Boston — Struggling to get public financing for a new ballpark, the Boston Red Sox were put up for sale Friday by the trust that owns the franchise.
The Red Sox, whose rich history includes Cy Young, Ted Williams and Carl Yastrzemski, haven't won a World Series since 1918, two years before they sold Babe Ruth to the Yankees. They play in beloved Fenway Park, the oldest and smallest of the 30 ballparks in the major leagues.
The Jean R. Yawkey Trust, which has owned the team since 1992, has been trying to get government financing for a $665 million ballpark project, which would be built on land adjacent to Fenway.
But efforts by chief executive officer John Harrington, the lawyer who runs the trust, have stalled in recent months.
"The trust was never designed to be a permanent form of ownership," Harrington said. "The question has always been when and not whether to sell."
Harrington said he hoped to have a new owner, "preferably a diehard Red Sox fan from New England," in place by the start of next season.
He acknowledged the team's hope to be playing in a new ballpark by 2004 "looks very unlikely." Occasionally getting choked up, Harrington said he chose to put the team on the market now to enable the new owner to be involved with the stadium negotiations because those decisions will affect the team's finances for the next 30 years.
"There should be no anxiety about the team's future because of the announcement," he said.
He also said he did not expect the team to be moved.
"No owner would turn his back on 2.6 million ardent fans that came to Fenway this season," he said. "I've always said, 'Every kid in this town wants to be Nomar (Garciaparra) and every kid over 40 wants to be me."
Commissioner Bud Selig said "I am saddened today by John Harrington's announcement of the intention of the Jean R. Yawkey Trust to sell the Boston Red Sox. The Yawkey name has long been synonymous with major league baseball and is as much a part of the New England landscape as Williams, Yaz and Fenway itself."
The Red Sox reportedly had been having trouble getting private financing for the new park. While the Legislature has approved a bill helping the project, the Red Sox are still awaiting City Council approval and a majority of members have said they won't approve it.
But Harrington sounded optimistic on those two fronts, saying, "This project can move forward. The private financing can be put in place. The public financing is in place."
Even with Pedro Martinez, baseball's best pitcher, the Red Sox have failed in recent years. They were eliminated by the Yankees in last year's AL championship series and finished second this year, 31/2 games behind New York.
Boston's love affair with the Red Sox is tinged with melancholy. Fans wax about the quirks of 34,000-seat Fenway: the Green Monster in left field and Pesky's Pole, the yellow foul pole down the short right-field line. And they remember the disappointments of 1946, 1967, 1975 and 1986 when they lost World Series in seven games.
Thomas Yawkey bought the team from J.A. Robert Quinn in 1933. When Yawkey died in 1976, his wife took over. Jean Yawkey entered a three-way ownership with Haywood Sullivan and Buddy LeRoux, then bought LeRoux's share in 1987.
When she died, she willed her holdings to her trust, giving Harrington, her longtime advisor, power to run the team.
In July, the Massachusetts Legislature approved a bill calling for the team to pay $350 million for construction of a new ballpark. But neighborhood activists and city councilors whose approval also is necessary have opposed the plan.
Rep. Byron Rushing, who represents the Fenway area and is a prominent critic of the stadium plan, said the announcement was "very upsetting" because Harrington had assured lawmakers at a hearing in July that the team would not be sold.
Andrew Zimbalist, a professor at Smith College who specializes in sports economics, said it was typical for a team owner to threaten to move or sell when they can't get the city or state to buy them a new stadium.
But he said he didn't think that any new owner would move the Red Sox, with its long traditions, and its location in the nation's sixth-largest media market.
The Red Sox had six different owners from 1901-33, most notably Harry Frazee, infamous for selling Ruth to the archrival New York Yankees for money to finance his Broadway musical "No, No Nanette."
Harrington is a member of baseball's executive council, and is head of its realignment and schedule-format committees, which formulated the expanded playoffs that began in 1995.