August 20, 2017

Sina-cism: If taxpayers don’t pay, PawSox can come

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An aerial view of a digital rendering of the potential WooSox ballpark.

Twice in recent years I have signed postcards urging the Boston Red Sox organization to consider moving their top minor-league affiliate, the Pawtucket Red Sox, to Worcester. But in doing so, I felt a bit like the utility relief pitcher who’s brought into the middle of a 14-3 game to soak up innings and save the arms of the real players.

Chris Sinacola

Chris Sinacola

In short, I don’t think the PawSox are coming.

It’s not that I wouldn’t like to see additional development, including minor-league baseball. Like thousands of others, I enjoy frequenting the Canal District, and have been impressed with the development there.

I love that the gentrifying places like Bocado Tapas Bar and BirchTree Bread Company rub elbows with the blue-collar likes of Table Talk Pies. I’m excited by Allen Fletcher’s proposal for a $20 million commercial development of the current combination mudhole and parking lot between Green and Harding streets. And the thrill-a-second intersections are priceless for entertainment.

Like many, I wonder each time I drive or walk past the vacant Wyman-Gordon property why no one has yet found the right combination of ideas and funding to take the next leap in the neighborhood’s evolution. While I had no appetite for a slots parlor on the site, baseball would suit me fine. And yes, the rumor mill has been in overdrive since late June, largely because Worcester officials and former Red Sox CEO Larry Lucchino, current PawSox chairman and co-owner, toured the city, including the Canal District and potential ballpark site nearby.

“The City of Worcester,” City Manager Edward Augustus said in a statement, “has spoken with the leadership of the PawSox and communicated our openness to the possibility of having them come to Worcester if they decide to leave their current home.”

The Worcester City Council’s 8-1 vote last Tuesday to support efforts to lure the team confirmed those sentiments. Only Councilor Konnie Lukes opposed the motion, questioning why the city would commit itself to an effort whose costs are essentially unknown.

Let’s get real.

First of all, whatever the shortcomings of Pawtucket’s McCoy Stadium, it is a perfectly serviceable venue for AAA baseball, whereas a rocky former industrial site with God knows what beneath the surface is not — at least not yet.

The fact that attendance at McCoy Stadium has declined by 41 percent since 2005, reaching a 24-year low last year — see this WPRI report — does not necessarily mean Worcester would fare any better.

Most importantly, bringing the PawSox to Worcester would likely cost taxpayers, in Worcester and across the state, tens of millions of dollars. The prevailing model when it comes to sports franchises is: We have a product that someone out there can’t resist. If you want us, give us generous tax breaks and help with construction and infrastructure. Then we’ll come. Maybe.

If Worcester were the only contender in these sweepstakes, we might see a financial triple play: The PawSox move here, they pay for everything, and the city reaps the benefits.

Canal District postcard

The Canal District Alliance produced postcards to Gov. Charlie Baker to help bring the Pawtucket Red Sox to Worcester.

But Worcester isn’t alone. Pawtucket won’t give up its team without a fight. And even Springfield is supposedly interested.

It is more likely than not that the PawSox are using Worcester as leverage to persuade Pawtucket and Rhode Island taxpayers to agree to pay more of the costs of revamping McCoy Stadium or building a new facility.

Be that as it may, the PawSox are obligated to remain where they are through the 2020 season. The heart of the matter is simply this: How much would Massachusetts taxpayers be willing to spend to bring the PawSox to the state?

This taxpayer’s answer: Zero dollars and zero cents.

I understand that the Pawtucket Red Sox are not owned by the Boston Red Sox, but I also know that the Red Sox empire is paying more than $220 million in adjusted salaries in 2017, from Fenway to the Gulf Coast League. Does all that investment pay off? You bet it does. The sports empire based at Fenway Park is one of the richest in all of professional sports. Forbes estimates the team is worth $2.7 billion.

Would AAA baseball in Worcester be fun and exciting? Sure. Would it give the area a boost? At least in the short term, probably so.

But an organization that can afford to pay an injured David Price $30 million a year is in no need of my charity. If the PawSox want to paw the dirt of the Canal District, they can ask one John William Henry II for the scratch.

Chris Sinacola is a Worcester Sun columnist. His observations on politics, current events, history and more appear every Sunday.

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