The Boston Red Sox are run by baseball haters and money-grubbing vultures who care more about being looked at than they do about winning.
This according to a man who would know.
Former Red Sox manager Terry Francona has a new tell-all book due out next week, and excerpts that have leaked portray the club's bosses as being more like excitable television producers than passionate baseball owners.
The key scene went down in 2010 after a marketing research project revealed that the Red Sox were lacking in the "'soap opera' and 'reality-TV' aspects of the game." This prompted Boston's brain trust—majority owner John Henry, chairman Tom Werner and CEO Larry Lucchino—to give Francona and then-GM Theo Epstein an ultimatum.
"We need to start winning in more exciting fashion," said Werner, via ESPNBoston.com. Then came proclamations that the Red Sox needed more "good-looking stars" and "sex symbols."
Says Francona in the book: "They come in with all these ideas about baseball, but I don't think they love baseball. I think they like baseball. It's revenue, and I know that's their right and their interest because they're owners ... and they're good owners. But they don't love the game."
Ownership supposedly isn't cast in a totally bad light in the book, which was co-authored by Boston Globe columnist Dan Shaughnessy and titled Francona: The Red Sox Years. What's out there right now, however, certainly rings true.
Judging from the excerpts, the sections in the book on Boston's ownership are going to read like a response to Bob Hohler's infamous story in the Globe after the Red Sox collapsed in 2011. The report's sources charged that Francona was largely responsible for the collapse, as he lost control of a roster that was overrun with ne'er-do-wells.
The you-know-what rolls downhill, as they say. But responsibility? That you-know-what always flows upwards.
Francona is not blameless for Boston's 2011 collapse, a turn of events that bled into a brutal 2012 season, but all the talk in 2010 about building a sexy team is a reminder that it was ownership that wanted the roster that Francona couldn't control.
They should have been careful what they wished for. They wanted a reality TV show, and that's exactly what they got.
It wasn't always this way. When Henry first took the helm of the Red Sox, he said in an interview with Baseball Prospectus that he wanted the same thing for the team that the fans wanted: To win on the field first, and off the field second.
He also said that he didn't feel that he needed to be more involved in player decisions any more than he had to:
The important thing is to have the right people making these decisions. I have certain strengths with regard to financial analyses...But I have very little expertise in analyzing players and trades from a baseball perspective.
A shift occurred in the 2010 meeting described in Francona's book. The "right people" for Henry to listen to ceased to be Epstein and Francona, the baseball people, and became Lucchino and Werner, the business people.
Their misstep was prioritizing business over baseball. Epstein's and Francona's misstep was going along with it. Francona supposedly wanted to object to the content of the 2010 meeting, but Epstein stopped him.
The Red Sox did indeed become the sexy team the brass envisioned. Carl Crawford was signed to a massive free-agent contract, and the Red Sox traded a handful of top prospects to the San Diego Padres for Adrian Gonzalez. The team ended up spending roughly $300 million on them.
Business-wise, the 2011 team had the desired effect. After the club's local TV ratings plummeted in 2010, they went back up again in 2011 as more viewers flocked to their TVs to see Boston's star-studded roster in action.
But then came the September collapse, in which the Red Sox lost 20 of their final 27 games thanks, at least in part, to boozing pitchers and indifferent star players. They had their moments during 2011, but it became clear after the season ended that they never came together as a team.
The Red Sox clearly needed to be fixed after 2011. Instead, Epstein and Francona left, and the team's ownership didn't trust new GM Ben Cherington to hire his own manager. He wanted to hire Dale Sveum, whereas ownership preferred Bobby Valentine.
Ownership won that battle, and their decision makes total sense in light of the 2010 meeting. Valentine was going to be a lot more interesting to watch on TV than Sveum.
Credit where it's due, ownership was right about that one. Television ratings stayed steady in 2012 even despite the fact the Red Sox never got on track and became more of a mess as the season went along. The Red Sox's longstanding sellout streak endured as well.
Except it didn't. The organization kept playing the "sellout" card, but there were empty seats all over Fenway Park by the end of 2012.. Ownership did its damndest to convince everyone that Boston still loved the Red Sox, but it was clear that the true fans had better things to do.
The Red Sox asked for this too. By prioritizing image over winning, they ignored the reality that the true fans—the ones who will still be there when all the bandwagon fans become attached to the latest sexy team—only want to see winning baseball, regardless of how sexy it is.
These are the fans who were ignored in that 2010 meeting, in which Boston's brain trust laid out a plan to appeal to bandwagon fans. After all that's transpired, the bandwagon fans have zero reasons to watch the Red Sox and the true fans are left with a lesser version of their beloved team.
The Red Sox forgot that the growth of their brand happened in the first place exactly because the team was playing winning baseball. Boston's six-year rule atop local TV ratings started in 2004, the year the club snapped the Curse of the Bambino. It was still alive and well when the Red Sox won a second World Series in 2007.
That's right about when the Boston Red Sox started to become more of a brand name than a baseball team, prompting a slow descent for the team that picked up steam in that 2010 meeting.
Henry branched into NASCAR in 2007, because NASCAR is good for business. In 2010, he branched into European football by buying Liverpool FC, because what's one storied sports franchise compared to two? In 2011, he joined forces with NBA superstar LeBron James, because he's possibly the most marketable athlete alive.
Where the Red Sox had once been at the center of Henry's empire, they were now just another trophy on the shelf. Whether it was still shiny mattered little so long as it held the interest of passerby gawkers.
While Henry was expanding his empire, the Red Sox took a turn for the worse on the field. They fell short of the World Series in 2008, then lasted only three games in the 2009 playoffs. In 2010, they won only 89 games and missed the postseason for the first time in three years.
That's also when ratings started to decline. According to ownership, that was due to the team's lack of luster, not its lack of talent.
The luster came. And so too, if we're being fair, did the talent. But in Crawford and Gonzalez, the Red Sox were merely spreading gold paint on their now clearly tarnished trophy. At the end of 2011, it was chipped away to reveal the flaws underneath. In 2012, all the remaining flaws were exposed.
The bright side is that the Red Sox are in the middle of a proper repair job now. Cherington was given the green light to ditch the sexy players Epstein acquired in 2010, and he's been allowed to target non-sexy players to fill the club's various needs this offseason.
The Red Sox could have gone after Josh Hamilton, but they didn't. They could have gone after Zack Greinke, but they didn't do that either. Instead, they've brought in guys like Jonny Gomes, Ryan Dempster, Stephen Drew, Shane Victorino and Joel Hanrahan.
These guys may not be the most talented players under the sun. But at least they're ballplayers as opposed to underwear models.
The 2013 Red Sox look like a team that's been brought together simply to play good baseball. They may not play sexy baseball, but there should be more wins than there were in 2012. That should bring back the fans who stopped bothering to show up at Fenway Park.
That this is happening is a good thing. The Red Sox's brain trust may not be happy about it, but they're letting the team get back to baseball.
Red Sox Nation can only hope that they've learned their lesson.
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