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Dan Shaughnessy

Top man is on top of the world

Red Sox owner John Henry and wife Linda Pizzuti attend the team’s workout. Red Sox owner John Henry and wife Linda Pizzuti attend the team’s workout. (Barry Chin/Globe Staff)
By Dan Shaughnessy
Globe Columnist / February 25, 2010

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FORT MYERS, Fla. - This is their ninth season running the Red Sox. They have won two world championships, rebuilt Fenway Park, triggered a 550-game sellout streak, and made “Red Sox’’ a global brand.

But just as the giant tower in the Back Bay will always be the “new’’ Hancock building, these guys are destined to forever be the “new owners.’’ And despite their track record and statements of solidarity and longevity, we’re always wondering when they might implode, break up, and/or sell the franchise.

Fact is, John Henry has owned the Red Sox longer than anyone other than Tom Yawkey and Bob Quinn. But because he came from the outside and made his bones in hedge funds, there’s always the suspicion that Henry might someday trade the Boston ball club like another batch of pork bellies.

“We’re not going anywhere,’’ Henry said yesterday after meeting with his 2010 Red Sox before the start of the club’s first full workout. “We adore, we love this franchise.’’

Henry was joined by partner Tom Werner and club CEO Larry Lucchino. All three took questions from the media while the Sox went through their paces at the ball club’s minor league complex on Edison Road.

“We speak every day on the phone, seven days a week, talking about [the team],’’ said Henry. “We are so committed to this franchise. We’re having so much fun. These eight years have been so much fun, so rewarding.

“We went out to dinner last night. It’s a celebration. That’s how much we enjoy what we’re doing. We love this franchise.’’

Henry said he believed in the stats that measure defensive ability, but did not offer any formulas of his own. He disputed the notion that the Sox will have trouble scoring runs in 2010.

“People have been talking about offense, and Theo [Epstein] reminded us today that we were . . . essentially, the Angels and Red Sox had the second-best offense in baseball last year,’’ said Henry. “So we think this is a very strong team, I think stronger than last year.

“Last year when we went into the playoffs, we felt we had a team that was going to be very strong for the playoffs. We had three top starters and this year, again, we have six very strong starters and perhaps the six strongest starters. We always come into camp, it seems like, with six, knowing that sometimes it’s hard to have four strong starters out there for an entire season.’’

The Red Sox did not retain slugger Jason Bay one year after coming up short in their bid for Mark Teixeira. That’s when they suddenly became all about “run prevention.’’

Run prevention? Or a clever new game plan once they failed to land and keep trusted sluggers?

“We spent significantly more than we did last year,’’ explained Henry. “We didn’t know for sure we were going to spend as much as we did because we didn’t know if opportunities would present themselves, to be able to go out and get a pitcher like John Lackey. We didn’t know the opportunity would come to fruition. It was really driven by events.’’

Henry was careful not to say anything that might disturb baseball commissioner Bud Selig. In an e-mail to the Globe’s Nick Cafardo last December, Henry ripped MLB’s revenue-sharing system, making it clear he no longer wanted to subsidize “chronically uncompetitive teams.’’ Uncle Bud (the key figure in delivering the franchise to Henry in 2001) was not pleased with the statement, and yesterday Henry joked about being fined for past critiques.

“We have strong feelings,’’ said Werner, when asked about the potential conflicts with the Commish. “We have a fiduciary responsibility to protect our franchise, our fans, and we’re aggressive about that. Our relationship with the Commissioner’s Office is fine, but we’re certainly aggressive about making our points.’’

“So what do you think about the team?’’ said Henry, when approached by a reporter. “Baseball Prospectus thinks we’re the best. They predicted us to win by two games. It’s going to end up being a dogfight.’’

Many other topics were raised during the morning session. There were a lot of questions from Lee County reporters regarding the new complex the Sox are planning to build in Fort Myers. Henry deflected the usual inquiries about Yankee spending, again citing the gap that exists between New York and Boston. Lucchino said the NHL Winter Classic did a job on the Fenway infield, but expressed hope that the field would be OK by Opening Day (look for the next Winter Classic to be held at Nationals Park in Washington). The owners said they were disappointed that they failed in their bid to get the 2012 All-Star Game for the 100th anniversary season of Fenway.

Newlywed Henry was accompanied by his wife, Linda Pizzuti, who looms as an influential figure in the immediate and long-term future of the ball club. Woe to those who underestimated Jean Yawkey back in the old days of Red Sox ownership. Henry and Pizzuti toured the fields after the press session, then ate lunch in the facility’s cafeteria.

He didn’t look like a guy eager to sell his baseball team.

Dan Shaughnessy is a Globe columnist. He can be reached at dshaughnessy@globe.com.

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