Michael Dukakis

Another historic day at Fenway

By Michael Dukakis
June 17, 2009
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TONIGHT at Fenway Park, the Boston Red Sox will set a remarkable record - 500 consecutive sold-out games.

Only three other professional teams in sports history have achieved more, and they were all NBA teams who play shorter seasons in smaller venues.

So it is time to give credit where credit is due, particularly when it wasn’t so long ago that a lot of people in this town were upset that the Red Sox were being sold to “out-of-towners.’’

The truth is that had it not been for the ownership group of John Henry, Tom Werner, and Larry Lucchino, and the remarkable team they put together both on the field and in the front office, it is highly unlikely that Boston would be celebrating this achievement tonight.

In fact, today you would be hard pressed to find anyone willing to say that selling the Sox to the Henry, Werner, and Lucchino group was a bad idea.

Those sold-out games are no accident. Recruiting a top-notch manager, putting together a first-class ball club, and building a superb farm system have had a lot to do with it. Two world championships in three years can do wonders for a fan base that suffered for a long, long time. I know. I attended my first Red Sox game in 1938 at the age of 4 1/2, and Lefty Grove was pitching!

But the new Red Sox owners did two other things that I believe have had a lot to do with those capacity crowds at Fenway.

First, they had the good sense to reexamine fundamentally the previous owners’ decision to tear down Fenway and replace it with a phony version of the real thing. There weren’t a lot of us at the time who opposed that decision except for a courageous band of fans who called themselves the Save Fenway group. Massachusetts, which to its credit had never put a dime of the taxpayers’ money into a professional sports team, committed both itself and the City of Boston to hundreds of millions of dollars in public subsidies for the proposed new ballpark.

Fortunately, the new ownership group understood what many native Bostonians did not - that we had a jewel of a ballpark that, with some tender loving care, could both expand the number of seats and preserve its special history and atmosphere in a way that almost no other major ballpark has been able to do. The results have been spectacular. The cost is a fraction of what the new ballpark would have entailed, and the experience of watching a ballgame at Fenway is as good as anyone could possibly enjoy.

Secondly, they have turned the Red Sox into one of our best and most important civic institutions. Since 2002, the Red Sox Foundation has contributed more than $30 million to important charitable causes in and around Boston. The Jimmy Fund has always been a Red Sox favorite, but the Red Sox Scholars program, the Dimock Community Health Center in Roxbury, and athletic programs for children in Greater Boston have all benefited from an expanded notion of what the Red Sox mean to this community.

Nobody can tell us at this point in the season whether the Sox will be hoisting another world championship banner at Fenway in October. But we know that we are already on track to another exciting season, and that thanks to a bunch of out-of-towners, the Red Sox have set the standard for civic and community engagement for the nation’s professional sports teams.

Michael Dukakis is the former three-term governor of Massachusetts and now a professor at Northeastern University.

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