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Plane talk with Sox higher-ups

By Stan Grossfeld
Globe Staff / November 5, 2010

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The Globe’s Stan Grossfeld had a chance to sit down with Red Sox principal owner John Henry and chairman Tom Werner on Henry’s private jet on their return to Boston following New England Sports Ventures’ purchase of the Liverpool soccer club for $476 million last month. The pair answered questions on topics ranging from David Ortiz’s contract to their involvement with NASCAR. This is an edited transcript:

Q: What did you learn on this trip?

JH: I learned that there’s nothing worse than not getting what you want except getting what you want. (Laughs.) I think that’s an old George Bernard Shaw thing. We learned that there are no quick fixes to what’s wrong with the football club.

Q: Do you want to reassure Red Sox Nation? There have been grumblings that the product is being diluted.

JH: How could it be diluted?

Q: You’re spending too much time on soccer.

JH: Yeah, well, I’m not the general manager, the manager, or the CEO of the Red Sox. That’s not what we do. We work on strategic elements of all of our businesses, including the Red Sox. We are there if they need us and we always keep coming up with ideas and questions like, “Why aren’t we doing this?’’ And so are they.

TW: We have every expectation of competing and winning next year and we see our commitment to payroll to be very much in the same ballpark. We’re the second-highest payroll in baseball.

Q: How is it that you’ve been able to get the Red Sox and Liverpool teams without having the highest bid? How does that happen?

JH: Personally, I think they are conducting all the auctions based on looks rather than money.

Q: Do you prefer soccer as a business or baseball?

JH: Well, there isn’t a 48 percent tax [in soccer].

TW: The health of NESV is in many ways critical to the health of the Red Sox, and this acquisition, in our opinion, strengthens NESV, and so by its very nature protects the Red Sox.

Q: How did you feel watching Liverpool play soccer as opposed to watching the Sox play at Fenway?

JH: It’s completely different.

TW: There’s actually a lot of similarities because of the intensity of the rivalry between the Yankees and the Red Sox and Liverpool and Everton. I felt like it’s always exciting to be at a sporting event where passions are so high.

Q: Manchester City Football Club is owned by a sheik. Are you going to spend like one in the future?

JH: There’s new rules coming in next year into football in Europe called the financial fair play rules. In the future, you are going to be dependent on revenues as far as how much you can spend on players.

TW: I also think in the end winning is more a product of good management and good scouting no matter what the sport. History is filled with the fact that teams with the highest payrolls don’t necessarily win.

Q: Switching gears, has NASCAR been a good investment?

JH: It’s been a really good investment. We have the privilege of competing on the highest level in a major, major sport. We’re a very competitive group.

Q: Tom, what do you enjoy more, putting out a hit TV show or winning a world championship?

TW: They are very similar. I think in some ways, if you are providing joy to a large number of people, that is one of the most gratifying things you can do. I compare the joy that the Red Sox had in 2004 with the delight of laughing at some of my hit shows.

Q: I know that Terry Francona’s health has been an issue. Are you scouting out possible successors to him down the road?

JH: No.

TW: What Francona has done this year with the injuries has been remarkable.

JH: I also think what Theo [Epstein] did to keep us in the race as long as he did was amazing.

Q: Theo is a numbers guy, I think. What kind of guy are you?

JH: We’re kindred spirits, I think. But I don’t see him as a numbers guy. If you are looking at numbers, they can be a very useful tool, but it’s not the be all and end all.

Q: What’s your pet peeve about this past Red Sox season?

TW: I think everybody internally truly believed that when we broke spring training, we would win our division and have at least 95 wins. It’s sad that we never will know if our projections were right because we had so many unfortunate injuries.

Q: There’s a recession bordering on a depression going on. How did John W. Henry & Co. do?

JH: Very well. We were up over 20 percent for 2010.

Q: And how did you do that?

JH: I didn’t do that, mathematical formulas did that. It’s through trend following.

Q: What does that mean? How does that work? You see there’s been a lot of volume on something? A stock?

JH: We do trade stocks, but that’s not our main business. It’s commodities, currencies, interest rates. There’s been a trend in the dollar. There’s been a trend in interest rates.

Q: Like, the dollar is down and you knew that in advance, so you bet against it?

JH: Right. Very good.

Q: I don’t get that.

JH: Neither will your readers.

Q: David Ortiz wants a multiyear contract. Do you give it to him?

JH: It’s not appropriate to talk about these conversations, which are being held in private between our general manager, David, and his agent.

Q: You’ve been his biggest supporter through the tough times. As an owner, when do you lead with your heart? When do you go from being sentimental to being pragmatic?

JH: I think we are committed to winning championships, so you do what you have to do to win a championship.

Q: Yes, but when you followed your heart, you rewarded Mike Lowell with a multiyear contract. The fans were pushing for it coming off the 2007 championship, and in hindsight it wasn’t a good financial move. He got injured.

JH: In hindsight, most long-term free agent deals with players over 30 years of age are not good investments. There’s a long history in baseball of teams that do it. It generally costs you more than you’d like in the last year or years of the contract.

Q: So why do them?

JH: It’s part of the price you pay sometimes to win championships.

TW: The best general managers, in hindsight, make mistakes. We encourage Theo and Larry [Lucchino] to be bold and we sometimes have to take prudent risks. We have to continue to be bold to be successful.

Q: Do you think the sellout streak is going to end next season if the team gets off to a bad start?

JH: I think it’s more dependent on the reach of the secondary ticket market than anything else.

Q: Last year became known, unfortunately, as the Year of the Bridge . . .

JH: Not because of us. When you are a general manager, you say a lot of things and somebody can pick up on one and make it a major issue. [Epstein] said that because we felt that by 2012 we’d have some young talent that’s going to be ready. I don’t know why that was perceived as a negative. For me it was a positive.

TW: Furthermore, while that was a random comment at a moment in time, the Sox went out after that and spent roughly $130 million between [John] Lackey and [Adrian] Beltre. Never for a moment did we waver from our desire to win the American League East.

Q: This is going to be the year of . . . what?

JH: Staying healthy, hopefully.

TW: I’m sure the makeup of the team will be different than 2010, but our objective is to win the pennant.

Q: Tom, you’re an entertainment guy. Does it bother you that players are perceived as more businesslike, more boring than the so-called Idiots of 2004?

TW: I think we may not be doing as articulate a job as we can of portraying how interesting the clubhouse is. I find it surprising that we have so many talented players and people say the clubhouse is boring. I really do.

Q: I don’t see any shots of Jack Daniel’s going around.

JH: Thank God.

Stan Grossfeld can be reached at grossfeld@globe.com.

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