Red Sox owner John Henry, already generally disliked by the team’s fans, did nothing to change that perception in recent weeks.
For an ownership group that broke the Curse of the Bambino and has brought four World Series championships to New England, John Henry and his group are still hard for most Red Sox fans to warm up to. They’ve owned the team for nearly two decades and yet have never really felt like part of the fabric of the team or city.
That stands in stark contrast to the way Boston sports fans feel about Boston Celtics owner Wyc Grousbeck and New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft. The more apt comparison for the way most Boston sports fans (and at least based on my observations, Red Sox fans specifically) feel about John Henry is the way Boston Bruins owner Jeremy Jacobs is perceived in New England.
As everyone knows, Jacobs is the loathsome long-time owner of the Bruins, a figure so reviled that even the loyal and diehard Bruins fanbase despise him. Jacobs managed to make Bruins and hockey fans hate him even more than they already did during the current COVID-19 pandemic by furloughing employees of TD Garden (which he owns) as well as the concession workers who are employed by Delaware North (which he also owns).
Jacobs made a feeble attempt to back pedal and make up to them, but the damage was done. Unfortunately, it seems that John Henry didn’t pay attention because a pair of incidents over the past week were in the same vein as what Jacobs did and drew the ire of not only Boston fans, but the sports news media around the country.
First, in the never-ending (and seemingly one-sided) feud that Henry, the Red Sox, and the Boston Globe (also owned by Henry) have had with the Kraft family and the Patriots over the last twenty years, Henry (whether by association or direct involvement) and the Globe couldn’t help themselves. Kraft had made big news when the Patriots team plane flew to China to pick up a shipment of 300,000 N95 masks.
Kraft then had the Patriots team truck drive them down to New York City, the epicenter of the COVID-19 outbreak in the country. The national news media reported on this and even the New York papers printed thank you’s to Kraft and the Patriots. So how did Henry’s paper (which is run by his wife, Linda Pizutti) respond?
They apparently couldn’t resist the temptation to take a swipe at the Patriots as they published the expected hit piece a week later insinuating that there was something wrong with the masks as they claimed they were defective and the wrong type (KN95 vs. N95). That led to a swift rebuttal by New York City doctors who called the masks “a godsend,” explained that KN95 can work as well as N95, and again thanked Kraft.
It was a bad look made even worse by the fact that it was entirely expected and the negative reaction and condemnation from fans and media was swift. Even a former Red Sox player who knows Henry personally called him (Henry) out for it.
As if that wasn’t bad enough, later that week news came out that Henry, who also owns Liverpool FC (and who is not well-liked by the team’s fans) announced they were furloughing non-playing staff. It was further revealed that this was done so that instead of having to pay 100% of their salaries during the lockdown, it triggered a law whereby the UK government would pay 80% and Henry and the team would only have to pay 20%.
The condemnation was swift and brutal, questioning why a team that made millions of pounds (including 250 million pounds last year) couldn’t show any compassion and needed to game the system in order to avoid paying the full amount. After being blasted by everyone from the UK papers to some Liverpool players themselves, he reversed his decision in a letter written by the team’s CEO announcing they “came to the wrong conclusion” and would not go through with the furlough plan.
Both of these incidents came a couple of weeks after the team had mentioned they were pledging $1 million to help their nearly 1,300 part-time and seasonal employees who were affected by the suspension of the 2020 season. While that plan was derided for not being nearly enough and for only matching what all thirty major league teams pledged together (each chipping in $1 million), it was at least something.
The Red Sox have won more than any other team in Major League Baseball in the twenty-first century and are second only to the Patriots when it comes to championships in Boston over the last twenty years. Apart from the unprecedented success of the Patriots dynasty over the last two decades, Boston is and always has been a baseball town and the Red Sox its most popular team.
Despite all of this, John Henry, who has never been afraid to spend on the Red Sox (until recently) and who even helped save Fenway Park from the wrecking ball with all of the money he’s poured into it, remains on the whole a disliked and detached owner to Red Sox fans.
It’s a strange dichotomy as usually owners who spend and win are beloved, and Henry did nothing to change that even when the current crisis gave him multiple opportunities to do so.
For more information about COVID-19, visit the CDC’s website or the website for your state’s Department of Health.