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DAN SHAUGHNESSY

Rain delay provided an opportunity to soak the fans

Despite more brutal weather, they played baseball at Fenway last night. Hallelujah. But had they not played, the Red Sox still would have been winners at the cash register. The $ox always win these days.

The official team theme song at Fenway these days is neither ''Tessie" nor ''Sweet Caroline." The official theme song of the 2006 Boston Red $ox is ''Ca-ching!"

Tuesday at Fenway, ownership blundered by failing to make an early postponement of the scheduled game against the Yankees. It was obvious to every human in New England that no baseball was going to be played that night, but the $ox failed to call it off, then opened the gates, announced a delay, and finally called the game at approximately 7:40 p.m. It was preposterous.

Why? Why did they wait? Why did they allow faithful fans to drive one or two hours to the ballpark (don't forget the jackknifed tractor-trailer on the Southeast Expressway that created a monstrous traffic jam), pay $30 or more to park, then sit in slop for an hour or two when it was obvious there would be no baseball? Was it to sell a few more hot dogs or cups of chowder? NESN pregame show ratings? More customers at RemDawg's?

The $ox had to have known they could not have played that night. If not, they should fire Bill James and bring on Mish Michaels or Don Kent.

Was it really about the money? Did the $ox open the gates just to unload some concession items?

''That's a cheap shot at our integrity," said owner John Henry. ''We're not going to make our fans suffer just to sell hot dogs. In 2002, we canceled a game at 9:30 in the morning and then the sun came out. It's very hard to predict the weather in Boston. If we knew we weren't going to play, we wouldn't have sent [Josh] Beckett down to get warm. We heard it was going to be misty. It really didn't start raining until 10 after 8."

(Henry and Co. should have checked with any local dairy farmer. Take it from one who grew up in Groton, everybody knows it's going to rain when the cows are lying down in the pasture, and the cattle were definitely horizontal Tuesday.)

''It was not clear that no game could be played," added CEO Larry Lucchino. ''We agonized for several hours. We try to play every game. People have made plans and rescheduling games is complicated. There's a competitive disadvantage.

''You try to get the games in if at all possible. We don't sit in a windowless room with a Ouija board. We consult with weather people and the umpires. It's one of the hardest calls we have to make. It's more difficult in Boston than any place I have been. At no point on Tuesday was there a 100 percent certainty that it was going to rain throughout the night. It's a no-win proposition. You're going to disappoint people if you call it early and then it clears up, and you're going to disappoint people if you don't call it and then it keeps raining."

Speaking of no-win propositions, we've got a problem here at Daddy Globe. Those of you not living in caves know by now that the New York Times Co. owns us, and also owns 17 percent of the Red Sox. This conflict of interest taints everything we do on these pages and the Globe looks especially compromised on days like yesterday when we ran a Page 1 story entitled, ''Hit the road with the Sox and get . . ."

Yesterday's journalistic wet kiss included a nifty graphic detailing exactly what Sox fans get if they purchase an official team VIP road trip package. The story contained no inside info that couldn't be gleaned by a fan with access to the Internet, but the timing was abysmal and the packaging worse. By any measurement, this was a Red Sox infomercial, a front-page story guaranteed to embolden those who believe the Globe is part of a Red Sox Cartel and certain to make life more difficult for Messrs. Snow, Edes, and all others who toil tirelessly to bring balanced coverage to our readers.

That said, let's go back to the $ox and their ceaseless grabs for cash. We know that the $ox need new revenue streams to keep up with the Yankees and we've accepted taking the games off free television and most of the carpet-bombing signage inside the ballpark (about that partial Gulf sign in left, did the check bounce? Would Gulf have gotten a full sign for a little more cash?).

But it never stops with these guys and Henry's NASCAR-ization of Fenway has crossed the line. Everything is sponsored. Everything is for sale.

Imagine the surprise of the Yankees when they walked into the visitor's locker room Monday and realized they were sitting in the Marquis Jet visitor's clubhouse at Fenway. Every chair, every nameplate over every locker is stenciled with the jet company's logo. Then again, can anything be a surprise after the $ox sold the sacred sod of 2004 or sanctioned gambling by getting their own Mass. Lottery scratch card? Yeesh.

The $ox have been appropriately applauded for all they have done in the community and for the amazing improvements at ancient Fenway, but the ballpark has officially morphed into a haven for the rich. The $ox feature the highest ticket prices in baseball and the new cushy club seats go for $275: that's before you start ordering sesame-seed tuna, pan-seared with roasted tomato and ginger sauce. Whatever happened to peanuts, Cracker Jacks, and Fenway Franks? You won't hear ''Kill the ump!" or ''Yankees suck!" in the EMC Club. It goes something more like, ''Pardon me, could you pass the Grey Poupon?"

It's good business sense to charge what the market will bear. Fans are lined up to pay and pay more. Tickets for home games fetch double face value on the underground market. If the $ox chose to charge more, they would get it. But there's little excuse for the way fans were abused Tuesday.

The $ox can blame Doppler dopes, scheduling difficulties, or the players' union, but the bottom line is that the bottom line seemed to be the only thing that counted. Though it may not seem like it, here at Cartel headquarters, we feel your pain.

Dan Shaughnessy is a Globe columnist. His e-mail address is dshaughnessy@globe.com.

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