By Dick Flavin
Boston Red Sox Poet Laureate
and New York Times Best Selling Author
A DEAL’S A DEAL – UNTIL IT ISN’T
Be careful or you’ll wind up with a tear in your eye,
Oh, you never miss the water til the well runs dry
Years ago the Mills Brothers recorded an old song, “You Never Miss the Water Til the
Well Runs Dry.” It could serve as an apt metaphor for the regret that communities feel
when they let their baseball teams relocate elsewhere. Take, for example, the experience
of Louisville, Kentuccky.
Following the 1972 baseball season the Kentucky State Fair Board voted to reconfigure
Fairgrounds Stadium, the baseball home of the Louisville Colonels of the International
League, into a football-only facility. It would no longer be suitable for baseball. In effect,
the Colonels were evicted from the Commonwealth of Kentucky.
They landed in Pawtucket, Rhode Island and the Colonels became the Pawtucket Red
Sox, Rhode Island’s only professional baseball team. After a few shaky financial years
Ben Mondor took ownership and built the PawSox into the International League’s most
It was Kentucky’s loss. The Blue Grass State soon realized that the well had run dry and
it went to work to rectify its mistake and attract another team to Louisville – and it
succeeded. Guess how? Fairgrounds Stadium was reconfigured again to make it baseball
friendly once more. The cost was who-knows- how-many- millions-of- dollars. If they had
just let well-enough alone they never would have lost the Colonels in the first place. So
much for visionarry leadership. At least Louisville has an International League team
again, the Louisville Bats.
Back in Rhode Island, meanwhile, The PawSox lease on McCoy Stadium is about to run
out and all sides agree that it isn’t realistic to try to remodel the league’s oldest ballpark.
The team’s ownership, led by Larry Lucchino, which bought the franchise after Ben
Mondor’s death, at first suggested moving it to a site in Providence, about six miles up
the road. My goodness, you never heard such an outcry. You would have thought they
were trying to move the PawSox to Baghdad. So the owners said, “Okay,” and they made
a commitment to try to stay in Pawtucket. They found a new site right off of Interstate
Ninety-Five, drew up plans for a new ballpark that included multi-purrpose options for
civic use, and entered into protracted negotiations for the financing of it with both the city
and state. A deal was finally struck, with the team paying 45 million dollars of the
projected 83 million cost. The state would contribute 23 million and the city of Pawtucket
another 15 million. But the Pawtucket Red Sox were about to find out that in Rhode
Island a deal’s a deal – until it isn’t.
Enter, the state legislature (at this point the plot thickens), and suddenly the deal was no
longer a deal. The numbers, after some fiddling, were not what had been agreed to, and it
was done without any input from, or warning to, the PawSox, who were putting up most
of the dough. For example, the team had reserved the rights for the naming of the
ballpark, the income from which it had pledged to pay for the bonds. Now the state would
take half the money for the naming rights but still would expect the team to foot the bill
for the bonds.
Nothing happens in a vacuum, so there must be a reason why the legislature gummed up
the works, wouldn’t you say? I’m not sure, but I”ll bet it had something to do with 38
Studios. Curt Schilling”s video game company was wooed into Rhode Island (perhhaps
the state was blinded by his celebrity) by all kinds of financial incentives. At any rate the
company moved to the Ocean State then promptly went belly-up and the tax payers were
left holding the bag. As you can imagine, it left a bad taste in everyone’s mouth and a big
hole in Rhode Island’s pocket. You can see where the old saw, “once burned twice shy,”
might come into play, but there is a difference. The Pawtucket Red Sox are not going
belly-up – though they might now be going out of state.
What happens next? Damned if I know; I don’t pretend to have any inside information. I
do know this, though; the team’s owners are looking at other locations and those
locations are not in the state of Rhode Island. Worcester is a landing place often bandied
about. That would be fine by me. Worcester is about as far from my home as is
Pawtucket, so I’d still go to games on a fairly regular basis, especially on those nights
when Boston’s version of the Red Sox are playing on the West Coast. For Rhode
Islanders, though, it’s a different story.
The loss of the PawSox would mean the loss of professional baseball in Rhode Island for
a long, long time, if not forever. The entire state would fall in the territorial jurisdiction of
the Worcester Red Sox (or Fall River Red Sox, or, would you believe Rehobeth?). Being
astute businessmen, the owners are not about to invite competition into their territory.
Rhode Island would not get the same chance to do a makeover if the Pawsox go as
Kentucky did when it realized what a mistake it made forty-five years ago when it
casually tossed aside the Louisville Colonels.
Communities that lose baseball teams soon see the errors of their ways and end up
spending lots of money getting replacements for the ones they had taken for granted.
Milwaukee lost the Braves but replaced them with the Brewers, Kansas City lost the A’s
but managed to get the Royals, Seattle replaced the Pilots with the Mariners, Washington
had the Senators (twice) and now has the Nationals. Even big, bad New York City, when
it lost both the Dodgers and the Giants, invented the Metropolitans, otherwise known as
the Mets. All those new teams got new stadiums to play in.
Years ago Philadelphia lost the A’s and Boston lost the Braves but both cities retained
their dominant franchises, the Phillies and the Red Sox. They both had a second well to
Maybe it’s not too late for Rhode Island, maybe the deal can be put back together, and
it’ll get to keep the PawSox. Then again, maybe it is too late. The well might not have
run dry, but it’s down to a trickle.