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Will Red Sox rob us blind?

By Derrick Z. Jackson, Globe Staff, 03/31/00

Ten and a half months have passed, and John and Jane Doe have no more clue than last May whether the Red Sox will knock politely on their door for a cup of sugar or bust in with hoods and masks to clean out the safe. Since the team has not yet come clean, it is a bad sign of what is about to happen.

The Red Sox are posing as the lovable civic neighbor wanting a minor favor. Behind them, out on the street, is an unmarked truck the size of a moving van. The engines are running. The men are at the wheel are masked.

In unveiling plans last May for a $545 million replacement for Fenway Park, Red Sox CEO John Harrington said, "We expect to have a very sincere and prolonged dialogue with the community and the city and state people, and those dialogues will have cost implications on the project itself."

What the Red Sox consider dialogue has been a dogged denial that they are planning one of the greatest crimes of sports stadium history.

Back in May, it seemed as if the Red Sox would pay for the actual stadium, $350 million. But more recent reports indicate the team is poking around Beacon Hill to see if they can put less than $300 million of their own money into the project.

With total costs now at $600 million, this leaves the very real possibility that the Red Sox will ask upwards of $300 million of taxpayer funds for infrastructure, land acquisition, and parking lots. That figure would probably destroy any previous record for public funds used just for infrastructure and land issues around an American sports stadium. It would mean that the Red Sox and the taxpayers would spend the equivalent of two stadiums to get just one.

Harrington has said, "There are some extraordinary costs associated with building a ballpark within this site and in an urban environment." They are so extraordinary that instead of spending these 10 1/2 months hitting up the booming business community to maximize private investment in a new Fenway Park, the Red Sox have sent out henchmen to case John and Jane Doe's house.

The Red Sox hired legendary lobbyist John Sasso. Sasso is earning his money. Even with the urgency of the billion-dollar disasters of Big Dig overruns and Harvard Pilgrim Health Care, Governor Paul Cellucci, Senate President Thomas Birmingham, and Boston Mayor Thomas Menino all hope to take care of the Red Sox by the July recess of the Legislature.

Even House Speaker Thomas Finneran, who held the line on public subsidies for a new Patriots football stadium to $70 million for infrastructure, is sending the signal that he considers the Red Sox more the lovable neighbor than a masked bandit. Finneran said, "I think that given his experience in state government, John Sasso has a good sense of our priorities."

Another henchman is the Greater Boston Chamber of Commerce, which has an "economic analysis" of endless financial benefits of a new ballpark. Such pro-team "studies" have long been debunked by stadium economists as virtual lies. But to keep the lie alive, former US Senate majority leader George Mitchell was in Boston this month, praising the financial windfalls of a new Fenway Park.

The Red Sox even have labor unions fighting for ticket takers, ushers, and maintenance crews. Never mind that stadiums are a hideously inefficient way of producing jobs, costing anywhere from $100,000 to more than $300,000 to produce one permanent job, compared with under $10,000 by state employment agencies. Ed Sullivan of the Service Employees International Union said a new Fenway Park "will mean not only more jobs, but better working conditions. For a lot of folks, it's a second job they need to support their families. So I'm insulted at the suggestion that these jobs are somehow beneath consideration."

With all due respect to the minimum-wage workers at Fenway, the greater insult is to John and Jane Doe, who have been kept in the dark while the Red Sox prepare for the most gargantuan stadium heist of its kind. The worst part is, if the time comes when John and Jane call 911, suspicious about the neighbor at the door and the truck with the engine running.

The call may go unanswered. Take the hood off the thieves and the drivers, and you may very well unmask Cellucci, Menino, Birmingham, the Chamber of Commerce, labor leaders, and even Finneran. They will tell us it is only a cup of sugar. Their mysterious moves say they are coming for the safe.

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