He may not be known across America, but he's certainly well known in New England, especially Rhode Island. Pawtucket Red Sox owner Ben Mondor died three weeks ago at the age of 85. I met Ben three years ago as I was writing an article on the PawSox for Rhode Island Home Living and Design magazine. Ben and President Mike Tamburro gave me close to four hours of their time, telling me the history of the franchise, the players, and the monumental obstacles they faced building a successful baseball franchise in a decrepit stadium in Pawtucket, Rhode Island. He didn't have much to work with, and only drew about 50,000 fans that first year in 1977 to McCoy Stadium. He built the brand by providing a great product for a reasonable price, and building and repairing relationships within the community, and investing in not only in a substandard stadium, but an unknown city as well. He didn't offer the dog and pony acts and phony giveaways that the previous ownership didn't deliver on. He just provided a great night out for fans, and made Pawtucket Rhode Island synonimous with baseball. Today the Pawsox draw nearly 700,000 fans to McCoy every year. It's not easy to compete with many of the International League franchises as cities like Charlotte, Columbus, and Indianapolis have bigger populations than Boston, much less Pawtucket. McCoy is as nice a facility as you'll see in the minor leagues, a Pawsox game as an experience second to none, and Ben Mondor made it happen.
There are so many things I admire about Ben and the way he built the franchise. He was often seen greeting fans at the entrance of the stadium, thanking them for coming. He treated his employees well. Dan Hoard, the voice of the Pawsox, mentioned that Ben would send flowers to the wives of employees who were on the road often. He would also reach into his pocket during road trips to make sure players ate at the best restaurants while traveling. He focused exclusively on building the Pawsox, and not any other ridiculous interests like an English soccer team or a NASCAR team, like a certain franchise about 45 miles north. Most of all, I really appreciate the time he spent with me, and the stories he told. I won't get into them in this blog as they sound much funnier when told face to face. That's what Ben did better than anybody else. He built relationships by meeting people in person, and the business by catering to his customers; and was loved and respected for it. He never took himself too seriously either. He wouldn't even put his bio in the media guide. "What the hell do people want to read about me for?" he said to me. I'd have to say that is the one thing I disagree with him on. I was fascinated to learn about him.
So for those of you who are tired of being gouged by John Henry and his sabremetrics nerd herd, remember there are a few business owners who care about their employees and customers. Not every owner or executive takes a huge bonus while denying their employees a cost of living increase. Not every owner fires employees for having a bad hair day, or makes them take the fall for poor management at the top. Hopefully more businesses follow the example of Ben Mondor and the Pawsox, and I hope in my career search that I can find that company. When I do I'll let you know.