Werner is no silent partner in this
Red Sox chairman Tom Werner did not need an introduction to Theo Epstein.
"I knew Theo when he was in San Diego," Werner said while sitting in a conference room in Fenway Park as fans filed in for the second game of the World Series.
"Theo was the guy sitting behind home plate with the radar gun. He had known my son, Teddy, at Yale. Theo was sports editor of the Yale Daily News, and my son, who also went to Yale, was the hockey announcer.
"I kind of feel proud that I knew Theo when. He's made a very, very impressive leap. Often I attend board meetings, and one partner after another comes up to me after Theo has made a presentation and says, `We'd hire Theo for our own industry.' He has that sort of maturity. He also has a great sense of humor.
"If I could buy stock in a person and ride it, I'd ride Theo's stock."
What's funny, and perhaps a bit frustrating to Werner, is that in some respects he's the one who still requires something of an introduction to Sox fans, even though he was the man who put together the group that owns the team, recruiting Larry Lucchino and John W. Henry to become partners, and helping to hand-pick Epstein as GM after Billy Beane said no.
Oh sure, the people-watchers know him as the man who had a four-year relationship with "Today" host Katie Couric that recently came to an end. And because he was a part of the Carsey-Werner-Mandabach production company responsible for a string of situation comedy hits, including "Cosby," "Roseanne," "A Different World," "Third Rock from the Sun," and "That '70s Show," the assumption is that Werner is the TV guy in the Sox scheme of things, overseeing NESN and helping to make Jerry Remy a cult figure in New England.
And that's true, up to a point: Werner is basking in the glow of record ratings the Sox have drawn this postseason. "I'm still trying to find the 13 people who didn't watch Game 7," he said.
But it goes beyond that. Publicly, the hard-driving Lucchino is often the front man of the troika, the one who goaded George Steinbrenner by calling the Yankees "the Evil Empire." The wispy Henry has the deepest pockets, and is the most visible fan of the three, the one who sits next to the dugout and often goes into the clubhouse to have a word with manager Terry Francona, offer encouragement to a slumping player, or shake the hand of that night's star.
It might come as a surprise, then, to know that it was Werner, the soft-spoken 54-year-old son of a New York attorney who grew up in Manhattan as a Yankee fan, then moved West to become a Dodger season ticket-holder, who was on the field at Yankee Stadium after the Sox eliminated the Bombers in Game 7 and raised a triumphant fist in the direction of Steinbrenner's suite.
"We'd watched the sixth game at Larry's house," said Werner, "because none of us wanted to be in Yankee Stadium to watch the Yankees celebrate. And we promised that if there was a seventh game, we'd be there, even though as we flew there, we thought the odds were just 50-50.
"There was such tension for so many days. When Johnny Damon hit that grand slam, I think that was the first time in a long time there was a feeling you could take a deep breath without choking. I'm going to remember how, when it was over, I hugged John, I hugged Larry, I hugged my son, and jumped on the field and feeling, `My God, I'm in Yankee Stadium and it's going to be a long, cold winter for the New York Yankees.' I was shaking my fist at somebody upstairs. I don't know if they were watching, but it was just so satisfying because of the disappointment we all felt last year."
You don't care this deeply if your only barometer of success is audience share. The intensity of Werner's reaction perhaps can be traced to his first experience as an owner, which came in 1990 when he and 15 partners, most of them San Diego businessmen, bought the Padres from Joan Kroc, widow of Ray Kroc and keeper of the
By the strike year, 1994, when Werner sold the team to computer software mogul John Moores, the Padres had the worst record in the majors and Werner was drawing headlines that called him the most hated man in Southern California. A couple of fans sponsored a class-action suit protesting his breakup of the team. "There aren't many people as unpopular as I am right now," said Werner at the time, a painful admission for a man who had always derived so much enjoyment from the game as a fan, a Rotisserie league player, coach of his son's Little League team, and regular spectator at his daughter's softball games.
What a difference a decade makes.
"I don't really think too much about my experiences in San Diego," he said. "I felt I was doing the right thing. I think, in retrospect, I was vindicated by many. I talked about the competitive imbalance in baseball, and I think baseball has made enormous strides since the early '90s. Hundreds of millions of dollars have been transferred from a few clubs to other clubs."'
The experience may have made him a bit gun-shy, and certainly wiser, he says, but it didn't sour him on the game. Some of his moves actually helped the Padres to a World Series in 1998. The Sheffield trade produced Trevor Hoffman, the team's great closer, and Werner said he also played a part in the trade that brought future MVP Ken Caminiti (who recently died of a heart attack that may have been caused by a drug overdose) and Steve Finley to the Padres.
And while it may appear that he is not as involved on the baseball side as his partners, that's a misperception, he says. There isn't a significant decision made in which he is not kept informed or has input, said Werner, who spends at least half of every month in Boston during the season. "John and I think of each other as partners who are involved in all aspects of the business," he said.
Werner has emerged as a key player in at least two major baseball-related issues. One was the protracted negotiations for shortstop Alex Rodriguez. When it appeared the deal was breaking down after Rangers owner Tom Hicks and Lucchino had an angry exchange (which Lucchino, incidentally, disputes), it was Werner who picked up the phone.
"There was a point I said, `Let me call Tom Hicks and really see whether or not his demands are negotiable,' " he said. "I've done things I've chosen not to talk about."
Werner's personal relationship with Nomar Garciaparra's agent, Arn Tellem, a friend he once tried to persuade to join the management side in San Diego, also put him in the middle of the failed effort to sign the shortstop to a contract extension.
Werner conceded he is not a guy who is going to call Epstein and ask him about a Triple A prospect for the Arizona Diamondbacks. But is he in the loop? Hey, he reads Bill James's reports, like the one that said too many balls were getting through the Sox infield, one of the reasons the Sox made the Garciaparra deal, which netted them shortstop Orlando Cabrera and first baseman Doug Mientkiewicz.
And yes, the big decisions facing the Sox regarding their prospective free agents -- a class that includes Pedro Martinez, Jason Varitek, Derek Lowe, and Cabrera -- will be ones that will fully engage Werner as well as the other members of Theo and the Trio. And no, he would be the last to say the Sox have to make the kind of cuts the Padres did a decade ago. He is hopeful, he said, that at least a couple of those players will re-sign while the Sox retain an exclusive negotiating window.
"We have a great fan base," he said, "and we're going to plow that money back in to produce a competitive team. I don't see the Yankees going down, and I think we are confident we will always be one of the higher-payroll teams."
It's worth it, if in the end you can shake your fist on high.