Scott MacKay Commentary: If You Want To Keep The PawSox In RI, Speak Up Now

Oct 13, 2017

The debate over taxpayer subsidies for a new stadium for the Pawtucket Red Sox rages on. RIPR political analyst Scott MacKay says that for those who want to keep the team, now is the time to stand up.  


Should they stay or should they go? This refrain from the Clash applies to the campaign to keep the Boston Red Sox top farm team in Pawtucket.

On one side: Baseball fans and Rhode Island’s business and organized labor hierarchy want them in a new stadium in downtown Pawtucket. On the other: The state’s Republican Party, a slice of the General Assembly and a noisy part of the public that isn’t convinced the team is worth keeping if it requires a taxpayer subsidy.

This dispute shouldn’t surprise anybody who understands anything about Rhode Island history and its  contentious political culture.

Crankiness and thrust-and-parry politics run deep in the Ocean State. Along with an aversion to anything new or different. Rarely has any change gained traction without a battle that leaves blood on the floor, egos bruised and the stage set for the next dust-up. So many things we value about the Ocean State were achieved only after huge public scrums.

A historic preservationist named Antoinette Dowling and her Episcopal East Side disciples had the contrary notion in the 1960s that Benefit Street’s historic, but crumbling, houses, shouldn’t be sacrificed to the urban renewal wrecking ball. They fought city hall and Brown University and won.

In the 1970s, Providence Mayor Joseph Doorley was lampooned when he pushed the Providence Civic Center, rebranded as the Dunkin Donuts Center,  to fruition. It was called “Doorley’s Icebox”; critics feared it would be an empty white elephant.

Just about everything that needed government involvement has drawn naysayers. The Rhode Island Convention Center in the 1980s. The Providence Place Mall in the 1990s.

Then there was Gov. Bruce Sundlun, a bull who carried around his own China shop. He decided the state needed to upgrade Green Airport.  In the aftermath of the state’s credit union crisis and amid a recession, many Rhode Islanders thought old age had gotten the better of him. Yet he got it done.

Rhode Island is a better place to live with a more vibrant economy because of these efforts.

The other familiar Ocean State trope is the nostalgia wallow. The recent demise of the Benny’s retail chain sparked a bonfire of this dubious vanity. We’re the “used to be” state. It’s innocuous when giving directions linked to where Almacs was.  It’s counterproductive as applied to the economic and cultural realities of the 21st Century.

Attracting the smart young  means having cultural, culinary and sports attractions.  This is particularly true for smaller cities in the region, such as Providence and Pawtucket, which are falling behind bigger metro areas, notably Boston.

That’s only one of many reasons that keeping the PawSox in Rhode Island should be a priority. Triple A baseball is coveted by mid-size cities across the country; the Red Sox top minor league club was once in Louisville.  The current deal is not a taxpayer fleece. And it isn’t too late to tweak it.

The House and Senate leadership need to put their ego-driven jousts aside and focus on keeping affordable, fan-friendly baseball.  And those who support the deal must contact their lawmakers, because opponents are out in force.

The PawSox ownership, after an initial stumble with its Robin Hood-in-reverse $125 million Providence stadium plan, has focused on Pawtucket under new team president Larry Lucchino. He and his partners have been patient, but they aren’t going to wait forever.

If a deal can’t be struck, the team will go. Pawtucket loses a chance at downtown revival. And we’ll be left giving directions with reference to McCoy Stadium, where the PawSox used to play.

Scott MacKay’s commentary can be heard every Monday on Morning Edition at 6:45 and 8:45 and on All Things Considered at 5:44. You can also follow his political reporting and commentary at our “On Politics” blog at RIPR.org