A tepid defense of Boston Red Sox principal owner John Henry

BOSTON, MA - JUNE 09: John Henry, principal onwer of the Boston Red Sox looks on before a game between the Boston Red Sox and the Detroit Tigers at Fenway Park on June 9, 2017 in Boston, Massachusetts. (Photo by Adam Glanzman/Getty Images)
BOSTON, MA - JUNE 09: John Henry, principal onwer of the Boston Red Sox looks on before a game between the Boston Red Sox and the Detroit Tigers at Fenway Park on June 9, 2017 in Boston, Massachusetts. (Photo by Adam Glanzman/Getty Images) /

The Boston Red Sox team appears to be in an organizational fog with mixed messages emanating from principal owner John Henry.

The transformation of Boston Red Sox principal owner John Henry from the archangel Gabriel – the guardian of Red Sox Nation – to a pariah has taken place. The ownership triumvirate led by Henry – that brought a much-needed stabilization and invigoration to a tattered franchise that resulted in a string of successes most noted by an increasing number of World Series titles, is now in “what have you done for me lately?” territory.

The crime – or at least one of many – that Henry committed is an egregious violation of attempting to manage cost containment and by doing so jettisoning Mookie Betts, the heir apparent to Ted Williams in the illustrious pantheon of Red Sox history. That is just one of the linchpins in the recent upheavals within the organization. But the list of grievances has an ancillary attachment that is communication and within that comes the words “public embarrassment.”

The most serious of offenses that Henry bestowed upon us was the crime of “mixed messages.” Henry does not show the oratorical skills of a Branch Rickey or even Casey Stengel. Henry’s recent public relations juggernaut had all the bounce of the post iceberg Titanic coming on the heels of ticket increases and strife within the organization.

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The mixed messages were wrapped in a  sketchy promise to limbo under baseball’s competitive balance tax that was later retracted or left to one’s imagination.  This, of course, was somewhat clarified as backtrack on the Betts contract that was pronounced a monetary non-issue. Henry presented a virtual Gordian Knot of public comments that bordered on frontier gibberish. But what about the current direction of the team? This is Henry’s “toy,” but Henry has an obligation to the emotional and loyal fans. A keeper of the flame is a serious responsibility to Red Sox Nation.

Henry, being an astute businessman, simply wished to avoid the excruciating departure of capital for spending too much. Of course, as any true Red Sox fan will mention ad nauseam, is the names Pablo Sandoval, Rusney Castillo, and possibly another baker’s dozen over rewarded failures. Quite possibly a decision on a demarcation line based on accelerating expenditures finally reached a point where the only resolution was a sudden surge of a corporate pecuniary restraint. A rare occurrence.

Businesses make mistakes and baseball is labor-intensive with the labor part being the veritable crapshoot in making the right choices on just who gets the boatload of money. What Henry has accomplished is simply swallowing the bitter pill and writing off legendary mistakes that have affected the competitive balance tax via a trickle-down effect.

If I was trolling for any possible good news in the current payroll shrinkage it is addiction. Henry is an addict! Henry will not be bundled up and transported to the Betty Ford Clinic for extensive rehabilitation, but Henry’s addiction is winning. The enjoyment of hoisting a World Series trophy and the often reticent Henry being in the spotlight of adulation is certainly a plumb ego reward.

This may represent a rather poorly pop psychology approach, but I consider Henry a fan and like all Red Sox fans we enjoy the moment in the spotlight. Otherwise, we would not go into bankruptcy over sports paraphernalia, exorbitant tickets, and be engaged in vociferous social media flame wars.

Just what will Henry do? Based on that addiction it will be simply to regroup and follow the pathway that was successful in the past. That pathway is not the famed Yellow Brick Road, but the Greenback one since Henry had no real aversion to spending in the past so one would expect no real aversion in the near future.

The Henry empire that now encompasses a cacophony of interests including a newspaper, extensive real estate investments, a collection of sports franchises that all has a common thread – a basic beginning that was spawned by the Red Sox brand. If team valuation is a key indicator of business success, the Red Sox valuation is now measured in billions and not millions.

Henry has generally preferred the background, as I see no Machiavellian mannerisms such as George Steinbrenner. Nor the incessant need for attention such as a Mark Cuban or the insufferable Jerry Jones. Henry remains somewhat of mystique in the operation of the Red Sox and that may be deliberate or just his personality – I lean towards the latter.

If Henry has any baseball liabilities it is public communications and that may be based far more on his personality than any evasiveness. But just what type of organization does Henry run? The team has appeared rudderless in this offseason and the scent of blood is in the water or the infield sands for the media sharks.  What mitigates the issue is two-fold with the sudden threat from the New York Yankees and the Red Sox reluctance to feed the payroll trough. Apparently, the Red Sox have shifted into reverse – or have they?

Henry certainly is not stagnant like Tom Yawkey and his myopic ownership where accountability meant being moved from one organizational position to another as failure was far too often rewarded. Henry acts where enough leeway is given for individual actions, but if the final result is unsatisfactory then the corporate ax will fall.  Just ask Dave Dombrowski. I have no qualms about Henry and his ability to pull the firing lever once aroused by poor performances on and off the field as patience with ineptness is unacceptable.

I firmly expect Henry to reboot after the competitive balance tax pause and resume building the team from both within via rejuvenating the farm system and judicious spending that may even include a jump into the Betts bidding scrum. With Chaim Bloom now given the keys, the Red Sox may incorporate a style of management that combines small and large market mentalities.

Next. Owner claims trading Mookie Betts wasn't about money. dark

In the past, I have often taken the other path with a far more negative critique of the Red Sox ownership, but this time I will wait the season out and see just what direction Henry will take.  If the Red Sox organization continues to wallow during the season and into 2021 it may be time for a dramatic change and that could be new ownership.