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New Texas stadium has its legacy in Vandergriff

Former Arlington mayor kept hopes alive for MLB team with help of others
MLB.com

ARLINGTON -- The Rangers are moving into a new ballpark in 2020, one that will include a retractable roof to protect fans during the hot Texas summers.

Arlington was going to build a domed stadium 60 years ago, but that was before the American League decided to expand back into Washington, D.C., in 1961 rather than Texas. Astros owner Judge Roy Hofheinz took the idea to Houston, and the Astrodome ended up being the Eighth Wonder of the World.

ARLINGTON -- The Rangers are moving into a new ballpark in 2020, one that will include a retractable roof to protect fans during the hot Texas summers.

Arlington was going to build a domed stadium 60 years ago, but that was before the American League decided to expand back into Washington, D.C., in 1961 rather than Texas. Astros owner Judge Roy Hofheinz took the idea to Houston, and the Astrodome ended up being the Eighth Wonder of the World.

That hardly deterred Tom Vandergriff, who was mayor of Arlington for 26 years, and whose incredible efforts were finally rewarded when Major League Baseball came to North Texas in 1972.

"Once he had a vision and saw what it could be, he kept after it," said the former mayor's son, Victor Vandergriff.

Victor Vandergriff, former Arlington mayor Richard Greene and current mayor Jeff Williams were at Globe Life Park on Tuesday night for a special Legends and Leaders Dinner hosted by the Arlington Chamber of Commerce.

In a roundtable discussion led by former Fort Worth Star-Telegram columnist Jim Reeves, the three swapped stories that provided a glimpse into a Texas phenomenon.

A place once sneeringly described by a New York columnist as a bus stop between Dallas and Fort Worth has emerged as a world-class entertainment and sports destination.

"Arlington is the most unique place in the world," Williams said. "Because we have the Texas Rangers, a National Football League team, Six Flags, a major amusement park, and a major university, UT-Arlington, all at the gateway of DFW Airport."

The Rangers, as Williams said, have been the "cornerstone" of it all, which is a tribute first and foremost to Tom Vandergriff, but also to two other mayors.

Vandergriff's odyssey is worthy of a book, a two-decade crusade to bring baseball either through expansion or another franchise moving to Arlington. He almost persuaded Charlie Finley to move the Kansas City Athletics here instead of Oakland, and he almost convinced the National League to expand to Arlington instead of San Diego in 1969.

Finally, in 1971, Vandergriff convinced Bob Short to move the Senators from Washington, although it wasn't easy. President Richard M. Nixon, a big baseball fan, wanted them to stay put and dispatched son-in-law David Eisenhower to convince Short. The problem was Vandergriff was already in Short's office.

"Short did not have enough time to get my dad out of his office, so he stuck him in a closet," Victor Vandergriff said. "So, he had to listen to the president's pitch through the door, and I know he wanted to come charging out of that door and argue. But he didn't."

That's the legacy Greene had to live up to when he became mayor just before Opening Day in 1987. He loved the Rangers, but had no idea that trouble was brewing. Rangers owner Eddie Chiles was in deep financial distress because of the oil bust, and the Rangers were struggling in a glorified Minor League park.

Greene was smart enough to attempt to reach out to Chiles and make sure everything was all right. To his distress, Greene did not hear back from Chiles for more than four months. It was only after Greene's picture appeared in the paper of him riding in a Fourth of July parade wearing a Rangers shirt that Chiles called.

"Two days later, my phone rings, and this booming voice, that I recognize immediately," Greene said. "He says, 'Mayor, Eddie Chiles … I got your picture here and frankly, the reason why I haven't called you back is we don't feel very welcome in Arlington. We ought to talk some time.'"

It was a difficult two years for the Rangers and Arlington. Nobody knew what Chiles was going to do, and there were rumors of the Rangers going to Dallas. One morning, Greene read a story in a Dallas paper declaring the Rangers were, "moving to Dallas where they belong."

Greene called the writer and left a voice message -- "No sir, not on my watch," Greene said.

Greene admitted it was a show of bravado that would be difficult to fulfill. But he did. The Rangers were sold to a group led by George W. Bush and Rusty Rose in 1989, and five years later they moved into the Ballpark in Arlington.

"There was an expectation that seemed everywhere that the city of Dallas would be the place where the new ballpark would be required because Dallas was a big city, and Arlington might not have the capacity to do," Greene said. "But we went to work to demonstrate we did."

Williams did not face quite the same challenge when he became mayor in 2015. He moved too quickly. Williams is a civil engineer who had worked on Globe Life Park and AT&T Stadium, and knew what the Rangers meant to the city.

He also knew the Rangers lease was up in 2024 and wasn't about to wait around to see if another city would try to steal them.

"We knew this was a time we needed to move and move quickly before you get into a contest," Williams said. "Isn't it awesome where you aren't in a big competition and can move forward? The first week … I was in the office with the Rangers owners asking two things.

"What is it going to take to keep the Texas Rangers in Arlington? And the second question is, We need to get development started. Now is the time."

The development came first, and Texas Live!, a $250 million entertainment complex, is scheduled to open in 2018. The new ballpark comes two years later.

The legacy of Tom Vandergriff is still alive. The bus stop between Dallas and Fort Worth still gets it done.

T.R. Sullivan has covered the Rangers since 1989, and for MLB.com since 2006. Follow him on Twitter @Sullivan_Ranger and listen to his podcast.

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