WASHINGTON -- Baseball owners once passed up a chance to hire former colleague George W. Bush as the sport's commissioner, but now they are working hard to keep Bush at bat in the White House.
More than a dozen current and former owners and family members are among the president's top reelection fund-raisers, an Associated Press review found. Seven are Bush ''Rangers," each raising at least $200,000, and six are ''Pioneers" who have brought in $100,000 or more.
The Bush campaign has also received direct contributions from owners and executives of more than half of the sport's 30 teams, the analysis of Federal Election Commission reports found.
Those include $2,000 contributions from owners George Steinbrenner of the New York Yankees, Fred Wilpon of the New York Mets, Carl Pohlad of the Minnesota Twins, Peter Magowan of the San Francisco Giants, and Michael Ilitch of the Detroit Tigers.
Democratic nominee John F. Kerry, by contrast, has taken in money from only a handful of baseball interests.
Bush also has picked up contributions from players and coaches -- including a manager he once fired. Bobby Valentine, axed by Bush as manager of the Texas Rangers in 1992, gave the president the maximum $4,000 this year. Valentine said he is not surprised Bush has support from baseball owners.
''People got to work with him side by side and saw his passion for the game and passion for his work," Valentine said in an interview from Japan, where he is manager of the Chiba Lotte Marines. ''They saw that he really cared about baseball when he was in it, and not just the Rangers as a business entity."
Baseball is part of the Bush legacy. His father, former President George H.W. Bush, played first base for the Yale baseball team, and the younger Bush took up the game as a Little Leaguer in Midland, Texas. George W. Bush also organized a stickball league at Phillips Academy in Andover, Mass.
With the benefit of family connections, Bush helped put together a group of investors to buy the Texas Rangers and then became its managing general partner from 1989 to 1994. There was talk back then that he might succeed Fay Vincent as commissioner, but the job went to Milwaukee Brewers owner Bud Selig. Bush was a baseball traditionalist, opposing interleague play and the addition of a wild-card playoff team.
His investment of just $600,000 turned into $15 million when he sold his share of the team while preparing to run for governor of Texas.
''The baseball platform was for him to springboard into politics," said Bruce Buchanan, a longtime Bush watcher and professor of government at the University of Texas. ''He was the face of the Texas Rangers, as well as a substantial partner in the economic side for some years, and that enabled him to become acquainted with all of these figures."
Three of Bush's former fellow investors in the Texas Rangers -- Bill DeWitt, Marshall Payne, and Craig Stapleton -- are campaign Rangers. Stapleton's wife, Debbie Stapleton, who is Bush's cousin, is a Pioneer.
''George Bush knows a lot of people in baseball," said Craig Stapleton, a cochairman of Bush's reelection campaign in Connecticut. ''So we've tried to talk to people that know George Bush well through baseball. He gets a lot of support from baseball people -- not only executives and owners but baseball players."