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Nothing personal for the Red Sox, just business

Posted by Tony Massarotti, Globe Staff  October 12, 2010 07:14 AM

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LiverpoolOwnership.jpgNew England Sports Ventures. The Fenway Sports Group. The New England Sports Network. Roush Fenway Racing. The Liverpool Football Club.

And, oh, yes, the Red Sox.

Is it just me, or is the Olde Towne Team now simply part of a conglomerate?

I know, I know. This is 2010. Business is business and there is a trade-off to everything. But with the news last week that New England Sports Ventures reached an agreement with the board of directors of the Liverpool Football Club to buy that franchise, it is time to wonder: do the Red Sox mean as much as they once did to the men who own this one?

Please, please, please, do not misunderstand or overreact. Where the Red Sox are now, compared to where they were nine years ago, is virtually impossible to compare. John Henry and Co. have taken the Red Sox to six postseasons and four American League Championship Series while winning two World Series championships. Fenway Park has been restored and filled. The Henry Era, on the whole, has been a smashing success, Red Sox owners routinely pouring resources into a club that has won with great regularity.

This year, television ratings for the Red Sox dropped to roughly 50 percent of what they were three years ago during the championship season of 2007. That certainly suggests that the Red Sox don’t mean as much to us as they once did. All of that cannot but help one wonder what the Red Sox have sacrificed over the last nine years as they have morphed from a beloved a mom-and-pop operation into a global enterprise.

In case you missed it, the Red Sox last week issued the following statement through team president Larry Lucchino:

To be clear, while it is exciting for all of us as global sports fans, this is an undertaking of the NESV partnership, which owns the Boston Red Sox, New England Sports Network, Roush Fenway Racing, and Fenway Sports Group. It is not an undertaking of the Boston Red Sox and will not divert our resources or focus on the job at hand – winning a third World Series for the loyal members of Red Sox Nation.

Those of us in the Red Sox front office, starting with me, Theo [Epstein], and the baseball management team, share a single-minded focus on the baseball team, and we will remain in our roles and committed to extending the extraordinary and winning traditions of the Boston Red Sox. We want to assure our fans that our work and our Red Sox resources will continue to be devoted to fielding excellent teams in 2011 and beyond, teams worthy of our fans' avid support.

Fair enough. On the one hand, Lucchino is right, most notably in the sense that he and Theo Epstein couldn’t care less about stock cars or soccer balls. On the other, John Henry now seems to regard the Red Sox as simply one element in a growing portfolio, which cannot help but make you wonder if he deems the Red Sox to be, well, as special as we do.

At the beginning, after all, there was no doubt. Upon taking control of his baseball team, Henry was so elated that he actually jogged in the outfield at the team’s spring training complex. The Red Sox were his new plaything. Winning a World Series was the indisputable priority. Then the Red Sox won a second title. Now there is the sense – and maybe it is nothing more – that Henry has far more to worry about, which might not necessarily be a good thing.

Right?

Here’s the thing: Universally, we almost all agree that success starts with ownership. Look at the history of the Red Sox. Or of the Bruins. Maybe all that really matters is if Henry continues to pour money into the Red Sox – and there is no indication that he will stop – but one still has to wonder about the changes that have taken place here over the last several years. As the Red Sox have turned over their roster and built a bona fide baseball factory, they have seemingly lost some of the intimacy and personal touch they once possessed.

For a moment, let’s consider the roster, which is currently in a state of transition. Whenever it is that Tim Wakefield and Jason Varitek move on – and one way or another, they soon will – Kevin Youkilis will be the senior member of the clubhouse in terms of continuous service time in the organization. And Youkilis, like Wakefield and Varitek, is a holdover from the previous administration. Based on the Red Sox’ recent history with regard to decision-making, what is the likelihood that Dustin Pedroia will get another contract with the team? Jon Lester? The Red Sox’ model is well-established: Bring 'em in, use 'em up, send 'em out.

Nobody is suggesting all of that is a bad thing – as long as the Red Sox continue to win, presumably – but it is, indisputably, different. The Red Sox might as well be General Electric now. They own everything. They commit to no one. They have all the power. We obviously live in a different time with regard to professional sports, and the idea of someone like Carl Yastrzemski playing 23 years in one place seems certifiably insane. But as much as we all enjoyed Mike Lowell’s time here, did anyone else find it revealing that the Red Sox gave a sendoff to someone who had been here a mere five years?

Yaz must have chuckled at that. Jim Rice, too. Guys like Dwight Evans must look around and wonder whether they are the last living examples of any tradition the Red Sox ever possessed.

Obviously, we all like the winning. But this year, as Red Sox popularity dropped, we examined an array of reasons, ranging from injuries and marketing strategies to star power. Maybe we ignored the fact that, as good as Adrian Beltre was, we had no real connection to him and probably never will. Beltre was a mercenary in the truest athletic sense of the word. He used the Red Sox as surely as they used him, and both sides now seem prepared to move on.

Yes, now more than ever at Fenway Park, baseball is a business.

There is good and bad that comes with that.

Only 190 days to go until Opening D- … err … the next shareholders meeting.

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Updated: Mar 1, 07:24 AM

About Mazz

Tony Massarotti is a Globe sportswriter and has been writing about sports in Boston for the last 19 years. A lifelong Bostonian, Massarotti graduated from Waltham High School and Tufts University. He was voted the Massachusetts Sportswriter of the Year by his peers in 2000 and 2008 and has been a finalist for the award on several other occasions. This blog won a 2008 EPpy award for "Best Sports Blog".

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