It's Schaefer's monument,but the boos are also his

DAN RODRICKS

March 27, 1992|By Dan Rodricks

One of the great ironies of the new baseball stadium is that the two most powerful personalities who made the stadium possible will not be present for Opening Day festivities.

The William Donald Schaefer who powered the stadium proposal through the state legislature his first year as governor no longer exists, his huge mandate squandered on petty politics and his public approval at an all-time low.

Edward Bennett Williams, the brilliant legal mercenary whose last mission in life was the extortionate act of forcing a state to build his baseball team a new stadium, died in 1988. Williams thirsted for immortality as much as Schaefer did. He ensured it before his passing.

On the other hand, Schaefer, while surviving Williams to witness his own immortalization through the stadium -- likely his last happy act as a public official -- must pay the price of boos. It's a bittersweet pill for the man.

Interestingly, the funding for the stadium was approved in an economically robust period, just about five years ago, when the state was still riding a budget surplus. However, the stadium opens in a very different economic time. I call it America's Blue Period -- with a populace that feels inert and confused, and finds itself worried that the causes and consequences of the current recession are more profound than we know.

So, as exciting as the new stadium is, a lot of people are totally ambivalent about it. They have other things to worry about -- like feeding their kids and making the monthly rent. They feel the country is spiritually a flat-liner, staying the course to status quo.

But more than that, there's a latent ambivalence out there because most people never felt they had any say in this particular matter, anyway.

They felt, back when the deal was struck, that they had no power to prevent the stadium from being built; it was something Schaefer and Williams worked out.

Taxpayers screamed that the hundreds of millions spent on a new stadium was a waste. Advocates for the needy said it could have been spent on real human needs. They decried public officials who so easily agreed to use public funds to build a stadium while grudgingly granting new monies to Baltimore so that its children, the poorest in the state, might have toilets that work in their schools, or teachers who are rewarded on par with their suburban counterparts.

But all of us who squawked now keep our mouths shut. One year we decried the carpetbagging blackmail artists -- Irsay, who held up the city on the Colts, then hijacked them to another city; Williams, who slyly hinted he would move the Orioles out of Baltimore -- and the next year, there was little or no outrage.

The public never was really heard on this issue. Schaefer, by then a true believer, was carrying EBW's spear.

When a citizens group tried to put the question of stadium funding on referendum, Schaefer successfully fought the effort. He was always Father-Knows-Best, calling the shots for the city, condescending to tell the grumblers a new stadium was urgently needed, and invoking some pop psychology about how the loss of the Colts had profoundly disturbed the city's emotional infrastructure.

Truth is, Schaefer was intimidated by Williams (almost everyone was), and he didn't want his long and honest and decent life as a public servant bursting into flames. He didn't want to go down as the mayor/governor who lost both the Colts and the Orioles. To the contrary, Schaefer saw a chance for high immortality.

He always liked to have his name on things. He liked monuments. He took his cues from Richard Daley, the growling sovereign of Chicago and the best thing that ever happened to the concrete business, and he learned that a politician's legacy has to be seen, not researched. It has to cut hard against the skyline and into the public consciousness.

Little wonder that, once he had been handed a huge mandate to leave Baltimore for Annapolis, William Donald Schaefer made a new downtown stadium the centerpiece of his legislative ambitions. In those heady days just after he had been elected governor -- "Baltimore's Gift To Maryland," his handlers said -- Schaefer saw another opportunity for self-immortalization, something of even grander scale than Harborplace.

He has it, boos and all.

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