From the owner's box to the front office to the field, Baylor alumni play important roles as the Texas Rangers swing for a third straight World Series run.
Until recently, the 40-year-old Texas Rangers franchise had struggled to put together a string of winning seasons. But with a crop of highly talented players and coaches on the field and a handful of Baylor's best and brightest on and off the field, Rangers history is being made like never before.
Playing a variety of key roles in this growing franchise, no fewer than 10 Rangers employees, including a majority owner, the executive vice president and CFO, and an outfielder, are Baylor alums.
"To try to make a living in sports is so competitive, and for Baylor to have that many employed with the Rangers says something," explains Bob Simpson, co-owner of the Rangers baseball club since 2010. "It's a testimony to Baylor's programs."
For the unwaveringly loyal Bears fan and the relentless Rangers aficionado, the last couple of years have brought many moments of sheer ecstasy. To the diehard devotee of both, those feelings are exponential. Just ask Bob Simpson.
On the surface, Bob Simpson's story is a classic small-town-to-Baylor-to-big-city-success story. He was raised on a ranch outside Cisco, Texas, population 3,689 (once nearly 15,000 during an oil boom in the 1920s), home of Conrad Hilton's first hotel and about 100 miles west of Fort Worth.
Between the appeal of Waco's relatively small size, the scholarships he accumulated, and the influence of his older brother Ken Simpson, who had attended Baylor, Bob wound up there as well.
"Frankly, the dollar amount of scholarships from Baylor was higher, and I didn't appreciate the difference in cost between private and state schools. I wasn't all that smart," says Simpson, who graduated from Baylor magna cum laude with a degree in accounting before completing his MBA. "But for whatever reason, I think God was helping me. Baylor was, for me, the right school. It became part of my fiber. I attribute a lot of my own personal success in my life to Baylor, whether it's spiritually or financially or just as a person. So out of that comes a fierce passion and an ongoing love that will be there my whole life."
Not afraid of a challenge even at a young age, Simpson says his first job while at Baylor came when he went to Merrill Lynch and offered to work for free. He was hired, with pay. At 19, he figured out his desire to understand Wall Street.
"I wanted to learn about the stock market and flesh out some real world [experience] with academics. That's when I was discovering my passion for finance in Wall Street. I would say that passion enabled me to be here because Wall Street was really where my fortune was made, understanding it either as an investor or as developing a publically held company.
"It was funny, because the year before college, I didn't know what the Wall Street Journal was or what Dow Jones meant. I would go over to Moody Library and read the Wall Street Journal before I'd start my homework. For me, it was kind of like eating my ice cream before dinner."
Simpson finished his MBA at Baylor in August of 1971. When the Washington Senators moved to Arlington and became the Rangers in time for the 1972 season, Simpson was a CPA employed by Arthur Andersen, where one of his early assignments was, believe it or not, to work on the Rangers' account. Simpson says he has been a Rangers fan from the very beginning, now 40 years ago.
Fast forward to fall 2009, when Simpson was in discussions to sell or merge XTO Energy, which he founded and helped build into the largest oil and natural gas company in America, with ExxonMobil. Chuck Greenberg called Simpson to see if he was interested in partnering with a group that included Nolan Ryan to purchase the Rangers. It just happened to be the right time for Simpson to get involved.
"Initially I was just looking at being a board member, and then as talks advanced, I visited with Ray Davis [another investor in the group], and we kind of invented the co-chairman concept, which has turned out to be a good idea."
While Simpson, the businessman, acknowledges that he felt the franchise "was an undervalued and underexploited business opportunity," he says the real initial attraction for him was having Nolan Ryan as part of the group.
"My vision of Nolan Ryan being sort of the John Wayne of baseball is true. He's a straight shooter; he's a total man of integrity; he's smart and a pleasure to be a partner with. His name attracted me, and I can tell you today that he's real. He's a real national hero in my mind, who's able to be both a real thing on the field and a real thing behind the scenes. I'm proud to be his partner.
"They had to win. But we're seeing other outcomes -- attendance was a record last year. We want to sustain that level of visibility and success. You can't go to the World Series every year, but you can have interesting baseball every year, and see if we can't develop this franchise to fulfill more of its potential."
Simpson gives credit to Ryan and general manager Jon Daniels for having the team in position to compete before anyone realized how quickly the Rangers would turn potential into a trip to the World Series.
"You could also smell a turn coming, and that was more of a sense of intuition. It was further along than the world knew, and certainly than we knew. We didn't remotely think we were going to go to the World Series the first year. We closed [the deal] in August, and before we could get our bags packed, we're going to the World Series. Then the repeat proved it wasn't a fluke, and if we could do it one more time, or get anywhere close to the World Series, it would prove we have staying power. I think we do.
"A good franchise starts with good management and a lot of depth, but it takes more than talent on the field to make it sustainable. I think the ingredients are there, coupled with the ownership support, that we should take the Rangers as a consistent, interesting baseball team that has a great chance of winning its division every year."
Before Simpson's ownership group took over, the Rangers had been to the playoffs only three times, winning just a single playoff game in 38 seasons.
"The team would tease you a little bit, but never seemed to actualize real success," Simpson recalls. "So now we're spoiled and it feels easier than it is, but that's because the ingredients were in place when we bought the team, and we were able to support that and push it to a higher level. Part of that's financial. We've been able to double the payroll, which helps. But one thing I tell everybody is money can't buy success. You see a lot of people try sports and just embarrass themselves. Winning takes a lot more complicated math. But it has been fun."
One complicated deal that drew international attention was the Rangers' recent signing of Yu Darvish, a star pitcher from Japan. Simpson said he needed convincing that the Rangers should do what it took to acquire the 25-year-old. A large contingent of Rangers scouts made their case to Simpson. It worked.
"They put the full-court press on me because initially I was against it, and not with knowledge. It was just that conceptually, financially, I wasn't sure it was smart. It struck me on the surface as more of a wildcat than not, and as an oil and gas guy, I didn't make my wealth wildcatting. I'm generally not that excited about a $100-million wildcat, and they convinced me it wasn't. You couldn't help but be infected by their enthusiasm. So they convinced me that this guy was just the right idea at the right time. They did their homework.
"If you run any organization, my concept is you develop a good staff, good people who know what they're doing, and then rely on them instead of trying to overlay your judgment, particularly on areas that are not your expertise. So if you're going to believe in your people and you heard what I heard, you'd have to be for it. I believe in these guys, so that's the way we run it.
"I'm forever asked if I was an engineer or geologist, but my technical training was as a CPA. I'm somebody who can pick talent, encourage it and reward it, and keep it. I'm stronger at that than anything, and that's what we're applying to the baseball team. We have a whole group of people who are good at picking talent."
Between the Rangers and the Baylor Bears, Simpson has trouble determining which successes he enjoys most.
"Between the two athletic programs, as a fan it's very different. Your emotional, life-long love is Baylor; your new love is the Rangers, which for me, goes back to 1972, so it does have some depth. What a blast for both of them to be successful at once. It's interesting that it all came together at the same time, it's like -- when it rains, it pours. It's kind of like the end of a drought in both areas."
Few things bring West Texas men more satisfaction than the end of a long drought.
"I'm a little kid from Cisco who managed to go to Baylor University, who worked for Arthur Andersen on the Rangers account, and ended up being one of the Rangers' chairmen. It's a testimony to what you can do in America and what a school like Baylor allows you to do if you get that foundation."
Among those who helped form Simpson's foundation were late Baylor professors Dr. Emerson Henke, BBA '63, Dr. Roderick Holmes, '55, and Dr. James Parsons, "far and away the most influential professors in business to me, and great men. They were all brilliant."
Simpson has enjoyed supporting his alma mater in a number of ways, including making a generous donation for the Simpson Athletics and Academic Complex on University Parks Drive, which he hopes has helped recruit and better educate Baylor student-athletes, as well as benefit alumni and the university as a whole. He believes having a nationally visible athletic program does a number of things to benefit Baylor.
"It gives the alumni, nationwide, a tie to their university. It also is great for recruiting and gives Baylor a larger and more diverse, more talented group of kids applying to upgrade its ongoing reputation for academics. I think they tie together, and I love it. I happen to love sports, but I don't think it's without merit for the school.
"Athletics never had a central home for the academic support, and I think putting the Academic Center there alongside the student-athletes brings a better recognition of the fact that Baylor believes in education in its athletic program. We meant for the facility to be something they really were able to utilize to help the students academically."
For all Simpson has done and continues to do for the Rangers and for Baylor, one could argue he deserves both a big "sic 'em, Bears" and an emphatic claw and antlers, the Rangers' equivalent hand sign. You can't do the latter without the former -- Baylor literally has a hand in it. Much like the rest of the Rangers' recent success.
Kellie Fischer has seen her share of ups and downs during her dozen years with the Rangers -- sometimes from the bird's eye view of her fourth-floor office (next to Nolan Ryan's) beyond the center field berm, sometimes from the front row at Rangers Ballpark. Courtesy of Major League Baseball, just an arm's length from the visitor's on-deck circle, she soaked in Alex Rodriguez's strikeout to send the Rangers to their first World Series in 2010.
"I was honored to sit with MLB because they cannot show any affiliation with one team, so to have a very clear Rangers employee with them meant the world to me," says Fischer. "I didn't just get to witness it; I could almost touch him, right by the Yankees dugout. I was there when we signed A-Rod [in 2001]. I was there when we traded him [in 2004]. I've been there every step of the way as I experienced firsthand what a transaction like that can do to an organization. To be on the front row when he sent us to the World Series was amazing."
But the zenith of Fischer's career was the moment Nolan Ryan's group was declared the winner of the 10-hour bankruptcy auction in the wee hours of August 5, 2010, after a $593-million bid and an arduous, uncertain period in which Fischer worked on behalf of an outgoing owner with plans to continue working for the new ownership group.
"I was so involved with the entire process. I knew all the potential buyers, lawyers and others leading up to the auction, and then during the auction there were so many moments where it was just as likely to go to Mark Cuban and Jim Crane as to Nolan. When the judge's gavel fell, it was a great pinnacle moment -- 18 months of crazy hard work ended exactly how I hoped and prayed it would. It was special."
While other senior executives justifiably relocated to more stable positions with other organizations, Fischer remained committed to the Rangers, strapped on an emotional rollercoaster with no signs of stopping. The daily grind of the sale and bankruptcy process wore on her.
"Dealing with an unstable organization, working through a long, emotional sale process and bankruptcy is the hardest thing I've ever done in my career," says Fischer. "What made it so hard was that there were so many times we did not know where our capital was going to come from after our primary owner elected to stop funding the team."
Having never been associated with a loan default before, she took it personally when the parent company to the Rangers defaulted on hundreds of millions in debt. It became even more personal observing how the stigma affected her coworkers, her friends. Fischer also took it personally when problems were solved, at times, only days before payroll was due.
"I hope I never go through it again, but I learned so much about people, both positive and negative. I was amazed at how resilient and persistent my coworkers were during the process and often surprised at how easy it was for third-party advisors to be removed from the human side of a business. To them, it was just black and white; if we were unable to make payroll, they said to put a sign on the door and tell the organization that you can't make payroll. I was like, 'You don't understand, you don't have to look at these people in the face and know they're not going to be able to make a mortgage payment.'
"There were many challenges during the process, but I often sought the advice of trusted friends and colleagues. The best advice I received from a dear friend was, 'You may not have this job tomorrow or even this career, but you will always have to live with your decisions.' Although conflicts often arose between the defaulted lenders, existing ownership, MLB and others, I always tried to think about what was the best thing to do for the Rangers and let that help guide me through a particular decision process.'"
Fischer says "ethics, hands down" was the most critical thing she learned at Baylor that helped her through some of the toughest times.
"Being aware that ethical issues are a part of business and knowing that you have decisions to make was an important skill I learned at Baylor. It was infused in every course and openly discussed with the students, creating a toolkit to help handle ethical dilemmas after graduation."
Fischer says her work environment today is "night and day different," going from a time of upheaval to one of stability following the ownership transition.
"The sense of family is here and there is this tremendous comfort and excitement with not only the team and how well they've played, but also the ownership group," she says. "This is an amazing, cohesive, ethical ownership group, and I'm so honored to be an integral part of their team. I have the luxury and opportunity to be involved with the majority of the big decisions this team makes."
For Fischer, the end of the offseason is a busier time of year than the regular season. As the overall budget is finalized, she is preparing for the big partners meeting at spring training, where she updates the 28 individuals in ownership with the latest Rangers finances.
"We have so many exciting things happening in the offseason, including the signing of Yu Darvish, sales of tickets to thousands of new season ticket holders and the construction in center field."
She points out her window down towards an $11.5-million construction site, where Vandergriff Plaza (beyond center field) and adjoining areas are being renovated in time for Opening Day on April 6.
"I am responsible for making sure we're spending within our budget. One of the most exciting things about being in a CFO role is you learn about every aspect of the business. So even though Jon Daniels does not consult me as he signs every single player, I'm definitely aware when they happen and what's going on."
In a business dominated by men, Fischer says she's often the only woman in the room. She estimates that women probably make up less than 10 percent of high-ranking positions in professional baseball and she rarely notices the phenomenon, though she did at a recent Major League Baseball owners' meeting:
"There were 70 men in the room and I was the only female. That was remarkable. Those meetings are few and far between."
Recently honored by both the Dallas Business Journal and Fort Worth Business Press as CFO of the Year, Fischer rightfully has been recognized for her remarkable efforts, but she says "just being here every day is the greatest reward. This is a fun, fabulous place to work."
Outside the ballpark, Fischer is active in a variety of pursuits, including serving on the board for the YMCA of Greater Dallas. In addition to previously serving on the Baylor accounting department's advisory board, Fischer currently serves on the Hankamer School of Business advisory board. She and her husband, Scott, a partner at Pricewaterhouse- Coopers (where the two met as coworkers), are excited that they recently took the opportunity to endow a scholarship for Baylor's accounting department.
"Scott and I are honored to have the opportunity to participate in this endowment. I am so appreciative of my Baylor experience that I wanted to find a way to give back, and the scholarship is such a personal way to do that."
Fischer started on the pre-med track at Baylor but soon switched to accounting upon realizing she was "very, very squeamish." She held part-time jobs throughout college and was in Alpha Chi Omega, where she had lots of opportunities to speak in front of people and become the sorority's treasurer, where she learned to deal with "real people's money -- little stuff but big emotions."
Professors Dr. Lane Collins, BBA '70, MBA '71, and Trish Nunley, BBA '80, JD '82, were two of her favorites. "Trish Nunley embodied to me a successful woman. I enjoyed her classes and her demeanor. She had the whole package to me, so I absolutely adored that. I wish I had taken about 10 more of Nunley's business law courses because it is something I use every day in my line of work."
On a much more personal level, Fischer says that her husband's bout with cancer continues to be a huge part of their lives. Scott is on the board of the American Cancer Society in Dallas.
"My husband had cancer at 29. We had only been married for a year at the time, and we had just bought our first house. It hit us like a train. We were both very career-oriented and it just shut us down completely. Fortunately, the disease was quickly treated, and he has been cancer-free for 10 years, so it's tremendous, but it was life-changing for us. We are so blessed to be beyond it and we appreciate life a lot more. I have such empathy for anyone who's going through cancer in any way."
Though her name is not in the papers as much as people like Nolan Ryan and Jon Daniels, both Rangers fans and the Baylor family can take pride in knowing Fischer is at the financial helm of the new Rangers era.
Spring is in the air in David Murphy's household, but the scent is bittersweet. Just two days before the young father and husband has to leave his new home for spring training in Surprise, Ariz., the Texas Rangers outfielder greets me at the door with his 4-year-old daughter, Madison, who's dressed in a pink tutu. His wife, Andrea Hill Murphy, BA '04, and their two younger children, Faith (3) and Cole (1), say hello from their play area on the living room floor. A neighborhood mom drops by to discuss an upcoming meeting about a school district zone boundary dispute.
During the offseason, the Murphys moved into a new home in Southlake, Texas, about 20 miles north of Rangers Ballpark in Arlington. The family went to Michigan for Thanksgiving and took a vacation to San Diego. Each winter, the Murphys enjoy living more like a typical American family.
"Other than the trips, it's been just normal everyday stuff: the girls going to their mother's day out program twice a week, ballet once a week, and just living like a normal family for a few months, which we don't really get to do during the season," says Murphy.
Just as it has every year during his career, the offseason ends. The 30-year-old outfielder will be splitting the next eight months between the road and home: six weeks of spring training, followed by six months of the 162-game regular season.
On the floor just inside the doorway of David's yet-to-be-decorated office sits an unopened cardboard box labeled David Murphy, World Series 2011 -- on top is his locker room nameplate from the October Classic. How rare it is to have one of those boxes, much less two of them from consecutive seasons. Murphy hopes he and the Rangers make it three in a row.
But another long playoff run also means another month away from his family. As much as he loves the game of baseball, the internal struggle is unmistakable in Murphy's expression. Each year, as his family grows, it gets harder on him and his family to be apart.
"This has been my dream job since I was five years old, and it always will be," he says. "I love the game, but you take the bad with the good in anything, and this is definitely the worst part. Until you experience it, you can't understand it."
Murphy hopes his family will be able to travel with him more often this year, which was challenging last year with an infant. During the unavoidable times apart, the family manages as best they can, visiting via phone and Skype.
"The kids are getting to the age where the positive side is that it's easier to talk to them, but the negative is the older they get, the more they understand and the more that it hurts when I'm gone, and that just breaks my heart. It's definitely the part of the job that I wish I didn't have to deal with."
Murphy cherishes the time he gets to spend with his loved ones in the offseason, and he knows he must make the most of family time during homestands.
"I want us all to be close, so whether it's sacrificing sleep or whatever I have to do, I need to make sure to show all of them how important they are to me. I really focus on quality time with all of them, because if I don't, then it can become a bad habit over the course of the season. Before you know it, six months have passed."
Murphy was traded to the Rangers in 2007, three days before his first child, Madison, was born. He says it is difficult to feel a sense of belonging during the first year or so in the big leagues. He has especially enjoyed the consistency of playing for the Rangers, logging more than 400 at-bats in each of the past four seasons. He says the team's much-lauded chemistry is no mirage.
"While I don't take it for granted -- I still feel like I need to earn it every day -- I definitely feel part of the team. And it's definitely a close-knit group of guys. We joke around probably as much as any group of guys out there, and that's what keeps it fun over the course of a long season. I don't think I realized how big of a role chemistry played until the last few years, because you obviously have to be talented, but chemistry gives you that little extra edge."
Murphy played on some pretty talented teams at Baylor, reaching the postseason all three years, but he says Baylor "was not exactly on his radar" when he first started considering where he would play college ball. Although he was drafted by the Anaheim Angels in the 50th round out of high school, Murphy chose not to sign. His older sister was attending Texas A&M, and he had grown up wanting to be an Aggie. His first recruiting letter came from the University of Texas, but Baylor came on strong.
"Baylor gave me the best scholarship offer, which you shouldn't always pick, but they really backed it up. They really pursued me, showed me that they wanted me," says Murphy. "I wanted to play as much as I could as a freshman. All three schools told me I would, but there was just a more genuine feeling from the Baylor coaching staff, and I think that really sold me."
Murphy certainly is glad it happened. In addition to meeting his future wife, he also started his relationship with God.
"I became a believer at Baylor. And it's funny how the Lord was watching over me even before I really cared about Him. Everybody told me when I was asking people where should I go. They said just 'go where your heart tells you to. Follow your heart.' And you know God put that feeling inside of me that it just felt right."
At Baylor, Murphy excelled on the field. One of his fondest memories is a come-from-behind victory over Rice, when the Bears rallied to win after being down by eight runs heading into the eighth inning. Another was leading Baylor to a super regional in his junior (and final) season. By that time, Murphy had transformed from a 50th-round draft pick into an all-American and first-rounder (taken 17th overall by the Boston Red Sox).
He also met Andrea at Baylor, and their first date was dinner (Olive Garden) and a movie (Almost Famous, chosen over Remember the Titans, which David calls a big mistake). The two hit it off and married Jan. 1, 2005, when Murphy was between minor league stops with the High-A Sarasota (Fla.) Red Sox and AA Portland (Maine) Sea Dogs.
Though his playing days are nowhere near over, Murphy doesn't see himself straying far from the diamond. He and Andrea have entertained the idea of one day moving back to Waco.
"I used to feel like I needed to think of something else to do that didn't involve baseball, and then one day after I really thought about it, I realized everybody's blessed with an area of expertise in life, and baseball is mine. So why would I want to stray away from that? I would like to coach, but not on the professional level, because playing is the only thing that I would ever do to keep me away from my family this much.
"I would like to be a coach at the college level, and Andrea and I have joked around saying we could move to Waco after I'm done playing. I could coach at Baylor and finish my degree, and she could get another degree.
"When we were in school, we didn't really enjoy Waco for what it is. Once I got older and went to all these small towns in the northeast where I was playing in the minor leagues, I just started to appreciate Waco so much more."
Murphy stays connected to Baylor as much as he can. He stays in touch with the Baylor baseball coaching staff.
"I think that shows you that it's not just a coaching staff that recruits you, wants you to perform for them and then that's it. I still keep in touch with all three of them, and the fact that they stayed together for 17 years or so ... That just doesn't happen in college baseball. It's a great example of the incredible guys on Baylor's staff."
Just after the 2011 World Series, Murphy brought his family to Baylor for Homecoming, and he recently spoke both at the Ferrell Center in January at a Baylor student chapter meeting of I Am Second, and at a February Baylor Business Network breakfast in Dallas. He has especially enjoyed Baylor's athletics successes this year.
"It's a great time to be associated with Baylor. It was so fun seeing the publicity that was generated just after the TCU [football] game," remembers Murphy. "We were in Boston that night and all my teammates were talking to me the next day, and they were like, 'Who's that quarterback that Baylor has?' and I was like, how do people not know who this guy is?"
Murphy is part of a Rangers outfield stacked with a multitude of talent, including 2010 American League MVP Josh Hamilton and 2011 ALCS MVP Nelson Cruz. A career .280 hitter, Murphy's penchant for timely hitting and savvy defense has proven extremely valuable for the Rangers.
As he has gained more experience, Murphy has learned that focusing solely on team goals is the best way for him to be successful.
"The longer I play this game, I learn to not even put personal goals out there for myself, because I get so amped up in trying to achieve those goals that it makes me try too hard. The thing that I'm most excited about in general is just the challenge, and that's what I love so much about the game, the challenge personally every time you step in the box. It's always a battle with whoever you're facing that night."
After coming agonizingly close to hoisting up the trophy in back-to-back seasons, within a single pitch in 2011, Murphy and the Rangers are highly motivated to seal the deal this year.
"Everybody knows we have a good team, and few teams have been to three World Series in a row, so I'm looking forward to that challenge, because we're capable of getting right back to where we have been and finishing the job. Getting as close as we have the last two years makes me want to do it even more. That just keeps me hungry. We want to be that last team standing this year."