Thursday, April 11, 2013

Chin Music: Viva la Revolution!

One of the advantages of being a King, or a Dictator, or what is known in baseball circles as a “Magnate,” is that for one, you get to write the history. For another, you get to take credit for things that should rightfully be credited to others. Those, like the young girls who would never give you a glance if you were poor, are some of the privileges that come with power and money. That’s how guys like Kim Jung–Il get to be called “Supreme Leader” and procreate - it ain’t the size of the brain or anything else; it’s the wallet and the power that comes with it.

I was reminded of this while reading John Henry’s recent e-mail interview with Steve Buckley in the Boston Herald. In the interview, Messer. Henry (Messer. is fancier way of saying magnate, or “stuffed shirt,”) offered that his Footman, Larry Lucchino (Footman is a fancier way of saying “lackey,” as in serf, not the grumpy pitcher) “revolutionized the game with Camden Yards… He did every baseball fan in America a great service…When he retires someday, his body of work will require an election to the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown.” (emphasis mine)

Well, be still my heart. I guess I’ll go ahead any make my reservation at the Otseaga Hotel right now. You know, ever since these guy bought the team I always thought I was seeing a bunch of Hall of Famers around the Fenway Park, guys like Pedro (before the bad shoulder) Manny (well, before the PEDs), and maybe Ortiz, (before the PEDs), or Varitek (before the divorce), Francona (before the book) and Schilling, (before, as Jimmy Stewart so aptly put it to Uncle Billy in the movie It’s a Wonderful Life,  “It means bankruptcy and scandal and prison! That’s what it means!”)  It’s just that of all the candidates for Cooperstown walking around here I never pictured that well-known revolutionary, Larry Lucchino, having his own plaque and accompanying postcard sold in the gift shop.  At best, I had him somewhere below Bob Stanley but above Mark Bellhorn. Now, since he’s done me such a great service, I guess I’ll have to get our little Che Guevara a gift.

Well, as they used to say, at prices like these, you could feed it to your horses and spread it on your garden. Because that, my friend, is a load.

If there is anyone who deserves to honored and inducted to the National Baseball Hall of Fame for “revolutionizing the game” in regard to ballparks, it’s probably a guy named Phil Bess, an architecture professor at Notre Dame. Years before Henry or Lucchino knew how many stitches there were on a baseball (108, by the way) Bess was making the common sense argument that baseball was meant to be played in ballparks, not stadiums. He even wrote a few books and designed a few fabulous models himself to make his point. Thousands of followers thought his ideas and his plans made a lot of sense. He changed the whole conversation about the way people thought about the future of the ballpark.

You see, the average baseball fan felt the same way about ballparks that he did – that they should fit into the fabric of a city, at the same scale. That’s why Fenway Park and Wrigley Field continued to grow in popularity even as the teams that called them home were stumbling into mediocrity.  

All people like Lucchino and Jeanne Marie Smith did was recognize what Bess made obvious and talk others into investing in the common sense ideas created by others. They only thing revolutionary about it was cutting the real revolutionaries, guys like Phil Bess, out of the narrative and taking all the credit. That, and the unspoken downside of Lucchino’s revolution; the laser-like focus on seats for the wealthy at the expense of all others.  The result has been some pretty parks, but also the out of control escalation of ticket prices, the reason that for most families a day at the ballpark is now a once a year proposition. Some revolution.

That is, however, the power that comes the throne; the ability to control the narrative – or at least to think you do. If John Henry is telling Steve Buckley that Lucchino belongs in the Hall of Fame, you can bet he’s already been saying the same thing to a lot of other people who can help make that happen down the road, and probably seeding the way with some well-placed, advance donations. That’s how Tom Yawkey, that lovable old coot, got into the Hall of Fame in 1980, 33 years before the Yankees Jacob Ruppert.

All I know is that if Lucchino ever makes the Hall of Fame, you won’t have to look very hard for his plaque; you’ll be able to smell it long before you get to Cooperstown.


from the April 2013 issues of Boston Baseball