As Michael Corleone bluntly advised his hot-tempered brother Santino (a.k.a Sonny) in Mario Puzo’s masterpiece, The Godfather, “It’s not personal…it’s strictly business.”
Whether it be politics, economics, world affairs or even sports, many will rush to use this Machiavellian phrase to justify actions that may cause a less-than-pleasing result. However, business sometimes IS personal. Last week, Rhode Islanders were boldly reminded of that cold, hard fact.
On Friday, August 17, 2018, the Boston Red Sox minor-league AAA Affiliate, the Pawtucket Red Sox, announced that they would be relocating to Worcester, Massachusetts, starting in 2021. Pawtucket has been the home of Boston’s top ‘farm team’ since 1973.
As a result, the “PawSox” are about to become the “WooSox.”
For Worcester, business is good.
For Rhode Islanders, this one is definitely personal.
A Rhode Island Institution
I have lived in Rhode Island for my entire life. I have never known a “Rhode Island” without the PawSox. As a child, I celebrated two of my birthdays by attending PawSox games at McCoy Stadium, surrounded by family and friends. One of those games featured a then-unknown PawSox prospect named Mo Vaughn, who hit a mammoth two-run home run that cleared the outer walls of the Stadium. It is a moment that my friends and I (now in our thirties) still talk about to this day. The memory of walking up the ramp alongside my father while seeing the posters of Wade Boggs, Jim Rice, and Dwight Evans proudly sporting the “P” on their baseball caps, is one that will always remain vivid in my mind. It was a reminder that even the greats start somewhere. For future Red Sox legends, that start often happened in Pawtucket, Rhode Island…and I, as all Rhode Islanders, felt a sense of pride in the connection we had to the region’s beloved Major League team.
To say that the PawSox are a Rhode Island institution would be an understatement. Summers in the Ocean State are typically defined by beaches, Del’s Lemonade, Clam Cakes and PawSox baseball. Despite a recent slide in attendance, the PawSox often remained the ‘best ticket’ in town. For many hard-working Rhode Island and Southern New England families, it was a closer and more-affordable alternative to attending a game at Fenway Park in Boston. While Worcester is not exactly an insurmountable distance to travel, any Rhode Islander will tell you that any journey beyond 15 minutes might just be a bit too ‘fahhh.’ As a result, seeing future (and sometimes current) Major League stars just got a bit more difficult for residents of the Ocean State.
Playing the ‘Blame Game’ is Futile
Many Rhode Islanders find themselves asking the question “How did this happen”? To say that this is the sole fault of the City of Pawtucket, the Rhode Island State Legislature or the PawSox team officials would be a disservice to any of those entities. It’s clear that each acted in good faith. However, to paraphrase C.S. Lewis, the path to ruin is paved with good intentions. Quite simply, the team accepted the best offer. Conversely, the City and State did what they believed was best for Rhode Island taxpayers.
The whispers of relocation first started in 2015. After an ownership group (led by then-Boston Red Sox Chairman Larry Lucchino) purchased the PawSox from Madeleine Mondor (widow of longtime team owner Ben Mondor,) a deal for a publicly-financed stadium in Providence was negotiated. However, that deal fell apart later that same year. As a result, the team began to float rumors of potential relocation targets — including both Worcester and Springfield, Massachusetts.
Despite the rumors, the PawSox and the City of Pawtucket continued to negotiate. Pawtucket then proposed an $83 million stadium deal that would have placed a new ballpark amid 50,000 square feet of new riverside development. That deal cleared the Rhode Island Senate in January. However, with the memory of the state’s $75 million ill-fated bet on Curt Schilling’s defunct 38 Studios video game company, the House was weary to approve. They modified the deal, placing less of a burden on the State. Rhode Island Gov. Gina Raimondo signed the revised proposal in June. That agreement expired in June 2017, when Rhode Island’s legislative session ended without a deal.
An ‘offer they can’t refuse?’
Ultimately, Worcester’s offer to the PawSox includes $71 million in borrowing to be repaid through public revenue. The Commonwealth of Massachusetts is adding $35 million in state grants for infrastructure and development subsidies. When talking all into account, the total public subsidy in Worcester is expected to exceed $100 million. In contrast to the $71 million in public revenue offered by Worcester, the Rhode Island proposal called for $44 million in taxpayer revenue.
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While Worcester is rightfully rejoicing in their latest acquisition, Rhode Islanders still look to adequately slice the ‘blame’ pie. Truthfully, it was an offer that the PawSox could not refuse. On Wednesday (August 22), Gov, Raimondo, and Pawtucket Mayor Don Grebien responded at a press conference in Pawtucket. Each advised that Worcester’s offer was also one that the City and State could not match, citing that it would have ‘jeopardized’ the city’s future. Raimondo stated:
“The reality is that for whatever reason Worcester has decided to offer an enormous subsidy to the team. It wouldn’t have been responsible for us to try to compete with the offer that Worcester and Massachusetts have put in front of the team.”
All things considered, the relocation of the PawSox might just have been a perfect storm of bad timing for the city of Pawtucket. This time, equal slices of ‘blame’ pie can be served all around.
“Might Have Been” vs. “What Will Be”
According to several sources (including the Providence Journal and the Worcester Telegram), Raimondo said she had already explored one possible way to replace the PawSox in Rhode Island. Apparently, she recently placed a call to New England Revolution owner Jonathan Kraft. She did so to gauge interest in bringing the Major League Soccer franchise to Rhode Island. It has been no secret that the Revs, who share Gillette Stadium in Foxboro, Massachusetts with the New England Patriots of the NFL, have been searching for options on having its own stadium. This aggressive step shows that Rhode Island does not remain intent on licking its wounds. The Revolution are a professional sports franchise, carrying a degree of profile and cache. On Wednesday, Raimondo did not appear overly optimistic on luring the Revolution. Yet, she remained steadfast in keeping Rhode Island in the New England spotlight.
“I think they (New England Revolution) are pretty committed to Boston, so it would be a long shot, but we will try it. I am confident that there are many other excellent uses that will give life to McCoy and provide affordable entertainment, sports an non-sports options,” Raimondo said. “Let’s make sure the stadium is full.”
For the sake of all Rhode Islanders, we hope that our Governor is correct. New generations of Rhode Islanders deserve the same type of memories that I will forever hold in my heart. The eventual departure of the PawSox might have been strictly business to team officials and Rhode Island lawmakers. However, for PawSox fans in Rhode Island, it is and will remain, personal. No explanation can change that. We will continue to cheer on the WooSox, but it will never be the same. There will always be a sense of what ‘might’ have been.
That being said, there is no sense in lamenting our lost Sox. The decision has been made. All we can do now is move forward.
–Mike D’Abate is a Managing Editor and National Columnist for Full Press Coverage Sports Media. He covers the New England Patriots, the NFL and the New England sports landscape. Follow him on Twitter @mdabateFPC