(Photo used by permission of 98.5 The Sports Hub)
So while John Henry barely made eye contact and extended no hand when he walked into the studios of 98.5 The Sports Hub yesterday afternoon, do not let the principal owner of the Red Sox fool you. A couple of knucklehead talk-show hosts – is that redundant? - are hardly his concern. Henry seemed legitimately angry. Certainly, he had every right to be. But many of us in this business say and write preposterous things all the time, the words often disappearing without any acknowledgment whatsoever because our subjects know there is nothing behind them.But the Red Sox are reacting now. Or maybe they are actually proacting. And this all stems from damage they have done to themselves, on the field and off.
Let’s get this out there, just so there are no questions about intent or purpose: today’s blog entry was specifically requested by the editors of the Boston Globe to provide perspective from someone involved in yesterday's encounter. This isn’t about taking credit or issuing blame. It’s about trying to understand where the Red Sox are and how they ended up here, because the Red Sox did not solely embarrass themselves as a team in the midst of an unprecedented, historic September collapse. In the days since, the Sox also have shamed themselves as an organization when Terry Francona, perhaps the best manager in club history, was needlessly smeared on his way out the door.
The repercussions of that last act, no matter who leaked the information, are considerable. Curt Schilling went on ESPN and referred to the owners and administrators of the Red Sox as “bad people.” Nomar Garciaparra spoke of similarly being smeared. From coast to coast, the Red Sox have been universally panned as tactless and downright dirty, their brand taking a beating exponentially worse than that of their September pitchers.
So do you really think John Henry was angry at a couple of nitwit know-it-alls who stammer into microphones?
Or do you think there’s something far bigger the Red Sox are concerned about?
Like their credibility, for instance.
At least say this for Henry, who at least projects the image of a thoughtful, benevolent man: for the first time in a long time, there was the sense yesterday that he truly cared about his team in the wake of a six-week stretch that has brought the Red Sox back to the final years of the Yawkey (dis)Trust. Sitting in the cramped confines of a radio studio yesterday, one could not help but get the feeling that Henry was telling the truth about a good many things. Henry came off as feisty, impassioned and downright convincing at times, though his most revealing words – and we’re paraphrasing here – were probably lost on him at the time.
It doesn’t matter what I say because you won’t believe me, anyway.
He’s right, of course, but that is neither our problem (as chroniclers of the team) nor yours (as fans).
Ten baseball seasons now have passed since Henry and his partners purchased the Red Sox, and the simplest truth now is that we don’t trust them much more today (if at all) than when they first arrived. How is that possible? Maybe that is merely a reflection of the provincial nature of Bostonians, who often treat visitors like enemies. Maybe it is a reflection on Henry and his cohorts, who just don’t understand. Money talks and b.s. walks, and Boston has never been the kind of place where people want questions to be answered with questions. Regardless of whether Francona “officially” resigned or not, the Red Sox were not going to bring him back.
So why do they continue to play word games rather than just answering the question?
Think about it: for as many questions as were answered by Henry – the contractual status of Lucchino and the potential inheritance of his wife, Linda Pizzuti, among them – just as many questions emerged. Was Henry really just driving around yesterday when he detoured for the Sports Hub, or he was the trip more contrived? The afternoon drive show on the station was merely one segment old when Henry strolled into the studio – that’s about 15-20 minutes – which seems like an awfully short amount of time for someone to react to something on the airwaves, then be there out of the next commercial break.
Or was Henry already on his way to the station before the show even began?
As for Carl Crawford, Henry’s remarks were not unprecedented. Years ago, after the 2005 trade that delivered Josh Beckett and Mike Lowell to Boston, Henry publicly admitted that he preferred the team sign free agent A.J. Burnett instead, a move that would have kept Hanley Ramirez (and Anibal Sanchez, among others) in the Boston organization. The Sox made the trade anyway and won a World Series as a result of it. The admission that Henry did not want Crawford falls along the same lines, though the obvious difference is that Crawford (six years remaining on his contract) thus far looks like a bust. Naturally, that cannot help but make one wonder if the Sox are washing themselves of Crawford and pinning him to Epstein as their general manager walks out the door.
Which brings us to the crux of the matter.
The Red Sox have spent a lot of time over the last 10 years accepting praise for their successes, but they haven’t often enough admitted their failures.
Obviously, as the owners and primary administrators of the Red Sox, Henry, Werner and Lucchino are largely responsible for the culture that exists within the Boston organization. On everything, all roads lead to them. The smearing of ex-Red Sox is indisputably a shameful tradition that precedes the Henry ownership, and it remains one of the most embarrassing things to endure for any fan that supports the team. Until Henry did so yesterday, no member of Red Sox upper management had condemned the manner in which Francona was smeared, most notably Lucchino, who instead suggested that Wednesday’s Globe story detailing some of Francona’s personal issues proposed “an interesting set of theories.”
Talk about fueling the fire.
Meanwhile, in the last five years or so, Henry and Werner (a.k.a. the Fenway Sports Group) have bought Roush Racing and Liverpool FC, acquisitions that suggest the Red Sox have become merely another item in Henry’s ever-expanding portfolio. Henry yesterday insisted that is not true, though we all know actions speak louder than words. Despite one of the largest payrolls in baseball, the Red Sox now have gone three years without a playoff victory and endured the greatest September collapse in baseball history, developments that cannot help but make one feel as if the Red Sox have taken their fans for granted while they continue to ring up the cash register.
Yesterday, for the first time in a long time, someone on the highest levels of the Red Sox answered some questions directly and even took a little blame – Henry acknowledged the colossal failure that has been free agency – and an unburdened man then extended a hand before walking out the door.
Does that make the Red Sox believable now?
But it’s a start.
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