Red Sox ownership on Tuesday revealed in a Globe exclusive that Fenway Park is an intolerable financial drain and it could be time to move the Olde Towne Team, be it to another area of the city, perhaps the suburbs, or to elsewhere in the country.
“This is not a threat,’’ said the ownership group, making note of how the Braves bolted town for Milwaukee in 1953. “This is a mere statement of fact.’’
OK, now that I have your attention, this was Tuesday, June 20, 1967, smack in the thick of the franchise’s Impossible Dream revival. The Red Sox ownership “group’’ in those days consisted of Tom and Jean Yawkey, the latter of whom barely spoke a word publicly until after her husband’s death less than 10 years later.
Tom Yawkey, himself a limited media presence, especially compared to the more chatable and animated Patriots owner, Billy Sullivan, spent 60 minutes that Tuesday bearing his financial soul and new ballpark aspirations to the Globe’s Will McDonough.
Yawkey was fed up. His Red Sox, even with business turning favorable in ’67 with Yaz and Co., were a money drain. His funky ballpark, opened in 1912, was old, uncomfortable, and fitted with precious few good seats.
The suburbs, including those along the bustling Route 128 belt west of the city, held the seductive allure of open acres fit for a state-of-the art stadium and a humongous parking lot (see: Gillette, Foxborough, income stream). A Globe story one month later, in fact, identified land in Newton Lower Falls along 128 as the ideal spot to build the new Fenway. It was inevitable: Fenway destined to be thrown out at home.
“I cannot continue indefinitely under present circumstances,’’ harrumphed Yawkey, no doubt to McDonough’s journalistic glee. “I am losing money with the Red Sox and no one — unless he’s a damn fool — likes to lose money.’’
Later in the piece, Yawkey added, “It can’t go on forever. There has to be a stop or you’ll be bankrupt. And I don’t intend to bankrupt myself.’’
Nearly a half-century later, a new Red Sox season is upon us and Yawkey’s emerald bandbox on Botox remains on the job, same as it ever was, albeit spruced up like a Disney faux village and with most seats occupied for a minimum 81 games a year.
Fenway, under John Henry and friends, over the last 10-plus years has molded itself into Major League Baseball’s USS Constitution. People stream to it by the millions, not necessarily for the day’s battle but to feel the old iron within its bones, get a whiff of the gunpowder that lingers in the air, the stale beer seasoned in the grandstand’s wooden seats. It’s a cash cow. An old cow, one still with very few good, comfortable seats, but producing an unremitting stream of money that would have boggled Yawkey’s mind.
“When I look at it from a business standpoint,’’ Yawkey told McDonough, not knowing how the joint would bust at the seams when the Cardinals came to town for the 1967 World Series, “a man would have to be:
“B. Like to lose money.
“C. Like to continue to lose money.
“And no one — at least that I know of — is like that.’’
Not even J. Paul Getty, then the world’s richest man, would tolerate it, added Yawkey. Oil barons, not fracking kings, were the big guys in those days.
And so it goes. It was much the same nonsense, read from the Owner’s Playbook, that Jeremy Jacobs delivered when rumors of a Bruins sale and move to New Hampshire surfaced a few years into his Causeway tenure. Robert Kraft played it to a T, too, when he made the city Hartford his clay pigeon (pull!) amid the orchestration, political and otherwise, to build Gillette Stadium.
Fenway will welcome its first customers through the gates April 13 with the Nationals in town. Sadly, the Sox aren’t going anywhere, which is not an editorial comment about their overall roster or their specific lack of an ace. But it is about the ballpark, now amid its 103d birthday, and straining to dance like a 1920s flapper.
What others see as a lingering homage to baseball’s past, I see as seats too small, sightlines too challenged, concession and bathroom lines often too long and unnecessary. It’s better than Yawkey’s day, in fact light-years better, which is to say, yeah, it’s tolerable.
But in so many ways, by just the comfort and ease-of-use standards, Fenway is a dial-up experience in a wireless world. Spend just five minutes in the newer ballyards in St. Louis and Pittsburgh, just to name two au courant diamond gems, and even the most ardent Fenway fan will feel, among other things, just plain liberated. Seats are comfortable. Sightlines, even those distant from home plate, are magnificent.
Admittedly, the new parks are short on history, but what does Ted Williams have to do with you sitting in Section 5, right field, and staring directly at the third base grandstand? Does Bobby Doerr help you zip through the hot dog line or see around that nasty pole smack in the middle of Section 15? Jim Ed Rice ain’t gonna massage your knees during the seventh-inning stretch, which was instituted when ballparks were so cramped that customers had to be reminded not to ossify during the national pastime. Here in the Hub, we’re still ossifyin’.
“It might be different if those other cities weren’t getting together and getting stadiums built,’’ said Thomas A. Yawkey on June 20, 1967. “But they are — and we aren’t. So it makes you wonder.’’
It surely does. We ruminate on history and, because we are Boston, angst over how things might change. Even when the future could be far better than the past or present.