Autumn has arrived. The air is cooler, the leaves are turning, and the baseball regular season has concluded. Sadly for many New Englanders, the Boston Red Sox failed to make the playoffs. In the grand scheme of things, it is a minor disappointment, one that will weigh the heart only briefly. Other news is considerably sadder. Ben Mondor, the gentle and generous owner of the Pawtucket Red Sox, has passed away:
The Rhode Island Red Sox were on the verge of bankruptcy after the 1976 season, their facilities and organization deemed unworthy of membership in the Triple A International League.
In Boston, Red Sox minor league director Ed Kenney began searching for a new owner and asked the advice of former Red Sox pitcher Chet Nichols, a Rhode Island native. Nichols recommended that the Red Sox approach Ben Mondor, a recently retired businessman. He agreed to take over the struggling team.
“It was a decision that saved professional baseball in Rhode Island,’’ said Dick Bresciani, then the Red Sox director of publicity. “Once Ben took over, he turned everything around in a short time.’’
Mr. Mondor, whose renamed Pawtucket Red Sox became a model minor league franchise, died at his home in Warwick Neck, R.I., Sunday evening. He was 85.
Under the guidance of Mr. Mondor, Pawtucket went from drawing 70,000 fans in 1977 to a record 688,421 in 2005. More than 500 future major league players passed through Pawtucket during Mr. Mondor’s tenure…
At McCoy Stadium yesterday, team president Mike Tamburro became emotional while discussing Mr. Mondor’s legacy.
“It’s the end of a great era,’’ said Tamburro, who joined the team in 1977. “This guy was an icon. What he accomplished here is just absolutely remarkable. It’s a great loss, not only for us personally but for the entire community. He was a Rhode Island treasure.
“It’s not going to end now. This operation will continue to grow and flourish because of him and in his memory.’’
Lou Schwechheimer, vice president and general manager of the PawSox, said Mr. Mondor was especially proud of the $16 million renovation to McCoy Stadium that was finished in 1999. That allowed the franchise to stay in Pawtucket.
“He was always great when things were great,’’ Schwechheimer said. “And he was one in a billion when things were going rough. He made you think in the roughest of times that you could conquer the world. That was the sheer presence of his personality.’’ [full story]
I remember Mr. Mondor from my days working at the Brown University Bookstore in Providence in the mid-1980′s. He would shop there every so often and was very cordial to the staff. Without having to be asked and without making a fuss, he would leave a handful of free PawSox tickets, so that we might enjoy a game. Indeed, I first attended a professional baseball game (not including spring training games in Florida) at McCoy Stadium in Pawtucket, where there are no bad seats and you are close to the action. I relish the memory of those games and others I have gone on to see (at 18 different major league ballparks). Thank you, Mr. Mondor, for your kindness, generosity, and good works. You will be missed.