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Deny, deny, deny, the Red Sox way

Posted by Eric Wilbur, Boston.com Staff  September 14, 2012 11:48 AM

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Of course the Red Sox aren't for sale. And Josh Beckett is untradeable.

It wasn't long after Red Sox CEO Larry Lucchino embarrassingly referred to the duplicitous Fenway sellout streak as a "pride" for fans Thursday morning on WEEI that Fox Business reporter Charlie Gasparino broke the story that the Fenway Sports Group was "quietly shopping" the Red Sox. The report was greeted with the swift and firm denial that we've historically come to expect from these owners when there's at least a hint of truth to the story.

After releasing a statement in which he left loopholes like five-year-olds leave Goldfish crackers on the family room rug, principal owner John Henry went on the team's flagship station to deny the report and discuss the perception that Liverpool was siphoning financial resources from Boston. Henry said that the biggest issue at the time of the Premier League purchase was not realizing that each fan base would be upset about what is spent on the other entity.

Now, Henry is too rich to live in a cave, but that's either an outright lie, or he's completely out of touch with his fan bases. It was everybody's immediate concern, and one voiced on multiple platforms, including this one. In fact, a November, 2010 column in this space prompted Henry to tweet the article out on Thanksgiving Eve and treat it as "nonsense." Yet, seems to me we're still debating the same stuff. 

Enter Gasparino, who wrote: "According to people with direct knowledge of the matter, the biggest challenge for Henry is running two expensive sports franchises. Fenway Sports purchased the Liverpool team for $476 million in 2010, and has been widely criticized for overpaying for players who have under-delivered...

In fact, people close to executives inside Fenway say management has been increasingly focused not on the Red Sox, but on the future of the Liverpool team."

So, here we are. Who do you believe? The owners who continue to lie to you on a nightly, distribution basis, or a guy with financial ties who may have spoken to the men and women rich enough to have been involved in sale discussions? Hmm, let me think. 

It's not going to happen next week, but it's coming. John, Tom, and Larry may not be going "anywhere" as COO Sam Kennedy said last night, but these owners are going to take the next $2 billion offer and escape town. Why wouldn't they? They will have more than doubled their original investment, and face a long, uphill battle in proving that they are indeed competent for the long-term health of this franchise, one that now has Lucchino on board for another three years. Please, hold your applause. 

But please, the more the Red Sox deny, the more you wonder. When Henry gets involved, you know somebody is getting a little too close to the truth. See his bursting in on Felger and Mazz last October in a passionate plea for saving his franchise's image as an example. 

Hard to imagine, but that image has only gotten increasingly worse.

In his denial e-mail to the Globe yesterday, Henry wrote: "A sale of any kind is so far from our thinking it hasn't even come up apart from technical planning issues involving death or disability. This report is completely without foundation."

Apart from.

Look, that's not to say this isn't the case and that the team was only doing due diligence in the event of a life-altering situation. Maybe they were. But what's wrong with admitting that? They simply can't help themselves to not twist the truth at every step.

The signs of a sale have begun percolating to the point where they are difficult to ignore. After last month's mega-deal with the Dodgers, Sports Hub producer Chris Curtis wondered if the salary dump was the first sign of any eventual sale.

Due to our country's nearly $17 trillion of debt, almost every economist has stated that whether President Obama is re-elected or Mitt Romney takes the White House, the capital gains taxes will increase dramatically; making this offseason as good a time as any for John Henry and his partners to sell the franchise.

Given that the team was purchased for less than a third of the two plus billion dollar value of the Dodgers, it would make great financial sense for both the owners and the limited partners to sell now rather than wait for the additional taxes to be instituted.

Not even the harshest critic of the current ownership has been able to claim they are poor businessman, and this trade made perfect economic sense.

Which is what this group has been interested in all along.

Look, Henry and Co. have been great here. They delivered a pair of titles, and restored Fenway Park. But things have nose-dived, and Red Sox fans are fed up. As many people feared would happen, they have their hands in way too many ventures, likely and erroneously assuming that everybody on board would immediately become Liverpool, NASCAR, and...um, LeBron fans. That only speaks to their inability to grasp the mentality of Boston sports fans. Not true, they'll tell you, all different entities. Well, if Gasparino is right, Liverpool's financial problems may, in part, force Henry to sell the Red Sox. We all wondered if that might one day be the case despite the pompous retorts from FSG that everything is "separate." 

"Completely, and utterly false" is the mantra being preached on Yawkey Way about the sale rumors.

Nonsense.

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About the Author

Eric Wilbur is a Boston.com sports columnist who is still in awe of what Dana Kiecker pulled off that one time in Toronto. He lives in the Boston area with his wife and three children. Comments and suggestions for the best Buffalo wing spots are encouraged.

Contact Eric Wilbur by e-mail or follow him on Twitter.

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