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What's All The Blubbering About? You're Winning


News: Analysis & Commentary: BASEBALL

WHAT'S ALL THE BLUBBERING ABOUT? YOU'RE WINNING

Fenway Park, in Boston, is a lyric little bandbox of a ballpark. Everything is painted green, and seems in curiously sharp focus, like the inside of an old-fashioned peeping-type Easter egg. It was built in 1912 and rebuilt in 1934, and offers, as do most Boston artifacts, a compromise between Man's Euclidian determinations and Nature's beguiling irregularities.

--John Updike, Hub Fans Bid Kid Adieu, 1960

It is a fabled ballpark, home once to Babe Ruth, Ted Williams, Carl Yastrzemski, and now to Roger Clemens and Mo Vaughan (lesser deities, but deities still). Purists, even a few in the Bronx, insist that Fenway almost is baseball. But this national treasure soon will be no more.

Even as the Boston Red Sox chase their first league championship since 1986, the team's front office is trash-talking its stadium. Sox owner John Harrington says that tiny Fenway is "economically obsolete." Jealously eyeing gleaming new ballparks in Baltimore and Cleveland, he has launched plans to build a $150 million, state-of-the-art replacement. The new park, says team Executive Vice-President John S. Buckley, "will have all the amenities."

Sox management has yet to hire an architect or traffic planners--or sort out with city officials the nitty-gritty of the deal. But the team has said it will fund the cost of a new park if Boston provides the land. And both sides have tentatively agreed to a site in South Boston, just half a mile from the city's financial district. Buckley hopes a new park, with 50% more seats, will be ready in 2002, a year after the team's 100th anniversary.

Over some diehards' dead bodies, perhaps. Fenway "is the cathedral of baseball," says Boston native Thad Russell. Although he's now a Los Angeles adman, Russell plans to launch a "Save Fenway" campaign with billboards and print ads in Boston papers. Echoing the sentiments of thousands of Fenway faithful, he says: "We'll lose our best connection to baseball history."

From a fan's perspective, indeed, few big-league ballparks have Fenway's charm and quirks. With just 33,000 seats, nearly everyone gets a closeup view of the game. In left field looms the fabled "Green Monster," a 37-foot-high wall. In center, there's the "Bermuda Triangle," where fly balls can drop for a routine out, or, if hit a few feet to the left or right, wind up as home runs.

Buckley acknowledges that it will be hard to leave such eccentricities behind. But he says that if the Sox stay in Fenway, they will be at a serious competitive disadvantage. Baltimore's Camden Yards and Cleveland's Jacobs Field both have about 10,000 more seats than Fenway, plus lucrative plush seats and luxury boxes (table). Revenues from Fenway, at $70 million, are about 20% below those of both Cleveland and Baltimore, and "that money pays for a lot of salaries and a lot of developing players," says Buckley. True, the Sox boast one of the majors' most productive minor-league systems--and they are in first place. No matter: In today's big-money game, the Sox say, they can't afford top talent without higher revenue.

LUXURY BOXES. Buckley says the team remains committed to a new ballpark that retains as much of Fenway's character as possible. The Green Monster would be moved in its entirety, along with Fenway's manual scoreboard, he pledges. The grass still would be real. But the new park would have wider aisles and seats, updated bathrooms, and numerous luxury boxes.

And the name? Well, it won't be Fenway. Like San Francisco, which is renaming its stadium 3Com Park, thanks to a multimillion dollar contribution from the computer networking company of that name, the Sox plan to auction off the right to name their new home. Bank of Boston Stadium? Reebok Park? Green Monster or no, it just won't be the same.By Geoffrey Smith in Boston


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