John Hart Hates Losers

For the past 30 years, the Texas Rangers have done a swell job of losing graciously. No longer. Their new general manager has made some risky moves, signing some of the game’s most talented—and troubled—players. But Hart doesn’t worry. His ego won’t let h

The second time I meet
John Hart, spring training is again underway. But this time, while his
Texas Rangers get swinging in Port Charlotte, Fla., Hart is in his new
Dallas home, ignoring the instructions of a photographer who wants him
to put on a serious face, just for one shot. Hart’s all smiles. Between
rolls of film, he sits down to talk about his past and the Rangers’
future. Though he’s wearing an expensive suit, he puts a pinch of
Copenhagen under his lip.

When
most sports executives or players move to the area from other cities,
they gravitate to safe and boring bedroom communities like those in
Southlake or Colleyville. Hart and his wife of 32 years, Sandi, chose
The Plaza at Turtle Creek as their Texas home. (In Florida, the Harts
still own a house in Isleworth, an exclusive community where Tiger
Woods, Ken Griffey Jr., and Shaquille O’Neal also have homes.) From his
upper-floor condo, tastefully decorated with Oriental screens and
comfortable furniture, Hart can look out on the Dallas skyline and see
the city he wants to engage. The location of his home and the view it
affords are no accident.

“Part of what Tom
[Hicks] is trying to do is to grow the Rangers’ relationship with
Dallas,” Hart says. “Over the years, the Rangers have been stronger in
Tarrant County than over here. That’s part of the reason we chose to
live in Dallas.”

A smart move,
literally. But don’t let the luxury mislead you. People sometimes
mistake the 54-year-old Hart for an ivory tower type. Under the stylish
suits lies a toughness that has come from hard work in sports and in
his personal life. Hart’s career in baseball has been as diverse as any
general manger’s in the league, from businessman to minor-league
manager to scout. Nothing has ever been given to him, which is why he
is so intense about his job and the success it brings.

A good athlete in high
school in Tampa, Hart earned a baseball scholarship as a catcher to
Eastern Tennessee State, hardly a powerhouse. He quit halfway through
his freshman year when he was told he wouldn’t start and returned home
to play two years for Seminole Junior College, where he met Sandi, a
cheerleader. In 1969, Hart landed in the Montreal Expos’ minor-league
system. He was a good fielder but a lousy hitter. Hart was released in
1972 and returned to the University of Central Florida. He graduated in
1973 with a double major in history and physical education. With little
money to his name, he bounced around from job to job. He opened a
fitness center in Orlando before eventually starting the John Hart
Baseball School, which “was like Bingo Long’s Traveling Circus,” Hart
says. The instructional facility consisted of Hart, some bats and
balls, a pitching machine, and an old Plymouth truck.

Hart’s first coaching
job, with an actual team, wasn’t in baseball. He led a junior-high
football team—which had lost every game the previous year—to an
undefeated season and a victory in a game called the Kumquat Bowl.
“That was really the start for me,” Hart says. “When I coached these
kids in football, I realized that I really loved teaching. And I really
loved winning.”

 

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