Will Chiles Take the Rangers Downtown?

The sports pages called it a quiet off-season for the Texas Rangers-no major trades or scandals, aside from Steve Howe’s self-destruction. But the winds of change may soon be blowing from the right field flagpole: 1) the Rangers paid the final installment on an $18 million lease-purchase plan to the city of Arlington, thus receiving the deed to Arlington Stadium and the 119 acres of choice land that surrounds it; and 2) owner Eddie Chiles finally removed the “For Sale” sign from his ball club.

These developments gave rise to speculation; now that Chiles has opted to keep the Rangers, and assuming that he can hold on to them, would he sell the stadium tract to the highest bidder and move the ball club to a new stadium in a new site? It’s been rumored that the city of Irving is offering space near Texas Stadium. Even more intriguing is talk that a stadium might be built in the Farmers’ Market area near downtown Dallas.

Of course, it’s Rangers president Mike Stone’s job to deny all of this. “We’ve told the city of Arlington that we’re here to stay, ” Stone says. But he adds, “One thing I’ve learned in life is never say never, “

Stone’s office overlooks the stadium and from this vantage point, he identifies the problem. Naturally, it’s money. “See all those blue genera! admission seats out there?” he says. “Well, 46 percent of our seating is general admission, by far the highest in the major leagues, and that drastically limits our profit potential. “

Stone’s lament is brought on by the original design of Arlington Stadium, which was built as a minor league facility in the Sixties and hastily expanded when the big league team came to Arlington in 1972. Now the limitations of the stadium are grating on the Ranger execs. Under manager Bobby Valentines regime, the Rangers have learned to draw record crowds even while losing, a neat trick. But many of the young players who are attracting the fens become eligible for salary arbitration after the 1988 season, and they will not be shy in asking for more shekels.

Since black ink is the motivation-along with, someday, bringing in a winner-it would not be surprising to see the team seek greener stadium pastures in a year or two. And that prospect has not escaped the notice of the downtown business leaders-who see downtown’s burgeoning entertainment areas and its network of hotels as natural attractions for any sports franchise.

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