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Robert Whitcomb: PawSox Play, Watergate Summer De Luxe

Tuesday, May 23, 2017


Robert Whitcomb

Brave Long-Term Bet on PawSox? Flag Down Canario’s Bill; Watergate Summers de Luxe


‘’Successful investing is anticipating the anticipations of others.’’


-- Economist John Maynard Keynes


The latest proposal by the Pawtucket Red Sox for a new baseball stadium in that city is considerably better than previous ones. Andrew Zimbalist, a Smith College economics professor who has frequently denounced taxpayer subsidies for stadiums, called the proposal “like a pretty good deal,” reported The Boston Globe. But, he added, he wanted more details before deciding whether to endorse it.


“To have that level of private participation is certainly above the norm in Triple-A baseball,” Mr. Zimbalist told the paper.


But there are very big questions. One of the biggest, to me, is the most difficult to answer: How popular will baseball  - and Minor League Baseball at that -- be over the decades of this public-private deal? Will changing demographics make the sport less popular (and soccer more so) in our region? If so, will the PawSox owners face what many big-store retailers face: the sort of existential change in consumer patterns that could lead to few if any stores in, for instance, Providence Place within a few years.  (Luckily, Providence Place is much more architecturally attractive and interesting than most malls and could work well for such functions as college classrooms and assembly halls, libraries and medical clinics.)


The state would have to pay about $43 million, the city about $29 million and the PawSox organization about $86 million in an overall cost of $158 million in bond principal and  interest over the 30-year deal.


What’s the opportunity cost of the total $72 million that taxpayers would cover? Would such an investment be better spent on fixing up transportation infrastructure and/or schools and/or parks, etc., etc.? Or on a baseball stadium to be used from April to October?


It would be very useful at this point if the public could be provided with rigorous, plausible projections of what the market for Minor League Baseball games could be over the next few decades of taxpayer exposure. But perhaps that’s impossible.


In any case, we need a rigorous independent study on the frequency of  possible nonbaseball uses of the proposed stadium to help pay for the project, especially given  the limitations imposed by that annual cool snap called “New England winter’’.


PawSox Press conference

As for self-interested projections by Pawtucket (which, like the PawSox, is salivating for this project) and the team on the sales-and income-tax revenues that might be generated by the new stadium: Most such projections turn out wildly wrong. There are just too many variables. The late British Prime Minister Harold Wilson’s remark about politics increasingly applies to business, too: “A week is an eternity in politics.’’


Another point that I assume that the PawSox, the city and the state have  carefully considered: The Pawtucket exits on Route 95 are heavily used by people leaving or entering Providence’s East Side. What sort of plans are being made to handle the traffic on game days? At the same time, the new stadium could be a boon for restaurants in Pawtucket, Central Falls and northern Hope Street on the East Side.


My guess is that the Rhode Island legislature will pass and Governor Raimondo will sign a bill close to the latest proposal. They had better get as much solid information on it ASAP, especially given the high possibility that there will be a national recession starting this year or next, with plunging tax revenues. This will be a big, scary bet.


Back in the recession of the early ‘90s, Gov. Bruce Sundlun  bravely pushed through major and expensive improvements at T.F. Green Airport in the face of much opposition. It turned out to be a very good bet for the state’s economy. But transportation infrastructure is essential. A baseball stadium ain’t, as much as I love the PawSox.


Whatever, deciding to have the taxpayers help pay for a  baseball stadium for a private company in the end may be based more on romance than on economic rationality. But then, that’s true of many public-policy decisions.




Department of Stupid Over-Regulation:


Rhode Island state Rep. Dennis Canario has filed a bill to punish drivers for going too slowly on roads’ left-hand “passing lanes.’’ 


But that isn't the problem. The problem is more cars speeding in right-hand lanes, failing to signal and haphazardly swerving diagonally back and forth across lanes. Sadly, you see even police cars engaging in these unsafe actions fairly frequently.


Mr. Canario’s proposal would encourage speeding, which is already epidemic these days; it often seems as if the police have mostly given up trying to enforce speed limits. This has become even more dangerous because of the texting-while-driving epidemic, which is fast raising the highway fatality and injury rate and increasing the cost of insurance coverage. And add a thick layer of stoned drivers as marijuana use becomes far more common, driven by pot entrepreneurs and states’ thirst for marijuana-tax revenues.


Russ Rader, senior vice president for communications of the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, told The Providence Journal that, as The Journal paraphrased him, “there have been no major studies that show drivers going slower in the left lane leads to crashes or any other problems….{but} there is significant proof that increasing speed limits can lead to more crashes and fatalities.’’


The main effect of drivers going relatively slowly (meaning more often than not, driving at the speed limit) in left-hand lanes is anger and frustration among impatient drivers, which probably means most drivers. Deal with it!


We need fewer, but better enforced, laws and regulations. Take Representative Canario’s bill off the road, please.




Reading a column by conservative Boston Globe columnist Jeff Jacoby (who agrees with me on this) got me thinking and changing my mind in this issue:


When totalitarian regimes fall, statues of the associated dictators are often pulled down and either destroyed or perhaps taken to museums. Consider those of  mass-murderers Lenin and Stalin in former Soviet satellites or Saddam Hussein in Iraq. Considering this makes me more sympathetic to the taking down of statues of Confederate generals and politicians in the South, most recently in New Orleans, with statues of Confederate President Jefferson Davis and Generals P.G.T. Beauregard and Robert E. Lee in the news recently in a city that once had the largest slave market in the United States, to service the Deep South’s cotton and sugar plantations.


These historical figures represented a regime that sought to maintain a brutal system – slavery – that enriched an astonishingly selfish and feudal planter class. Conservatives who applauded the removal of Lenin statues defend keeping these reminders of oppression on public property in America.


Also, reminder: These Confederate leaders were traitors.


Move the statues to museums or cemeteries for Confederate Civil War dead.


As for “The Lost Cause’’ romance that especially surrounds Robert E. Lee because of his dignity, elegance and intelligence,  Consider Ulysses S. Grant’s observation about the Lee’s surrender at Appomattox:


“I felt like anything rather than rejoicing at the downfall of a foe who had fought so long and valiantly, and had suffered so much for a cause, though that cause was, I believe, one of the worst for which a people ever fought, and one for which there was the least excuse.’’


I must ask my Southern cousins what they think.




President Donald Trump

Many of the people around Donald Trump are simply amoral climbers and operators (like him), united only by their desire for money and power. As Trump’s power seems to fade you’ll see an accelerating exit from his chaotic administration. Meanwhile, it will be amusing to see how well the oily pseudo-“policy wonk’’ and Sammy Glick-style House Speaker Paul Ryan and the very smart survivor Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell handle the challenges of dealing with a sociopath in the White House.


Given Trump’s at least 40-year history of fraud, interspersed with loans from some dubious people (especially Russian oligarchs in the past 20 years), and mental and emotional instability why would anyone be surprised by what has been happening?


The latest (?) exciting report, from The Washington Post:


 “A month before Donald Trump clinched the Republican nomination, one of his closest allies in Congress — House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy — made a politically explosive assertion in a private conversation on Capitol Hill with his fellow GOP leaders: that Trump could be the beneficiary of payments from Russian President Vladimir Putin.


“’There’s two people I think Putin pays: Rohrabacher and Trump,” McCarthy (R-Calif.) said, according to a recording of the June 15, 2016, exchange, which was listened to and verified by The Washington Post. Rep. Dana Rohrabacher is a California Republican long known in Congress as a fervent defender of Putin and Russia.


“House Speaker Paul D. Ryan (R-Wis.) immediately interjected, stopping the conversation from further exploring McCarthy’s assertion, and swore the Republicans present to secrecy.’’


“Some of the lawmakers laughed at McCarthy’s comment. Then McCarthy quickly added: ‘Swear to God.’


“Ryan instructed his Republican lieutenants to keep the conversation private, saying: ‘No leaks. . . . This is how we know we’re a real family here.”’


My hunch is that the Russians didn’t pay Trump directly but rather the secretive Trump Organization has continued  to get big loans and “investments’’ from people close to Russian dictator Vladimir Putin. Let’s hope that special counsel Robert Mueller will get to the bottom of it. As for Rohrabacker, who knows?




President Richard Nixon and John McLaughlin

Lots of people are trying to draw similarities between Watergate and the Trump mess. There are some, but we should bear in mind the big differences between Trump and Richard Nixon, whom I’m more than old enough to remember “professionally’’.


I had a seat in the journalistic third balcony during Watergate, copy-editing the occasional story about the developing scandal and from time to time writing short items about it when I filled in as the writer of The Wall Street Journal’s World-Wide column on page one. I did this in New York, and then filled in at the WSJ’s Washington bureau shortly after Nixon resigned on Aug. 8, 1974 to avoid an impeachment trial.


I’ll never forget  coming upon the block print “Nixon Resigns’’ headline in The New York Times’s Aug. 9 edition at the newsstand at my steamy Brooklyn Heights subway stop. I still associate hot weather with Watergate since so much of the biggest developments came in summer or late spring.


(Ah, those were the salad days of journalism, including expense accounts. I was told to fly first class, and on my Washington gig, stayed in a suite in the oh-so-fancy Hay Adams Hotel.)


Nixon, like Trump, was often paranoid, but Nixon wasn’t a narcissist, of which Trump is an extreme example. And Nixon, who was very well read, had an idealistic streak that resulted in some thoughtful domestic policies and international initiatives. 


Finally, he had a far more intelligent and experienced staff than Trump’s, including, of course, some who got caught up in Watergate. Many of Trump’s, on the other hand, tend to mirror his amorality and ignorance.

One of Nixon’s key assistants, especially for domestic policy, was John Ehrlichman. When Mr.  Ehrlichman was asked, years after Watergate, what he thought of Nixon, who had basically hung him out to dry, he responded coolly:

 “Every man is a mix.’’  Indeed, including Trump, I suppose.


How will the expanding Trump scandal play out? Impeachment is wrenching and much of the GOP in Congress will be very loathe to take one of their own, as much as they’d prefer the very right wing  but apparently sane and stable Mike Pence. More likely is a semi-paralyzed administration that staggers along through Republican losses in next year’s congressional elections and finishes its term with few achievements. But that President Trump will continue to have control over the U.S. national-security apparatus is scary.




Hillary Clinton should fight her combative instincts and keep  a low profile so as not to take the oxygen out of potential Democratic presidential candidates for 2020, such as  the highly effective and popular Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper and Delaware Gov. Jack Markell. Then there are New York Sen. Kristin Gillibrand and New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker, both smart, articulate and fast on their feet politically.


As a general rule, it’s better to elect someone who has run a state than someone who has just served in Congress. Executive experience in a political and public-policy environment is invaluable for would-be presidents. It’s easy to spout off as a legislator, but a lot tougher to oversee administration.  The record of  people running a state government gives voters quite a bit of useful information in how they might run the federal Executive Branch.


The public’s immune system needs a rest from the Clintons.




The order of U.S. Atty. Gen. Jeff Sessions to federal prosecutors to ask the longest possible jail sentences for drug-related offenses is great news for the private-prison industry!!

His order reverses the Obama Justice Department’s “Smart on Crime” policy, which aimed to shorten sentences for minor, nonviolent drug offenders in an effort to reduce the prison population and save money. I suppose  that somebody will try to find out if Mr. Sessions or people close to him own shares in private-prison enterprises. The U.S. has the highest incarceration rate in the world.




I predict that the New England states, with the possible exception of Connecticut, whose southwestern corner is tightly connected with New York, will eventually adopt year-round Daylight Savings Time – or call it Atlantic Time, which is used in Canada’s Maritime Provinces. This will ensure more light year-round in the afternoon and address how far east New England is. In the past few weeks, legislators in all six states in the region have been more seriously looking at the shift.



One of my daughters lives in the middle of Bedford-Stuyvesant, in Brooklyn. Bed-Stuy, as it is usually called, has long been infamous as one of the most dangerous, highest-crime urban neighborhoods in the nation. But it has a superb stock of beautiful old brownstones and even some lovely parks.


Real-estate speculators developed most of these homes for the expanding middle to upper middle class from the 1890s to the late 1910s. Many have beautiful ornamental detailing inside and out.


As New York City has boomed in the past couple of decades, gentrification has spread  even to such areas as Bed Stuy. So now there’s even a fancy, over-priced French restaurant a few streets from my daughter’s apartment, epitomizing the cycle of prosperity, decline, poverty/crime and revival that seems to happen in virtually every American city. The downside of the economic revival, of course, is that people (usually of color) who could afford to live in what had become a slum are forced out by the much higher rents and housing-purchase costs that accompany gentrification.


As cold, wet weather turned into tropically warm weather in the space of two days, The Boston Globe reported that a roughly “10-foot-high snow mound was spotted wasting away in Chestnut Hill (part of Newton) this week.’’  Seasons on top of seasons.


Related Slideshow: 10 Things That Need to Happen to Get PawSox to Worcester

Prev Next

Arrange Meeting with PawSox Owners

City officials need to sit down with the new PawSox ownership group. CEO Michael Tamburro grew up in Worcester and is a graduate of North High.

The new ownership group is led by Boston Red Sox President Larry Lucchino, who will serve as Chairman, and James J. Skeffington, who will be President

"We are very excited about our purchase of the Pawtucket Red Sox and the opportunity to partner with the Boston Red Sox to provide first class baseball and family entertainment to our loyal fan base in New England," said Skeffington, who will oversee the operation on a daily basis.

Prev Next

Providence Deal Needs to Fall Through

There's always the chance that Providence could balk at the amount of public funding that the new ownership group is looking for. Early indications show that the number could be upwards of $70 million.

"The doors are always open," said Tim Murray, President and CEO of the Worcester Regional Chamber of Commerce. "If the deal were to fall apart, I think people here would be willing to listen, but everyone recognizes this requires signifcant municipal assistance. Massachusetts, traditionally, has been reluctant to use tax dollars to those kind of things, and I think in most cases, appropriately so."

Prev Next

Sell Public on WHY It Will Work

With the loss of the AHL Worcester Sharks looming after this season, Worcester will be without a professional sports team. Worcester residents will look to its city officials to do something to get a pro team back to the city.

"As usual, the city leaders have done nothing to attract the PawSox. It's been known for several months that the PawSox were going to be sold. Much like with the Sharks, the city has been reactive instead of proactive. The city leaders - (i.e. government and businesses), and some state leaders as well - need to step it up. Unfortunately, they seem to think Spag's is still around and want something for nothing (or almost nothing). Looking for bargains where very little effort has to be put into it. The city manager, mayor, and city council have been virtually silent on the Sharks move, and probably weren't even aware about the PawSox until it was too late," said Rich Lubin, President of the Worcester Sharks Booster Club.

Prev Next

Strengthen Public Support

Worcester is home to the Worcester Bravehearts, the defending Futures Collegiate Baseball League (FCBL) Champions. After the fiasco that the Worcester Tornadoes turned out to be, residents of Worcester would be proud to see both the Bravehearts and the PawSox succeeding in the city. 

“Worcester is a city that has always loved baseball. You can track the history all the way back to the early 1900’s when we had a team in the National League. With the (Boston) Red Sox so close, and all of these minor league teams, the city still took to the Worcester Bravehearts. We were tops in attendance and won the Championship game in front of more than 2,000 people. Baseball will certainly thrive in this city,” said Casey Cummins, Bravehearts pitching coach. 

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Find Land in Worcester for Stadium

“The 'WorSox' could purchase, clean up and build a fine stadium on the spacious Wyman Gordon property near Kelly Square. That location also has excellent highway access. What a welcome neighbor the team would be to the up-and-coming Canal District. Worcester, New England's 2nd largest city, would be a much better home for the "WorSox." People from cities and towns throughout the Commonwealth of Massachusetts and beyond would flock to our city on a frequent basis to see such high level and quality baseball," said City Councilor Gary Rosen.

Prev Next

Utilize Central MA Connections in MA Gov

Lt. Governor Karyn Polito, of Shrewsbury, now holds the highest seat of anyone from Central Massachusetts in state government. Her position was formerly occupied by Tim Murray, now the President of Worcester Regional Chamber of Commerce.

Worcester could use this connection to help gain support from Governor Charlie Baker and may even be able to garner state funding to help lure the PawSox to the city.

Prev Next

Find Local Business Partners

The cost of a new stadium could run the city and state upwards of $70 million.

Worcester will need to turn to local businesses to invest in the cleaning up of any area they decide to build a stadium and the actual construction of the stadium.

Prev Next

Push Forward Canal District Plans

The Canal District is located on the "Green Island" area of Worcester that includes Water Street, Green Street, Millbury Street, and Kelley Square.

Over the past ten years, the city and the Canal District Business Association has put a lot of money into the area to revive it and bring business in.

A push to gain funding to continue to improve the Canal District could be a great sign to the PawSox owners that Worester means business.

Prev Next

Pay to Clean Up Proposed Land

Tim Murray, President and CEO of the Worcester Regional Chamber of Commerce said the city has looked previously at the Wyman Gordon site, discussed expanding the field at Lake Park, or partnering with one of the colleges or universities on a site to build a baseball stadium. Murray noted that things get tricky when you start looking at these sites when you begin dealing with property and land acquisition costs and clean-up costs. 

Prev Next

Keep the Bravehearts in the Discussion

The Worcester Bravehearts, the 2014 Futures Collegiate Baseball League (FCBL) Champions in their inaugural season, will be entering their second season as the only local major sport team left in the city. Last season, they drew over 50,000 people to Fitton Field.

Murray said "We have a great product with the Bravehearts and they had a great inaugural season. The Bravehearts are locally owned and controlled, and they had a great product and strong attendance in their first year. It plays on one of the advantages that Worcester does have that a lot of places don't, is the amount of colleges and universities around and the large number of student atheletes we have here."


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