Mayor Menino loved sports. Especially baseball.
The last time I saw him was in the Houghton Mifflin box at Fenway Park at the end of September, and he told me he was certain the Red Sox were going to re-sign Jon Lester this offseason. I told him that — with all due respect — he was out of his mind. We bet dinner on it, and when the mayor signed his book over to me, he wrote, “I can’t wait to have McDonald’s after I win the bet. Keep their feet to the fire. Tom Menino.’’
The mayor had third base loge box seats but in his later years, he was a regular visitor to the third level of Fenway Park. On many game nights, he could be seen walking past the EMC bar behind home plate on his way to the Reebok box.
In his final season attending Fenway, he walked with the aide of a 29-inch Louisville Slugger baseball bat cane, presented to him by local philanthropists Gary and Lynne Smith. The bat features an inscription touting “Mayor Thomas Menino” and “World Series Champions, 2004, 2007, 2013.”
“Those were the years I was mayor,’’ Menino would say proudly, holding his baseball cane aloft.
Menino never got past the EMC bar walkway without being stopped by multiple Fenway patrons, all of them happy to be at the ballgame and delighted to bump into the mayor of Boston. I always made a point to get into his ear and ask how the Globe was treating him. He’d grimace and say, “Oh, the Globe is killing me.’’
Probably not. But the mayor was a sensitive guy. He demanded respect. He never forgave the Patriots when they tried to build a stadium in South Boston without his help back in the mid 1990s. He was not a fan of the Krafts and he wasn’t particularly close to the Yawkey Trust folks who ran the Red Sox through the end of the 20th century.
All of that changed when John Henry and friends bought the Boston Red Sox in December of 2001. (Henry also purchased the Globe in 2013.) The new owners of the Red Sox made it a point to include Mr. Mayor in virtually all decisions, and that love was returned tenfold. You don’t have to be Bob Woodward or Carl Bernstein to know that there was a mutual love-fest between the Red Sox and Boston City Hall over the last 13 years.
Henry’s point person, Larry Lucchino, is a veteran of partnerships forged between cities and teams. A wily attorney, schooled at the foot of the great Edward Bennett Williams, Lucchino built Camden Yards in Baltimore and Petco Park in San Diego, and he understands the importance and delicacies of public/private partnerships.
Lucchino did not make the same mistakes that Bob and Jonathan Kraft made when they thought about building a stadium in South Boston. The Sox were intent on expanding and improving their ballpark, and the footprint around the park, and that required cooperation from the city.
So the “new” Red Sox consulted the mayor before doing anything. Anything. It sometimes felt as if Terry Francona was sending his lineups to City Hall before posting them on the clubhouse door at Fenway.
It made for a great relationship. The Sox took care of the mayor and he took care of them. Check out some of the Fenway footprint deals that were struck in the final days of the Menino administration.
It wasn’t all about baseball with Mayor Menino. He was part of the parades with the Patriots, Celtics, and Bruins. He was proud to be the mayor of the city of champions. He won almost all of those corny “bets” with mayors of other cities who were competing against Boston teams in championship rounds.
Menino came up big in our city’s moments of crisis after the Boston Marathon bombings. Mr. Mayor was at Brigham & Women’s Hospital with a broken leg when the tragedy unfolded, but he vaulted out of bed and got in front of the effort to make our city safe again.
His local sports malaprops are legendary. Mr. Mayor had “Varitek splitting the uprights,’’ and spoke of “Wes Wekler, Jim Lomberg, Donald Sterns, Vince Wilcock, Gonk, and KJ and Hondo (Kevin Garnett and Rajon Rondo).’’ He was always a good sport about it, even when ESPN featured him bollixing names of Hub sports heroes.
Details, details. It didn’t matter. What mattered was the fact that he was the proud mayor of the City of Boston and he presided at a time when our town did something no town has ever done: win championships in all four major sports in a period of six years and four months.
The man was a Boston sports fan. Just like you. Rest in peace, Mr. Mayor.