Somebody tell John Henry that Fenway Park cannot be saved
BY CHRISTOPHER YOUNG
News item: new Red Sox owners plan to investigate possibilities of renovating Fenway Park, rather than building a new stadium.
Let me get this straight. John Henry, Tom Werner, and the other investors who just bought the Olde Towne Team recently wrote a check for more than $700 million, and will pay another $100 million this season alone in employee salaries, and they want to keep their investment playing in an 80-year-old stadium that holds around 34,000 people?
I have little doubt that the new Sox owners are shrewd businessmen, and that they would not have invested such a healthy lump of cash if they didnít believe they could ultimately make money on the deal. But with all due respect to the "Save Fenway Park" backers, how can anyone recoup such a huge investment unless substantial money-making opportunities are created?
Perhaps John Henry and crew are attempting to appease the legions of Fenway Park addicts with their talk of renovating the old ballpark, and perhaps I too would want to get off on the right foot and mollify the masses if I were in such a position. There is no sense alienating the group of zealots who believe that Fenway must be saved, and for the owners it is probably wise at least to look into the cost and design elements involved in fixing up the old girl. Reportedly, the Henry contingent has already hired one of the main architects of Baltimoreís Camden Yards as a consultant in its feasibility studies for the proposed renovation.
Now donít get me wrong. I love Fenway Park, and a part of me would be lost if the stadium were leveled and replaced. But I also would not miss significant aspects of the Friendly Fenway experience, among them some of the same complaints that Boston Garden fans had before they moved into the FleetCenter seven years ago. For instance: have you ever had seats 14 and 15 in a 29-seat row and had to say "excuse me" a dozen times, making those dozen people stand up (and give you dirty looks), if you want to go down to the concourse for a dog, drink, or restroom break? Have you ever sat in sections four through 10 down the right-field line, where you have to watch the entire game over your left shoulder because every seat faces the Green Monster? Have you ever missed an inning or more, including significant plays on the field, because of the long lines at the concession stands? Have you ever gotten so stuck in traffic going into or out of the stadium that the time spent in your car lasted longer than the game itself? Have you ever been down below and seen the ratty batting-cage areas under the bleachers, or been in the way-too-cozy clubhouse areas? Have you seen pictures of some of the below-ground facilities ó which fans never see ó that resemble the catacombs of the coliseum in Rome? Yes, Manny Ramirez reportedly complained through his agent that the playersí areas were too cramped, but what do you expect from a facility that was built before World War I?
And donít even get me started on the bathrooms or the pillars in the grandstand.
Fact is, the new Sox owners will eventually have to accept that the only real ways to make more money in this baseball-crazy town are to continue raising prices (already the highest in the league), lower payroll (which would negatively influence the teamís ability to compete), or somehow add more seating to a stadium that cannot be renovated outward, and therefore must be renovated upward. Yes, I know theyíre in the process of adding 150 seats at dugout level (canít wait to see even more yahoos waving at the TV cameras from behind home plate while talking on their cell phones to their friends watching at home), but not only does that actually reduce the amount of playing field and foul territory, it adds about only $2.4 million annually to the coffers ó a sum that might buy you a utility infielder. Can you build upward? Not if you want to add more luxury boxes, which is where the significant money can be earned. The current Fenway Park has only 50 luxury suites, while Clevelandís Jacobs Field has 120 (and the Indians are still losing money).
Given the politics in this city, Fenway fanatics need not worry; we probably wonít see a new facility for the Red Sox anytime this decade. But sooner or later, John Henry will have to reach the inevitable conclusion that renovating Fenway Park is not the way to go. A sparkling new waterfront facility is what Boston players and fans alike deserve, and what better cap to put on the Big Dig and the woebegone Northern Avenue landscape than a sparkling new diamond in the rough? You build it, John Henry, and you can be sure that they will come. After all, whatís another couple hundred million bucks?
Sporting Eye runs Mondays and Fridays at BostonPhoenix.com. Christopher Young can be reached at email@example.com.
Issue Date: March 4, 2002
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