The Pawtucket Red Sox have been sold to a group of familiar Rhode Island business leaders and Boston Red Sox executives who are intent on moving the team from McCoy Stadium to a new ballpark that would be built in downtown Providence.
Pawtucket Mayor Donald Grebien was briefed last night by one of the new owners, Providence lawyer James Skeffington, said Antonio Pires, Pawtucket administration director. Skeffington told the Pawtucket mayor that the new group wants to move to a privately-financed stadium on the Providence downtown waterfront.
Among the group are Terry Murray, a Woonsocket native and retired banker; Tom Ryan, the former president and ceo of the CVS pharmacy chain; and Skeffington, a prominent Providence lawyer. Members of the Boston Red Sox ownership, including Larry Lucchino, are also in the new ownership group.
No sale price was announced in a new release issued by a public relations representative for the group, the Duffy & Shanley firm of Providence. The club was bought from a trust controlled by Madeleine Mondor, widow of beloved owner Ben Mondor.
The 10-member ownership group is led by principal owners Lucchino, who will serve as chairman, and Skeffington, who will be club president.
The new ownership wants to build a new, privately-financed stadium on the Providence waterfront and replicate the Fenway Park experience on a smaller level. Grebien obviously isn’t happy. More than 500,000 fans annually passed through the turnstiles at McCoy for some of the best baseball in the nation at admission prices just about every family could afford.
``It is a sad day,’’ said Pires. ``This just breaks your heart and I’m sure somewhere Ben Mondor is shedding a tear.’’
But there is scant sentiment in professional sports nowadays. One of the problems with McCoy is that the surrounding neighborhoods have seen better days. There are none of the amenities that draw casual fans and make money for owners, such as luxury boxes, fancy restaurants, fern bars and shopping centers. McCoy was all about baseball.
The home opener at McCoy Stadium is slated for April 16. It will be bittersweet. The new owners will retain two longtime PawSox executives: Mike Tamburro, who will be ceo, and Lou Schwechheimer, who will be vice-president and general manager. Matthew White will be chief operating officer and all current staff members will be kept on, according to the news release.
Providence Mayor Jorge Elorza praised the development, calling it a ``significant and exciting possibility for our capital city.''
And Gov. Gina Raimondo weighed in too. ``The PawSox are an institution in Rhode Island and my main goal is keeping them in the state. I look forward to discussions with the new owners about the details of their proposals.''
The news release says that Major League Baseball, the AAA International League and the National Association of Minor League Baseball have all approved the sale.
The new prospective owners have deep ties to Rhode Island and are well-known sports enthusiasts. Murray is a Harvard graduate who is an avid Red Sox fan. Even when he was New England’s op banker, he was usually seen at Fenway Park on Opening Day. He long held season tickets in a coveted field box along the first baseline between the Sox dugout and home plate. While he spends much time in Florida these days, Murray maintains his Rhode Island links; his daughter Paula is a member of the Brown University trustees.
Ryan is a University of Rhode Island graduate who studied pharmacy. As CEO of CVS, Ryan was a major player in the annual CVS Charity Classic, a golf tournament at the Rhode Island Country Club in Barrington that has raised millions for local charities in a partnership with professional golfers Brad Faxon and Billy Andrade. Ryan has also been generous to his alma mater, contributing millions to sports and brain science at URI. The basketball area, the Ryan Center, carries his name.
Skeffington, brother of former state Rep. Jack Skeffington, D-Providence, is a prominent Providence lawyer who is well-connected. Both of Rhode Island’s U.S. senators, Democrats Jack Reed and Sheldon Whitehouse, practiced law with Skeffington at Providence’s Edwards & Angell law firm., which is now Lock Lord Edwards, LLP.
The others in the ownership group are Bernard Cammarata, chairman of the board of TJX companies; William Egan, founder and general partner Alta Communications and Marion Equity Partners; Arthur Nicholas, a Boston Red Sox partner; Fenway Sports Management, a wholly-owned subsidiary of the Boston Red Sox; Habib Gorgi, managing director of Nautic Partners LLC; and Frank Resnek, a Boston Red Sox partner.
The PawSox, or Pawsawx in Rhode Island patois, are a storied minor league franchise. The team has been a summer fixture at McCoy since the 1970s, when the team was rescued from bankruptcy by Lincoln businessman Ben Mondor, a much beloved figure in the Ocean State. The longest game in professional baseball history, a 33-inning marathon, was played at McCoy in 1981. That game was chronicled in the book ``The Bottom of the 33rd’’ by New York Times columnist Dan Barry in a lovely and lyrical tribute to Pawtucket and the team.
A Rhode Islander who relished his role as team owner, Mondor fashioned a franchise with the slogan "where the dreams begin" that was deeply involved in community good works. Mondor kept admission and concession prices low, especially for the young and old; you can take a carload of kids to a game for less than a trip to the movies.
It was decidedly blue-collar entertainment in a famously working-class city. Pawtucket was home to the American Industrial Revolution, the city where Samuel Slater opened the first textile factory in America in the late 18th century. It was also the scene of the nation’s first labor strike, in 1824.
Mondor died shortly after the last inning of the 2010 season. He had suffered from cancer and heart disease. He died at age 85. For several years before his death, Mondor talked about retiring. When asked why he never retired, Mondor once told yours truly and the late, great Jack White of Channel 12, that he decided against it. "What am I gonna do, go to Florida. There’s nothing there but old people."
In the mid-1990s, then-Massachusetts Gov. Bill Weld tried to lure the team to Worcester with a promise of a new, $40 million stadium. But Rhode Island responded and the state was fortunate that Mondor never really wanted to leave his home state.
In those days, Pawtucket and the Blackstone Valley held much more political juice. The House Speaker was John Harwood, D-Pawtucket and the House Finance chairman was Antonio Pires, D-Pawtucket. The governor was Republican Lincoln Almond, a Lincoln neighbor of Mondor. A deal was hatched at the Statehouse that put about $12 million in state-backed bonds to renovate McCoy, which is owned by the city of Pawtucket. And Mondor put about $4 million of his own money into the project. (R.I. political irony: Pires is now Pawtucket’s administration director).
The PawSox lease on McCoy Stadium runs until 2021, but can be easily broken, Pires said.
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