: Do you still root for the Rangers?

GWB: It's a tough year to root for them, but I do. And the
Astros. You know, we moved to Houston in '59, and the Astros came
shortly thereafter. I used to go to a lot of Astros games and was
an Astros fan for a long, long time.

SI: What's your favorite college team, besides Yale?

GWB: [Laughs] Let's see, that's a tough one with these guys [his
staff, many of them Texans] in here. I like the Texas teams, let
me put it to you that way. I'm somewhat partial to the University
of Texas, because when I was governor, I spent a lot of time in
the gym [there]; that was a place where I could go work out and
be alone, if I needed to be. And I got to know [football coach]
Mack Brown and Jeff (Mad Dog) Madden, the strength coach. I got
to see the insides of the program and became very fond of the men
that were involved with the program. But I also like A&M a lot.
And the truth of the matter is, I root for all Texas teams.

SI: Who's your favorite baseball player today?

GWB: I'd probably say some of the old Rangers, guys I got to
know. Pudge [Rodriguez], for example. I like Raffy--Rafael
Palmeiro. You know, one of my favorite ballplayers of all is
Julio Franco. Great hitter. He was gracious enough to invite
Laura and me and our twins to his wedding at his house in
Arlington. The girls will never forget it. They still think about
him.

SI: The Washington Post wrote a story that baseball helped give
people a sense of you as more of a regular guy. Do you agree with
that description? Or do you think that, because some people look
at your family and think--GWB: Yes, elite.

SI: Elite--GWB: I don't know. As The Washington Post has since
found out, I don't sit around trying to analyze myself a lot. I
hope people saw me as a good businessman and somebody who, when
given a responsibility [to run the Rangers], upheld the
responsibility.

SI: You were pretty famous for sitting in the stands.

GWB: I sat in the stands, signed autographs, tried to make the
park as fan-friendly as possible. There was many a day when you'd
be sitting there about the seventh inning [and fans would be
yelling], "More pitching, Bush!" That's all part of sport.

SI: Who's the best Texas sportswriter ever?

GWB: I'd say Blackie Sherrod was one of the greats. I'll tell
you, though, [sitting in the dugout, talking to sportswriters
before the game] was one of my favorite moments. You know,
[Gerry] Fraley and [Randy] Galloway and [Phil] Rogers--I can't
remember all their names. But we'd sit around and talk baseball.
It was really a good relationship.

And occasionally I would get on Randy Galloway's talk shows. You
know, "Bill from Garland: 'Well, that Bush is such a lousy....
Why won't you sign so-and-so?'" And I'd kind of wink at Galloway
and go on and answer the question. Again, that's all part of
building a franchise.

SI: Alex Rodriguez is making $22 million more this year than you
are--what do you think of that?

GWB: That's right. What Babe Ruth said--that line, "He's having a
better year." Alex Rodriguez is a fine person, a great
ballplayer. History will decide whether or not he was worth the
price. I guess if--when--the Rangers win a pennant, it will be
worth it.

SI: When will they win one?

GWB: Well, they have a pretty interesting-looking [team]. They
just need--listen, it's the same old worry we've always had,
depth in the pitching staff. They have some good young arms, it
looks like, who need a little seasoning. But they've got a heck
of an infield.

SI: Who do you talk sports with?

GWB: Around the office [I used to talk with former press
secretary] Ari Fleischer, a huge Yankees fan. I needled him about
the Yankees. My brother Marvin is a sports fan, and we love to
talk sports. Barney, the dog, when we're watching a ball game
[laughs]. He's the only one who sits there and watches the games
with me. I probably watch, try to catch part of a ball game, five
days a week. After work, if I'm reviewing a speech or just want a
little downtime, I'll have the ball game on in the background.
Some people like to listen to opera--I like to have the ball game
in the background.

SI: Any interest in getting back into baseball someday?

GWB: I don't think so. I will always be a fan, and I don't know
what I'll do. I ran into Joe Morgan, who was one of my favorite
ballplayers when he was with the Astros, and he asked me would I
think about being a commissioner, and my immediate answer was no.
And I think it's probably true.

COLOR PHOTO: ERIC DRAPER/WHITE HOUSE (LEFT) FIRST LOVE Bush recalls being a "pretty good" Little League catcher in Midland. B/W PHOTO: COURTESY OF THE BUSH LIBRARY [See caption above] COLOR PHOTO: HYUNGWON KANG/REUTERS(LEFT) OFF AND RUNNING The former Andover (Mass.) prep school cheerleader may be the most physically fit President ever. B/W PHOTO: COURTESY OF PHILLIPS ACADEMY/AP [See caption above]

"I was a middle reliever my freshman year [at Yale]. And I was
mediocre at best. And then I went on and played rugby my senior
year."

HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
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HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
IN
Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)