The radio silence has been broken.
Red Sox principal owner John Henry answered questions on sports radio WEEI’s “Dennis and Callahan Show” this morning alongside team president Larry Lucchino, nearly one week after former Sox manager Terry Francona said he would not be returning to the club.
The Sox brass would not discuss reports that the Chicago Cubs have asked for permission to speak with general manager Theo Epstein about joining their organization.
“Those things are supposed to be kept private and we have a policy of not discussing whether permission has been asked for X or Y, or Z,” Lucchino said. “In fact every year we get requests from people. We never discuss them publicly. It’s been our policy…
“A few years ago we got a request from another team about Theo Epstein, you heard nothing about that because we didn’t discuss it publicly and I think there’s good reason for it too. There are some privacy considerations here. I don’t know that people would want their career development or their job decisions to be debated publicly or for people to know what they’re considering or not considering and I’m not sure the other team would like that to be made public, so our consistent policy and practice has been not to discuss whether there’s been a request made.”
Henry added: “There is a certain protocol in this game and it is if someone asks permission for a job that’s not lateral, you give them permission.”
Lucchino then reiterated that this was one subject where they don’t think there needs to be full disclosure.
Henry also later hinted that Epstein will not spend the rest of his career as the Red Sox GM.
“I think there’s a certain shelf life in these jobs,” he said. “You can only be the general manager if you’re sane. You can only be the manager for a certain amount of time. Tremendous pressure cooker here. 162 games, it’s a long season and the pressure here is 365 days so Theo is not going to be the general manager forever. Just as if Tito had come back for the last two years, would he have gone past 10 years? I can’t imagine that he would have. So I think that Theo… he’s the guy now, he’s been the guy, we’ve had tremendous success. We fell apart at the end of the season… we’re upset about it.”
The search for a new Red Sox manager has begun according to Henry and Lucchino, but no interviews have taken place yet.
“We’re actively engaged in that search for a new manager,” Lucchino added. “We’re not sitting around twiddling our thumbs. Theo is actively engaged day-to-day in that search.”
The question was asked about the sudden parting of ways with Francona and why Tito’s contract option wasn’t picked up.
“It was certainly something that we considered during the course of the year,” Lucchino said. “I think you have to go back a step and understand the contract arrangement that we had with Tito which was that we gave him a long term deal and we agreed that we would not talk about options until the end of the fourth year… and we said there would be a 10-day period, the first order of business after the season would be to talk about options but we don’t want the distraction of that happening during the year.”
Henry was asked if it was a fair statement for Francona to describe the divorce from the Red Sox as “a mutual decision.”
“We really didn’t get a chance to make it mutual,” Henry said. “But thinking about it, would we have ended up at the same place he ended up? Based on the things that we heard and things that we saw, there’s a strong likelihood that we would have, so you could say it was mutual but the way it took place in my mind wasn’t really mutual the way it took place.”
Lucchino added: “We had a conversation about, that first day after the season, we sat for an hour and a half, two hours talking about the season and after we went through challenge after challenge and various reasons for the breakdown, we talked to Tito about whether he was ready for this challenge given all the challenges he had remunerated and he made it clear to us that he wasn’t. He said something like, ‘You need a new voice down there. I’m not your man for next year. I think my time here is up.’ So in some ways, he took that position and that is a very determinative factor when your manager feels spent or feels like there needs to be a change. He did a fantastic job for us over the years…”
Lucchino also said that even if the Red Sox had advanced to the postseason, the process for evaluating Francona and the season would have unfolded the same way.
The Sox brass said they were not immediately aware of a team meeting Francona called in Toronto following a 14-0 victory over the Blue Jays on Sept. 6., but they did know that GM Theo Epstein had met with the team on occasion.
“I was not aware of it at that time,” Lucchino said. “I learned of it much later, but that’s not uncommon. Tito can have meetings in the clubhouse or [there are] things that happen in the clubhouse that we just don’t know about, we’re not included in them because it’s a clubhouse matter. We think the manager has a right to speak to his team and talk to them as he chooses.”
Henry added: “We did know about Theo had had a couple of talks, we knew about that. We heard about the Toronto talk, it may have been after the season.”
The duo was also asked about reports of drinking in the Red Sox clubhouse.
“There are certain principles that are important within the clubhouse culture and I think that’s one of them,” Lucchino said. “It’s not something that we think should be tolerated. There’s a rule about it that should be enforced but it was much after the fact that that point was brought to our attention and we’re still trying to dig in to find out how pervasive it was, how extensive it was, and not try to just superficially conclude that it was major factor in anything.”
Henry said he wasn’t aware that some Red Sox pitchers appeared in a country music video earlier in the year for a song entitled, “I like beer.”
“It’s surprising given everything I’ve heard about drinking recently,” Henry said. “Very surprised.”
The Red Sox principal owner spoke about his feelings during the September downslide.
“We didn’t just hit an iceberg, every day, we went what 7-20, this is a team that was going 20-7 suddenly went 7-20, so it was throughout that process we began to wonder why is this team breaking down,” Henry said. “This is the second straight year that on Aug. 1 we looked great and looked like we were headed for a potential World Series. And second straight year that the team broke down physically. I haven’t heard, been reading somewhat, what the media have been saying, I haven’t heard enough about that. That was the concern that started at some point during that decline, the biggest concern we had was we’re just not doing well physically.”
They were asked about the pitchers conditioning and ability to last the season, specifically Josh Beckett, who did not look to be in the best shape down the stretch.
“It’s certainly an issue that’s important to us, conditioning” Lucchino said. “That’s another one of the issues that we’re looking into, examining. It’s our responsibility is to try to right this ship and give the fans what we promised when we got here which is a team worthy of their support and we’re going to do that. We’re going to look into the whole conditioning issue. I take exception to pointing to any individual but I don’t’ want to talk about any individual in particular but I will talk about the general notion that our team has to be in first-class physical condition and as John said that the last couple of years we have seen a dramatic decline at the end of the season and that is one of a myriad of issues that we have to look at going forward.”
Henry appears to have been looking more deeply into the conditioning and nutrition issues, and said the organization’s experience with the Liverpool soccer team has been helpful in learning more about best practices.
“The day before yesterday I spoke with a couple of our medical people and trainers and do forth just to try and get an idea,” Henry said. “We’re still early in this process. That’s one of the reason’s there hasn’t been a lot to say because you don’t want to go off half-cocked because one person said this. Talking to a few people, one thing I’ve been able to establish is that the pitchers did their work. They did their cardiovascular. This organization is as good any in baseball, I’m told, at doing their work. And what is their work? Cardiovascular, shoulder exercises are very important, very important. We have very little in the way as an organization of shoulder problems [compared to] other clubs. And they did their leg work. And some of the people, including the person [Beckett] you mentioned, are… they’re adamant, that’s what they do, and they don’t shirk responsibilities.
“Were there nutritional issues? Yes. I believe there were nutritional issues and one of the things we learned in getting involved with English football is they have sports science and the science of fitness is very advanced among football teams around the world, at least the top football teams, so we’ve learned a lot just recently. Our people within the Red Sox have learned a lot and I think that there’s much more we can do but to me the most important thing is that this is the third time in six years and certainly the second straight year in which a great team just couldn’t make it though 162 games physically. And it wasn’t just one or two players, we were really banged up. We were really struggling to put healthy players on the field. Every team has to be able to make it through 162 games. Two years in a row we didn’t do it.”
The pair was asked if they offered encouragement to Francona during the season.
“I don’t engage in encouragement,” Henry said. “My way of encouraging the manager is generally if we win, I’ll go down and say hello. My experience over the years is they really don’t want a lot of interaction from our level when things aren’t going well. But every once in a while I will send, over the last eight years I would send Terry an email and basically say either ‘you’re doing a great job,’ which I did this year, or ‘we’re going to be fine.’ I’m probably the person inside among Tom [Werner] and Larry and Theo and Tito, among all of us, I’m probably the person that most often says, ‘we’ll be fine.’ The problem is we weren’t fine.”
Lucchino added: “We did make an effort as things were proceeding in the wrong direction in September, certainly we made an effort before games we’d go down on the field, certainly not pep talks but just to engage in some conversations and show that we were in this together and to try to be as comfortable as I could around players and the manager and the coaches.”
Regarding the signing of free agent Carl Crawford to a $142 million contract last offseason, Lucchino said, “At the time when we made the decision, we all concurred in the decision.”
Henry was asked for his thoughts on a growing number free-agent busts signed by Epstein and the Red Sox organization over the past few years.
“I think that’s one of the problems in baseball, it’s hard to predict things,” Henry said. “It’s hard to predict performance going forward. When I look back over the last 10 years and the last eight years with Tito being here, the last nine years that Theo’s been here, and I look at what we’ve accomplished, every year including this year, we felt we were headed for a World Series. The biggest thing to us every year is playing in October. That’s what we do… We’re business oriented for one reason, this guy’s [Lucchino] a tremendous revenue generator for one reason, and that is to be able to give the right people the amount of money that it takes to be successful…”
Henry later added: “If you look at why we’ve been successful, look at who’s come through the system. Our scouting, player development. It’s not just Carmine [nicknname for the computer used for player data], and it’s not just about free agents, but I’ll be the first to say that the free agency route of the last few years, over a number of years hasn’t been that great. I think baseball is changing. There’s something going on. We can talk about what the reasons for it are but if you look at the manifestations of what’s actually going on, young players are having a much larger impact on the game than older players.
“Older players used to have much more of an impact than they do these days. And what are the reasons for that we can discuss it, but the game is changing, so I think there are clear statistical studies that show that the signing of free agents at a certain age, as they’ve already peaked in their career and they’re starting to decline is counterproductive. This isn’t just about Carmine. This is about how dynamic baseball is, all sports is, and we’re on it.”