John Henry says Red Sox fans have unrealistic expectations, but he set them – Boston Herald

Early Friday morning, the international edition of Financial Times published a profile on Red Sox principal owner John Henry.

The piece touched on a wide range of Fenway Sports Group topics, but here’s the part Red Sox Nation will care about: The man who owns your favorite baseball team thinks your expectations are unrealistic. And no, he’s not planning on selling.

Ahead of Kyrie Irving returning to face the Celtics in the NBA Finals this week, NBC Sports Boston included Henry in their rankings of biggest Boston sports villains of the last 50 century. That would be, to borrow NBCSB’s term, “unthinkable,” even half a decade ago, but Henry’s pivot has been as close to a complete-180 as it gets for a team owner. He used to be present and wax poetic about the Sox. These days, his absence is expected, and on the rare occasion when he deigns to speak about the Red Sox, he does little to refute the impression that everything else takes priority.

“He’s been in town for 22 years, and he’s still a stranger,” ex-Red Sox president and Yawkey Trust CEO John Harrington told FT reporter Sara Germano. “If you ask around town now, you’re gonna find most people don’t have a good fix on him… I think he doesn’t mind that.”

The thing is, two decades ago, people thought they had a “good fix” on the man who owned their beloved baseball team. They knew Henry grew up a fan of Stan Musial’s St. Louis Cardinals, and that he was so passionate about baseball that he bought into the New York Yankees, the Florida Marlins, and finally, the Red Sox (instead of the Angels). They saw that he valued baseball history when he and his fellow owners committed to preserving and upgrading Fenway Park, rather than demolishing it in favor of a soulless, modern replacement. Above all, they found out that he could do what no one had for 86 years: build a World Series champion Red Sox team. And then another in 2007, another in 2013, and for good measure, a fourth in 2018, the most by any club this century.

In other words, he was the dream owner. Or, as Bill Simmons told FT, “He ran the first competent ownership group that the Red Sox ever had. They spent real money, revitalised Fenway Park, and genuinely seemed to give a (expletive).”

No, Henry isn’t “still a stranger.” He’s made himself one again.

“It’s best to pay more attention to a market than to what you think about the market,” Henry tells FT. But he doesn’t seem to take his own advice when it comes to the Boston baseball market. “Because fans expect championships almost annually,” he told Germano, “they easily become frustrated and are not going to buy into what the odds actually are.”

If that’s truly why Henry thinks Red Sox fans are frustrated, he’s been listening even less than they already think he is.

It’s not about winning the World Series or even the pennant every year, but making a clear and concerted effort to construct the caliber of roster that conceivably could. Not promising to go “full throttle in every possible way,” as chairman Tom Werner did last November, and then avoiding throttle at nearly every opportunity. Speaking to one’s paying customers – the same ones constantly being told they’re the “best fans in baseball” – who happen to be one of the most dialed-in, devoted fanbases in the world, as if they’re gullible fools. Raising ticket prices every year when Fenway Park is already the most expensive in the Majors, the team has finished last in its division thrice in four seasons, and ownership has been willing, even eager, to spend on countless other ventures while Red Sox payroll is lower than the previous two years.

The true crux of the matter, though, is that the very expectations Henry criticizes fans for having were set for them, by none other than himself and his fellow owners.

The Fenway Faithful spent most of the previous century not only enduring, but expecting soul-crushing defeat, usually in Game 7s. Then, the group now known as FSG rode into town on white horses and forever altered the Boston baseball landscape. They bought the team for more than double the price paid for any club in MLB history, told fans who’d only known heartbreak that they deserved happiness, and actually delivered.

After nearly nine decades of drought, the Red Sox came through not once, not twice, but four times. And not only did ownership demand excellence, but when Henry spoke about the team in those halcyon years, he sounded like a true fan.

“Win a World Series? That’s not my choice, it’s my role, it’s my obligation to New England,” he said in January 2002. “That’s what I’ve been charged with. When you bid on the Red Sox, the challenge you’re undertaking is nothing short of winning the World Series.”

“I certainly identify with the fans,” he told the Boston Globe when they got the job done in October 2004, “because I’ve been one my entire life.”

Textbook love-bombing and gaslighting. How can you not be romantic about baseball?

Henry shouldn’t be surprised that fans want to hold him and his fellows to their own standard. Nor should he get to act like it’s some sort of imposition. He said it himself: it’s his obligation.

It’s frustrating, confounding, and unfortunate that, after ascending arguably the highest peaks in Boston sports history, Henry & Co. decided to take a wrecking ball to their own apex, in the purported pursuit of sustainability and consistent contention.

Such are the values preached by the Red Sox since trading Mookie Betts in February 2020, but their vision for a brighter future seems inherently flawed. Baseball is beloved because it is so maddeningly, magically inconsistent. No amount of analytics, spreadsheets, scrimping, or Scrooge-ing will ever change the fact that this game is unpredictable, and thank the baseball gods for that. Baseball is endless possibility personified; in any game, any inning, any at-bat, anything can happen. Especially in Boston.

John Henry, steward of the most impossible-made-possible comeback in sports history, knows all of this. He simply no longer seems to care the way he once did. And unfortunately for Red Sox fans, this isn’t Willy Wonka’s chocolate factory. Loving baseball is not a requirement to owning a team. Henry can do – or not do – whatever he pleases.

After covering Liverpool FC and Henry’s latest golf endeavors, Germano circles back to the Red Sox. In February, she joined Henry in Fort Myers, for the customary first day of full-squad workouts meeting.

“I greeted Henry briefly in the hall of the training facility, where he apologised for falling behind on some of our correspondence. I mentioned the $3bn SSG investment, which the players on the PGA Tour Policy board had just voted to approve, creating a new commercial entity for the sport. Henry’s eyes lit up,” Germano recalled. “He looked delighted to be asked about what he described as a fascinating new project, but the bustle of the official start of the Red Sox season cut us short.”

For a moment, baseball managed to pull Henry’s focus. And then, he left for a PGA Tour lunch.

Source link


Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *