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This shouldn't be the thanks the Red Sox get

By Bob Ryan, Globe Staff, 5/25/2000

he Red Sox have a consultant named Bob Walsh, who knows a little something about how things go down in this town. Once upon a time he was the head man at the Boston Redevelopment Authority.

''I look at this stadium issue as a real estate project,'' he said yesterday.

Good. Let's talk real estate. Let's talk development. ''It was 15 years between the first public dollar and the first private dollar at Faneuil Market,'' he said. ''Not one Boston bank would participate until Phil Fine was able to break the logjam and get the Bank of Boston to come in.''

Renovating Faneuil Hall. Do you perhaps think that was a good idea?

Too bad Phil David Fine is no longer with us. If I'm not mistaken, he was also the man who made Foxboro Stadium happen.

The point is, it's Boston and Massachusetts and nothing comes easy - ever. There are too many entities to be satisfied easily. There is too much turf-protecting to be done. There are too many headlines to grab. There are too many egos to be massaged. Even when it's obvious that something is clearly in the public interest, nothing gets done until every interested party has had his or her little Warholian stint in the spotlight. If there is a Phil David Fine around, perhaps he expedites the matter. If there isn't, we must wait until every blowhard pol and every shortsighted activist mounts the podium. Then, and only then, does anything get done around here.

The Boston Red Sox need a new ballpark. If you don't believe that, then perhaps you're also waiting for the next Wells Fargo stagecoach to depart South Station for St. Joe. I mean, even Dan Shaughnessy has come around to the cause.

The number they're throwing around is $627 million. That includes the park, land acquisition, site preparation (the entire Back Bay is built on filled-in land carted in a century ago from Needham, remember), improvement of utilities, and public transportation, and the construction of two parking garages. John Harrington says the Red Sox will put up the entire stadium cost, which he pegs is $352 million. The remaining $275 million would be divided between the city ($140 million) and commonwealth ($135 million).

No layman can properly evaluate the figure. I sure can't. If that's what it's supposed to be, I can't argue. The number is daunting. It would represent the most expensive stadium project in American history, which is completely understandable since it involves a little more than just driving 10 miles outside of town to some empty lot and plopping down a ballpark.

The figure is negotiable. ''We still do not have a plan,'' Harrington said to a media gathering yesterday. ''I don't want anyone to misunderstand that. This is an approach. But the double I's - inflation and interest - are there every day.''

Harrington's fantasy is to be sitting in the new Fenway by 2003. That, he admits, is a ''stretch.'' That wasn't the only time he used that word, either. The $352 million figure, he declared is likewise a ''stretch.'' That is more money than any team has ever put up for a stadium or arena, and it does not mean the Red Sox can afford it. There is no Paul Allen thing going on here. Neither the Red Sox nor the Yawkey Trust are the Bank of Switzerland. Under this, um, ''approach,'' the phrase ''debt service'' will be a reality for a long, long time.

The Red Sox are going to need a lot of financial help from the municipal authorities, and so let's address the No. 1 social conscience objection head on. People who really ought to know better, and that includes my old friend Derrick Z. Jackson (a self-professed Green Bay Packer diehard), rant about using public money to subsidize sports teams when the money should be going to, among other things, schools. That sounds great, but it doesn't work that way. If the Red Sox are denied this money, no Boston or Massachusetts school will be one teeny-weeny bit better a year from now than it is today. There is no quid pro quo, period.

The next noisy objection comes from Fenway neighborhood activists concerned about the construction of a new park. For their information, the Red Sox were denied their first choice of stadium site (Fort Point Channel, where many of the things that will make this such an expensive project would not have been issues), and, when everything else was exhausted, were told by the city that it was Fenway or nothing. And even if that weren't the case, the simple fact is there has been a ballpark on this site for 88 years. There was no reason for anyone moving in during the interim to think there wouldn't be one for another 88 years. It really is that simple.

Harrington has been listening to the school/hospitals/social services argument for years. ''It is not a case of Us vs. Schools,'' he said. ''The question is, `Do you want Major League Baseball in your community?'''

Let's get something straight. When you hear our elected officials pontificate about ''protecting the taxpayers' money,'' and other election day phrases, you are free to laugh when you know how much money they waste in this state each year, and how they will do anything to protect their patronage power. Any of us could blue-pencil their budget and find enough money to build a new ballpark, a new Symphony Hall, and 10 new schools.

But you already know that. So consider this: the Boston Red Sox have been here for 100 years, and in that time have established themselves as the single most unifying social force in this city, state, and region. In the 65 years of Tom Yawkey and Yawkey Trust stewardship, they have not only never asked the authorities for anything, but have actively refused opportunities to enrich themselves (such as Yawkey spurning the city's offer to take Lansdowne Street so he could knock down The Wall and add seats). Their charity work dwarfs that of any comparable organization or sports team. Just last week their hall of fame dinner raised in the vicinity of $160,000 for the Boston YMCA. Next Friday, Harrington will loan his field to ABCD for the third annual ''Field of Dreams'' affair that will bring in another six-figure bounty for a deserving organization. You can multiply this largesse many times over during a seven-decade period and that's even before discussing what the Red Sox have meant to the Jimmy Fund for the last 50 years, which is merely everything.

Do not allow disingenuous politicians to delay this project any longer. The fact is that what the Red Sox are doing now is simply calling in their marker. Instead of throwing up obstacles, the Meninos and Finnerans of the world should be on bended knee, thanking the Red Sox for a century of entertainment and saying, ''Is there any more we can do for you?''

This story ran on page D1 of the Boston Globe on 5/25/2000.
© Copyright 2000 Globe Newspaper Company.


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