Who to blame for PawSox walk-off to Worcester?
When discussing the PawSox imminent 2021 departure from Rhode Island, it’s impossible not to utilize some purposefully corny baseball terminology. This publication did that last autumn when we supported an offer put forward by the team that gathered the support of Governor Gina Raimondo, the city of Pawtucket and the Rhode Island state senate. We called it a “home run” back then.
Today, now that nearly two weeks have passed since it was announced the beloved PawSox would be heading northwest to Worcester, we maintain that the original deal was a knockout, and we understand why some people are crying foul that the state House of Representatives – and its Speaker, Nicholas Mattiello – is responsible for dropping the ball and failing to close in the 9th inning of the deal.
However, we also don’t think that it’s entirely fair to blame the state, or any one politician, for losing what ultimately turned into a free agent bidding war. Rhode Island simply couldn’t match the deal that was offered by Worcester, just as small market MLB teams so often can’t match offers to land big free agents that teams like the Red Sox and Yankees pull in each winter and early spring.
The question, then, becomes whether or not the state’s representatives did right by the city of Pawtucket and the state’s PawSox-loving residents in holding up that original offer.
Back in October and early November of 2017, when the offer was first presented by PawSox owner Larry Lucchino that had been crafted with the support of city and state officials, including the Governor’s Office and Mayor Donald Grebien of Pawtucket, it seemed that the team was committed to staying in place and doing right by the citizens who had long supported the organization.
However – and this is what makes assigning blame in this instance so difficult – some political minds in Rhode Island were hesitant to open themselves up to another debacle such as what happened with Curt Schilling and his immediate strikeout of a video game company. They wondered if there was enough revenue potential in an AAA ballpark to cover the costs associated with building a new stadium with borrowed money.
Yes, contrary to what some politically vocal citizens might believe, it seemed that some of our politicians were trying to learn from their history and not repeat a mistake – or at least they were going to think twice before acting this time around.
While the numbers weren’t exactly close – a guarantee of $38 million between state and city borrowing for the PawSox deal versus $75 in guaranteed bonds for 38 Studios – the presence of any amount of guaranteed bonds was enough for politicians, particularly Mattiello, to shy away from signing off on a deal without exploring other possibilities.
As a result, the original deal died in the glove of the House and politicians regrouped for another approach. By the time the legislature came up with the proposal to only go out for “special revenue” bonds, which could only be paid for by revenue generated by the new stadium, the PawSox had been properly wooed by an offer they couldn’t refuse from Worcester. And there’s your ballgame.
“It's a vehicle that could have worked,” Mattiello said himself of the special revenue bonds during a Monday interview with this paper. “But Worcester offered over $100 million and, in my opinion, that was too expensive and the Rhode Island taxpayer would never stand for that kind of a financing proposal…I think the average taxpayer would have liked them to stay in the state of Rhode Island but they also did not want to guarantee the loans.”
The situation, as we see it, boils down to this. The PawSox gave the state a chance, and in this publication’s opinion, a fair one, to re-sign them so they could keep playing for the home team, so to speak. The state whiffed on that chance due to a case of the yips that developed (some would argue rightfully so) in the wake of a historically bad deal involving another high-profile baseball figure related to the Red Sox.
The PawSox then decided, since they had suitors elsewhere offering a better deal, that they were going to do what was in the best interest of their organization and take that better deal. If this was a star player on one of our local professional teams, the same argument could be had between fans; does the player “owe” anything to the team and locale where they earned a name, or should they pursue the best value for themselves while their worth is the highest?
In the case of the PawSox ownership, it is unfair to say that they didn’t give Rhode Island a chance to play ball. They did, and some in the state with the power to influence the decision chose to watch the pitch go by rather than take another risky swing for the fences. The deal could bring Worcester great success, or it could be another strikeout. Only time will tell.
One thing is for certain, however. The real losers here are local lovers of affordable baseball. Go out and enjoy the last few seasons while you can, because like it or not, they’re going, going, gone.