Red Sox Triple-A baseball had sustained success in Rhode Island

When Joe Buzas bought the Louisville Colonels in 1973 and relocated them to Pawtucket, Rhode Island, he was essentially buying an orphan baseball franchise.

At that point, the Boston Red Sox had gone through four triple-A subsidiaries in 10 years, five of them in 14 years. The Colonels were bankrupt, descendants of the Toronto Maple Leafs bankrupt too. And after Buzas sold the PawSox, they were bankrupt again.

Still, they survived. Eventually, under the ownership of Ben Mondor, they thrived and became the longest-running Red Sox Triple-A daughter. The Boston-Pawtucket triple-A relationship lasted 48 years if you count the lost 2020 season. Until then, no other such Sox affiliation had lasted longer than 17 years.

Buzas got the Colonels for $ 25,000. The International League had ruled out the franchise that had lost its Cardinal Stadium. At the time, Buzas owned the Double-A Pawtucket Red Sox and relocated it to Bristol, Connecticut to make way for the Triple-A version.

Buzas was and is a legendary figure in minor league baseball. He played shortstop for the Yankees during World War II and later got into the business side of baseball. He did quite well in building a reputation as an owner that could have run the federal government in the black on that occasion.

“Joe made money every place he teamed up,” said Mike Tamburro, executive director of Worcester Red Sox, who interned for Buzas in 1974. You could write a book about him and I got along well with Joe. You just had to understand that it was an end result. “

PawSox was there an average of 1,007 times in 1973, and Buzas was still making money.

This team had a remarkable debut season. Under manager Darrell Johnson it won the International League championship, the Governors Cup. The PawSox defeated the Charleston Charlies in the finals and were led by Joe Morgan, who was appointed to lead Pawtucket the next year after Johnson was transferred to Boston.

Then the PawSox won the Junior World Series against Tulsa of the American Association, with outfielder Jim Rice helping the cause immensely.

The 73 PawSox had an interesting front office. Buzas was the president. Frank Sinatra Jr. was the vice president but apparently didn’t make any baseball decisions.

“Buza’s best friend was Frank Sinatra Jr.’s agent,” Tamburro recalled. “I don’t think Frank Jr. popped a lot of popcorn at McCoy’s.”

After two years, Buzas sold the team to Phil Anez, a young Rhode Island advertising executive who, according to published reports, had borrowed $ 100,000 to buy and run the team. When it bought it after the 1974 season, the PawSox had 84 subscribers, according to Sporting News.

That wasn’t good, but it wasn’t uncommon for the minors at the time either. Bad as it was in Pawtucket, it was better than some places. In 1975, the PawSox drew 118,629 for the season and was third in the league.

Anez was promoting like crazy with Jalopy Nights and bike giveaways etc but lost money. He had the idea of ​​moving to Jersey City, but it wasn’t going anywhere. The International League reclaimed the franchise and appointed Sudbury businessman Marv Adelson as conditional owner. He was approaching Worcester for a move, but Adelson was a mirage.

The league took the franchise back and was looking for a new buyer. The IL found more than one buyer in Mondor. It found an angel.

Mondor was born in Quebec but grew up in Woonsocket, Rhode Island, where he attended Mount St. Charles Academy. He was an industrialist who made money by reversing the weak financial fortunes of the factories. He got the PawSox for $ 50,000 and was busy.

His first job was Tamburro, who had worked for the Red Sox subsidiary of the NY Penn League in Elmira, New York.

“The first time Ben and I were together,” recalled Tamburro, “was a snowy, slushy February day and we were walking around the stadium. There was an old roast chicken stand at the top of the first base, and bones were frozen on the bottom. Ben tripped on a bone, fell flat, looked up and said, “Son, every man makes a mistake. Better not be mine. ‘”

The team lost money in 1977, Tamburro said, but was in the black the next year. Mondor and Tamburro had inherited Morgan as managers. He was knowledgeable and outgoing, as were Mondor and Tamburro, and the team was slowly starting to build a fan base.

In 1979 the average attendance was over 2,000, the first time a Red Sox Triple-A partner has been in Seattle since 1961.

It helped put Boston’s farm system through a very productive period with many future great leaguers apprenticing at Pawtucket.

“Success in Boston is very important,” said Tamburro. “One reason we were successful is because we had the biggest coattails in the world that we could ride. We were able to promote the players, promote player development. “

Then, in the early 1980s, the PawSox was in the right place at exactly the right time – twice.

Joe Morgan (pictured) was the Pawtucket Red Sox manager when Ben Mondor took over management.

On April 18, 1981, Pawtucket and Rochester played 32 innings at McCoy before the game was interrupted 2-2 on Easter morning. It was supposed to end on June 23rd, and when it happened Major League Baseball was closed on a players strike. On June 23, McCoy was the epicenter of the sports world, the resumed game that was covered by media as far as Japan.

It took less than an inning for Pawtucket to win 3-2.

“The longest game was a franchise changer,” said Tamburro. “It was like a World Series game. Everyone in the state of Rhode Island and the surrounding area believed that something important might happen on any given day at the small stadium on Columbus Avenue. “

A year later, PawSox Mark Fidrych had attempted to resume his career, up against Yankees star Dave Righetti, who was sent to Triple-A Columbus in a snit by George Steinbrenner. The game won by Fidrych attracted the largest crowd in PawSox history up to that point.

“The longest game did a lot for the franchise,” recalled Steve Krasner, who from 1975 covered hundreds of PawSox games for the Providence Journal.

“It put the Pawtucket Red Sox on the map – remember, it happened during the strike and Time Magazine was there, Newsweek was there – and made it a different franchise in terms of attractiveness and popularity. And then you had the Fidrych Righetti game, which was played for years in a row. People thought, “What’s the next big thing in Pawtucket?”

The number of visitors continued to grow. The team hit the 3,000 mark in 1987 and hit 4,000 in 1991, and 6,000 in 1993. McCoy was refurbished in time for the 1999 season, and for the next 10 years the PawSox averaged nearly 9,000 per game.

“The support was incredible,” said Tamburro. “After the renovation, you could hardly buy a ticket.”

The PawSox averaged 9,097 in 2008, then things started to slide. Mondor died at the age of 85 after the 2010 season, leaving the property to his wife, Madeleine. Triple-A teams across the country began building new, modern stadiums, and McCoy became the oldest Triple-A stadium in America and lost its charm in the process.

In their final season in Rhode Island in 2019, the PawSox averaged 5,254, its worst year since 1992.

Minor league baseball had never been particularly successful in New England, as had been the case with the Red Sox and Braves in Boston for decades and in New York, not far from southern New England. From their humble beginnings, the Pawtucket Red Sox changed all of that.

“When I started reporting on them,” Krasner recalled, “McCoy Stadium wasn’t an inviting place. There was almost no one there. It was a little dark and dingy, a little bleak. That changed when Ben Mondor bought the team. They had the longest game, the Fidrych game, yes, but they also went to every chicken dinner they could find. “

“A lot went in,” said Tamburro. “You’re trying to do the right things, do a clean operation, take everyone seriously, and take care of everyone. We tried to build one fan at a time. “

A fan was about anything PawSox had when the team moved from Louisville. You’ve put together a historic run in Rhode Island, and now Worcester is ready to build on that legacy.

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