Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Goin’ all Grandpa Simpson…

As our “Dweeb Team” (Tango, Keri, Burley and I) continue our quest for drumming up support for Tim Raines Hall of Fame candidacy it reminded me of a previous quest of which I was privileged to be a part. It wasn’t that long ago when Fenway Park appeared to be headed for a date with the wrecking ball. This was before John Harrington had sold the Red Sox to the current owners (John Henry and Co.).

Anyway, those who have spent any time with me (poor souls) know I love baseball history--especially old ballparks. I took many a pilgrimage to the corner of Michigan and Trumbull and devoted much column space to blasting the political machinations leading to the inevitable destruction of Tiger Stadium.

I was fortunate enough to come across some kindred spirits in recent years; people who lobbied to save Old Comiskey Park, as well as the good folks of the Tiger Stadium Fan Club. At the time, I was working for MLBtalk as a columnist and associate editor that enjoyed a wide readership. I had always been interested in the business aspects of the game, as you’ll note should you ever inflict spending time going through my archives on yourselves.

This interest led me to Neil deMause’s excellent Field of Schemes mailing list.

The members of the list were folks wizened in the ways of the business and politics of sports. I received a tremendous education from the various ones who posted there. It was around this period of time when Fenway Park was in the crosshairs of corporate welfare gremlins of major league baseball.

Even though I am not a Red Sox fan nor have any interest in becoming one, I knew three things: (1) Fenway Park was a baseball shrine and an irreplaceable piece of baseball history (2) the Boston Red Sox were among the most profitable franchises in baseball and (3) a new Fenway Park would suck close to a billion dollars in tax revenues from a region that could not spare it.

Bottom line, it didn’t matter from which angle you examined the issue, it looked positively purulent.

At any rate, this was the buzz of the list. Old Comiskey was no more, Tiger Stadium was vacant and the vultures were circling and now Bud Selig, John Harrington, the American League, and a good chunk of Boston’s politicos and media had formed a torches and pitchforked mob to put a noose around the old ballyard.

Here’s a sampling of what was being said:

"In a move that could pare 30,000 children from the state's special-education rolls, the Legislature will abolish the controversial 25-year-old guarantee of a special-needs student's right to the ``maximum feasible'' education, lawmakers said yesterday.

The overhaul of special education - the first successful effort in a decade of attempts - could potentially save $157 million a year as the state shifts to the federal standard of a ``free and appropriate public education.''"

State Sen. Mark Montigny, chairman of the budget-crafting Senate Ways and Means Committee, bristled at the charge. He said Senate negotiators risked other budget initiatives if they failed to compromise on special education.

``Please don't think this is a happy day with this change,'' said Montigny (D-New Bedford). ``We just think it's in the interest of every taxpayer of the commonwealth to get a good budget.''

-- Tuesday July 18th 2000 Boston Herald

“A federal court order about housing retarded adults in Massachusetts should prove more problematic for the Red Sox, but it won't. The disabled had a moral imperative on their side; the retarded have a legal mandate. Alas, neither has a well-financed public-relations strategy.

The Sox have been pushing to win at least $240 million in public funds before the legislative session ends July 31, but on Friday US District Court Judge Douglas Woodlock established a far more pressing priority. The Commonwealth has 90 days to provide housing or support services to 2,600 mentally retarded adults who have been denied assistance for years in violation of the federal Medicaid Act.

Governor Paul Cellucci has not responded to Woodlock's decision - he has not commented at all on the class-action suit since it was filed 16 months ago on behalf of families left languishing for years on a waiting list for services by the state Department of Mental Retardation. But evasion and avoidance will no longer pass for public policy, Woodlock made clear in a stinging rebuke to state officials who have illegally required aging parents to bear the care of their retarded children, some for as long as 50 years.

Federal law requires that those eligible for Medicaid receive services within a reasonable period of time, a period the law defines as 90 days. Neil McKittrick, the attorney with Hill & Barlow who prevailed in the class-action suit against the state, said 75 percent to 85 percent of the 2,600 retarded adults will require residential placements at an annual cost of between $60,000 and $80,000 each; others can continue to be cared for at home but will need less expensive support services. McKittrick estimated the total bill at $100 million, half of it to be reimbursed by the federal government.

Look for the state to respond to the judge's order by Aug. 15 with the claim that it does not have the financial resources to obey the law.

-- July 19, 2000 Boston Globe

We see how difficult it would be to find the necessary revenues for a new park.

"The Red Sox are extremely concerned about the proposed burden recently announced finance plans place on our fans - already bearing much of the cost for a new ballpark through seat deposits and the highest ticket prices in the league ... a new ballpark will generate very significant economic benefits for all of Massachusetts. And Red Sox fans should not bear the whole burden.'' (John Harrington)

-- Boston Herald, Tuesday, July 25, 2000
''It is not a case of Us vs. Schools ... the question is, `Do you want Major League Baseball in your community?''' (John Harrington)

-- Boston Globe May 25, 2000

Try this as a point-counterpoint:
Point:"There is no state taxpayer money to purchase land or engage in any creative land-swap or leaseback scheme."

-- Speaker Finneran before the U.S. Senate

Counterpoint: "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 ... 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."

-- Bob Ryan (Boston Globe May 25, 2000)
"But he conceded fans would also be paying more to see games in a new ballpark. Although Red Sox tickets are already the most expensive in the league, Harrington acknowledged the team expects to impose higher prices in the new ballpark. He stressed, however, the price hikes would be less than the increases in recent years.

''It's very difficult to find partners who would be willing to invest significant money in a deal when they know they will not get a reasonable return on their investment,'' Harrington said. He also shrugged off the idea of offering the public ''wallpaper stock,'' saying it would be unfair to deceive fans who would buy the stock into thinking their holdings would increase in value." -- Boston Globe - June 18, 2000

Let's analyze the above: "It's very difficult to find partners who would be willing to invest significant money in a deal when they know they will not get a reasonable return on their investment." So they want the taxpayers to be their partners to invest significant money in a deal, that is by their own admission, "they know they will not get a reasonable return on their investment."

It’s easy to see why it was easy to be ticked at the whole situation.

Anyway, I wanted to be a part of educating the public regarding this male-bovine mass of feces. I was touched that the folks involved allowed me to be a part of trying to save the old park as well as keeping the corporate welfare succubi at bay.

Erika Tarlin of ‘Save Fenway Park’ was a blessing. Obviously, living in the boonies of Canada wasn’t really conducive to having my thumb on the pulse of goings on in the state of Massachusetts. Erika filled the void beautifully. Every day I had cornucopia new well-substantiated and sourced news and updates. Neil deMause educated me on the ins and outs of stadium subsidies, the folks from the Tiger Stadium Fan Club shared their experiences of dealing with politicians dealing in pork-barrel politics. I had a state budget leaked to me that demonstrated the damage funding a new Fenway Park would be to the region.

They provided me with a wonderful paper trail to sniff out the lies being planted in the media.

Ultimately, Fenway is still among us. I have no idea how much our effort contributed to stalling and eventually having the deal come to nothing. However, I was part of a group trying to educate the public about what would have been a billion dollar taxpayer boondoggle. It’s one of my favourite memories from my time in this profession. They didn’t have to include me in all of that, I was still a comparative unknown.

It was an invaluable experience, I learned so much about the inner workings of these issues and how the media is manipulated by special interests.

So, to Erika Tarlin, Neil deMause, Frank Rashid, Phil Bess, Doug Pappas (R.I.P.) and so many others--thanks for everything.

I hope our effort on Tim Raines will end up with another happy ending.

Best Regards


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