SI Vault
 
A STAKES I HADN'T SCHEDULED
Bill Veeck
June 12, 1972
From the start of his days at Suffolk, a pack of pols was off and running in pursuit, eager for a piece of the racetrack purse. And they were not the only rascals around
Decrease font Decrease font
Enlarge font Enlarge font
June 12, 1972

A Stakes I Hadn't Scheduled

From the start of his days at Suffolk, a pack of pols was off and running in pursuit, eager for a piece of the racetrack purse. And they were not the only rascals around

View CoverRead All Articles View This Issue
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8

"I don't know what to do now," Sullivan told a hastily assembled press conference. "I want to stay in Boston, but I'm barren of ideas." For days the front pages were filled with the problems of the Patriots. I got to thinking, "Gee, all this publicity. How do I get in on it?" It wasn't but a few minutes till I was suggesting that Suffolk build a stadium for the Patriots. All that was needed was for the legislature to give us 12 extra racing dates. With the proceeds, we could retire a bond issue.

"What bond issue?" one of my staff asked, appalled. "The bond issue that could be floated to build the stadium." In a 12-day period we normally would be turning over about $1 million to the state. To that we could add whatever remained of the track's percentage above the actual out-of-pocket expenses (purses and salaries). We would throw in the profit from admissions, parking and programs. That would make the sum $1� million easy.

I knew enough about stadium construction to realize that building a complex for several sports can cost from $50 million to the limits of imagination. A stadium built exclusively for football, though—just open stands without any frills—could still be had for about $10 million. After that you were dealing with the cost of the land.

A simple, selfless plan. So selfless that the benedictions were already flashing through my brain. Suffolk Downs, the Racetrack with a Heart. I saw myself being patted on the head by all right-thinking people. "I had been told that Boston was a cold city," I would say when the city fathers awarded me a plaque.... But kidding aside, the proposal was a good one and a serious one.

When broached with the plan the governor and mayor were for it. The sportswriters, when the politicians leaked it, were enthusiastic. I was being looked upon as a public benefactor, my fondest dream come true. I was "Beautiful Bill." The AP even called me "a battle-scarred Marine veteran," and I only get that in the early-morning hours when the dew is on the grass. The honeymoon lasted two full days. Friday's front pages had been filled with the news of how the Patriots were going to be saved. On Sunday the headlines read, OPPOSITION BUILDS TO STADIUM PLAN.

Questions and objections jumped up from everywhere. What about public transportation? What if the receipts from the 12 extra days weren't enough to meet the bond payments? What if the bonds couldn't be sold? The governor, along with other politicians, began to worry about the expense of building the ramps and access roads. Word came that Wonderland was throwing its influence against us. The dog track owners had been saying for so long that more racing would be harmful they had apparently come to believe it. The president of Lincoln Downs, B. A. Dario, offered to build the Patriots a stadium in Rhode Island by—guess what—running extra days at his racetrack. E. M. Loew offered to donate the land for a privately financed stadium near his harness track in Foxboro. Meanwhile, in editorials the Worcester Telegram began admonishing caution and careful study of any offer. Anything coming out of Suffolk Downs was a gift horse that definitely needed examining. As the paper put it, " Bill Veeck isn't giving anything away." How did they know me so well in Worcester? "Veeck has cast himself as the injured innocent, done in by wily, evil politicians," the Telegram noted as the stadium debate wore on. "What nonsense! He is a smart, engaging, aggressive individual—a match for any politician who ever lived."

The Boston city council has nine members, only eight of whom saw themselves as the next mayor. Fifteen days remained before the NFL meeting was to open in Hawaii. That didn't panic the council. Nine days slipped by before the hearings on the Suffolk proposal began. The council didn't get around to voting until the NFL meeting was over.

To save what was left of my good name I found myself propagandizing more and more openly for the passage of the bill, even while I was insisting I would have no part of anything that smacked of politics. I found myself not only wining and dining politicians at the racetrack but—heaven help me—I was seeking them out.

All the while the politicians played their complex games the NFL was watching. Calls were going back and forth between Billy Sullivan and his lawyer every night and the NFL was pushing back its own action, day by day. In the end the football people threw up their hands and appointed a three-man committee to study the situation. No thanks to the pols, Boston still retained its football team. Once it became clear that the NFL wasn't going to rescue them by making its own decision, the members of the city council finally got around to Noting. They killed the project.

I should have taken E. M. Loew's offer more seriously. Sullivan had been back from the league meetings only a day when the city council took its vote, and yet the word was already trickling out, and with a tone and persistence that had to be given credence, that the Patriots would be going to suburban Foxboro.

Continue Story
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8