Red Sox Confidential
Anyway, it’s hard to believe now, but Henry, Werner, and Lucchino were pariahs in Boston when they first showed up in town trying to buy the Sox. (Maybe it’s not so hard to believe, actually, considering recent events. The worm can turn pretty quickly around here.) The press at the time treated them like foreign interlopers with no understanding of New England tradition and culture. I personally couldn’t understand why the media were lining up behind a local hot dog vendor (Joe O’Donnell) or a parking lot baron (Frank McCourt) instead of these experienced baseball heads — especially considering that what was now known as the Henry group was the only bidder for the team promising to preserve Fenway Park. Then again, I did have an interest in them getting the club.
Sometime around Thanksgiving in 2001, with Henry, Werner, and Lucchino reeling from the carpetbagger charges, Larry Rasky called a meeting to strategize what we could do to emphasize the fact that there were also local people in the bidding group. Lucchino, who undoubtedly was taking signals from baseball commissioner Bud Selig, had asked Rasky to come up with a plan to showcase high-profile local participants such as Arnold Worldwide CEO Ed Eskandarian, former Maine Senator George Mitchell, and TJX CEO Ben Cammarata. Someone came up with the idea of putting everyone on a bus and driving them around town, stopping off at select tourist attractions so the media could photograph and interview the outsiders mingling with the locals in the group. It was a terrible plan — I could envision Dan Shaughnessy pointing out that these guys couldn’t even find Fenway Park without a Magical Mystery Tour guide.
So I offered an alternative: Set up the prospective owners in a hotel room downtown for some supposed meeting, then leak it to the press that should they park their cameras in the hotel lobby at, oh, 5:40 p.m. — after the Patriots game — they just might catch the bidding group emerging from an elevator and be able to buttonhole them with questions. The tactic worked beautifully. Without a news release or official announcement, every TV station, print outlet, and even some radio stations covered the “meeting.” Exiting the elevator with the newly enlisted local partners, Lucchino surveyed the phalanx of cameras and reporters and whispered, “I heard you were good, Rasky. I didn’t know you were this good.” That shot ran on the 6 p.m. and 11 p.m. news that Sunday and most of the next day — the day that the final Red Sox bids were due to be submitted to Major League Baseball.
With the Henry/Werner group prevailing, Rasky Baerlein became the official PR outfit of the Boston Red Sox. Our first major assignment was to help set up visits by the new owners to the other New England states, where we would hold rallies, introduce them to the fans, and meet with local officials, pols, and business leaders. At each stop, we’d give away jackets, balls, hats, pennants, and trinkets. One day, I got an idea for another souvenir while roaming around Fenway. I noticed a pile of 50-pound bags of crushed brick stacked against the walls in the tunnel between the Sox dugout and the clubhouse. I asked a groundskeeper what they were. “The warning track and the infield,” he said, like it was one of the dumbest questions he’d ever heard.
It turns out that Fenway dirt isn’t dirt at all. In the infield, it’s a substance called “Turface,” a brick-red clay material that Henry had ordered to match the color of the crushed brick that makes up the warning track in the outfield. I brought this up at a meeting, and we landed on the idea of giving away little plastic bags of the stuff, labeling it authentic Fenway Park infield dirt. “Dirt,” Lucchino said, twisting up his face. “We’re going to give our fans bags of dirt?” His reaction seemed to sink the notion right there. But on the next trip, to New Hampshire, we brought along about 100 little bags of the dirt — which of course had never been closer to the Fenway infield than the dugout. But that didn’t matter. The bags disappeared the instant they were shown off to the admiring crowd. On our next trip we packed even more bags, but ran out just as fast. The enthusiasm and rabid intensity of fans throughout New England defied logic and clearly awed the new owners, who were realizing first-hand what everyone in the league had told — or warned — them: It’s different in Boston.