Boston Red Sox ownership and the continuity fallacy

BOSTON, MA - RED SOX SEPTEMBER 14: A view of the grandstand during the seventh inning at Fenway Park on September 14, 2017 in Boston, Massachusetts. (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)
BOSTON, MA - RED SOX SEPTEMBER 14: A view of the grandstand during the seventh inning at Fenway Park on September 14, 2017 in Boston, Massachusetts. (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images) /
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Will the Boston Red Sox continue to be successful once the team is sold? Maybe a repeat of the first few years of the John Henry ownership will return?

Is a Red Sox fire sale even a possibility? In a recent article, I wrote in a whimsical fashion of just what could possibly transpire. That was a hypothetical approach to what would be an epic Miami or Kansas City like disaster. But what about ownership in the future?

The Sox are in a sweet spot and have been for years. The fans certainly revel in the success after decades of failure and humiliation. Especially if you encounter anyone who supports another notorious team approximately 180 miles south of Boston. Red Sox fans have developed a sense of entitlement and are willing to proclaim themselves the best (and most knowledgeable) fans in baseball. A hubris shared across Red Sox Nation.

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The ownership is fading. Just how? Larry Lucchino has departed and, admire or distrust LL, he knew baseball and he knew franchise building. Now he concentrates on Pawtucket. Principal owner John Henry is not a young man and eventually, Henry will maximize his profits and enjoy a well-deserved retirement. But what about the team?

The Red Sox have had the good fortune, with the word fortune being quite appropriate, of having fiscal stability since Tom Yawkey took the almost bankrupt – fiscally and performance wise – team over. Yawkey spared no expense and was rewarded with zero World Series titles. After Yawkey’s death internal turmoil did exist, but so, despite this, did fiscal stability with the Yawkey Trust being the anchor.

Continuity is significant for stability and that applies from personal choices to government, education, and business and baseball is a business. Just what will happen when the Red Sox are sold? Too many Red Sox fans assume the organization is immune based on the revenue stream, but there is debt. Even the great Yankee teams succumbed to the nuances of CBT control.

When Henry and group took the helm they attempted to acquire Alex Rodriguez. The pursuit failed over fiscal issues – the Red Sox could not pony up the money. The union summarily rejected contract modifications and Rodriguez (thankfully) went elsewhere. Ownership also offered for the taking Manny Ramirez, but a burdensome contract stifled that. The key ingredient in both was money.

Fallacy of Continuity

Of course, that can’t happen in Boston. Never. Well, just maybe. The Red Sox are an expensive trinket to own. The selling price depending on just what is structured in the sale could easily approach $2 B. And with that comes debt. With debt comes the factor of payroll. Labor costs are exceptionally high in baseball and that can trigger payroll reduction.

Could Boston become another Kansas City or Miami? Probably not to that extent simply based on the local and even national dynamics of the team. A loyal following, but followings dissipate and that happens with losing and that can start a cycle of significant budget reduction. The Red Sox have not always been the celestial gift to baseball that our more zealous fans assume.

Fenway Park for a significant stretch of the 1950s and 1960s had all the fan enthusiasm of an Oakland A’s game. The place was often empty. Yawkey’s checkbook insulated what could have been a bare bones budget. Never forget that nor the recent stripping of talent from Miami with a new ownership. Can’t happen has a nasty tendency of happening.

Ownership of the Red Sox is a bit different from ownership of most professional sports teams based on the intense and often blind loyalty. A smart owner would realize that the responsibility of maintaining certain professional standards (winning) is an expected obligation. Fans are patient if they realize that longer team objectives are in place, but if they see a fire sale Fenway Park becomes a great place to get a cheap ticket.

Reality of Continuity

If you have an important and expensive object you attempt to maintain it and to increase value. In this situation, it is a flagship baseball franchise. Would a new owner(s) have a sudden streak of parsimony? I could certainly see a small – probably negligible – reduction in expenses, but would not expect any fiscal scythe.

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Baseball is an exclusive club and any owner is concerned about their investment. Do you want a weak Red Sox organization? The Sox are usually positioned at or near the top in road attendance. A good weekend with the Red Sox can turn an accounting ledger from black and not red. A solid Red Sox is protectionism for all and certainly, that applies to media money.

Any new owner of the Red Sox will face incredible scrutiny and vetting both by MLB, but especially the voracious media and fans. I see no leap of faith in saying that a new owner or consortium would be the envy of Daddy Warbucks. A new front for the Red Sox would have to have a sense of noblesse oblige.

What I would envision with a change in command is a local based ownership with a clear understanding of Boston and especially the visceral connection to generations of loyal – and loyalty to the extreme – fans. I sincerely doubt nor would it be acceptable to suddenly decide that being $100 MM under the luxury tax would have no repercussions.

Next: Red Sox fans: Why aren't you more excited?

Even the advent of a solid owner can suddenly unravel with close encounters of the wrong kind (Jerry Richardson), inappropriate stupidity (Donald Sterling), Constant interference (Jerry Jones), sudden financial change (Fred Wilpon), and even a tragic early death. I will, however, have a pair of rose-colored glasses firmly placed with a ownership that attempts to build upon the success of the current holders of the cross.