Henry holds court in Fort Myers
One day before Red Sox pitchers and catchers take the field for the first official team workout, owner John Henry spoke to the media in a wide-ranging, 25-minute discussion.
Entering his 12th season as the principal owner, Henry knows that the team was never in more dire straits than a year ago, when they went 69-93 and finished in last place.
While Henry again said that he thinks Bobby Valentine is a good manager, he was candid in acknowledging that Valentine was the wrong man for the 2012 Red Sox. Henry said that the three leaders of the ownership group — Henry, president/CEO Larry Lucchino and chairman Tom Werner — should bear the responsibility for making the wrong choice in Valentine.
The owner also took great exception to former manager Terry Francona’s claim in his recently-released book that Henry, Lucchino and Werner like baseball, but don’t love it.
Here are several samplings from Henry’s candid address.
Why is Henry optimistic going into 2013? “Well I would say especially in comparison to last year, I should be optimistic. You have to be optimistic we won’t have the same kind of injuries we had last year. I was told that we expect to have something like 15 percent of our payroll on the DL during any given season. Last year it was 45 percent. We had seven outfielders on the DL at one time. You have to be optimistic that if nothing else, we’ll be healthier than we were last year.”
Henry thinks that the loss of core organizational philosophies — such as building within the farm system and not over-extending with long-term deals with free agents — is most responsible for the recent demise of the franchise. “There’s no doubt in my mind that we had a core philosophy for a lot of years and we moved away from that philosophy and it’s hurt us. It’s definitely hurt us. Last year, I think was the beginning of trying to put us back on that track.”
When, why did the core philosophy change? “I think that when you have a certain amount of success, generally, you don’t tend to change your philosophy but in our case, there was a very profound shift in what we were trying to do. It’s a good question as to why. I would only be speculating as to why. There was a shift. We made a shift and I don’t think that ultimately with hindsight, it proved to be … I think the things we did when we first got here and started, which was the basic core philosophy of the Red Sox, was something we needed to get back to.”
Henry was incredulous that Francona and co-author Dan Shaughnessy asserted in their recent book that owners pressured former GM Theo Epstein and the baseball operations staff to make ‘sexy’ player acquisitions to help the team improve its television ratings. “I have to laugh. That’s just laughable [that] the shift in philosophy [was because of that] … No, no, no, I think we’ve been over that ground before. I created a lot of news before by being honest about it. It’s ludicrous to say that we signed any player since we’ve been here, for PR purposes. I don’t think anybody would assert that. And if it’s asserted, it’s just ludicrous.”
Did the Red Sox shift their philosophy because they were trying to find another competitive advantage? “I think people always look for an edge. Not always, but a lot of people look for an edge. If you think that maybe other people are catching on to your edge, you look for another one. But you’ve got to make sure that whatever edge you’re seeking to have is valid and there was … we had a big advantage. We had, I think, the right philosophy, we spent more money than anyone but the Yankees. It’s gotten more difficult. There are a lot more restrictions on spending now, there are more restrictions on the draft. You’ve got to be smarter, and you’ve got to make sure that if you’re seeking to have an edge, that it has validity.”
Henry, Lucchino and Werner don’t love baseball, according to Francona? “Uh, we were talking about the Senior League when we were walking out here. I don’t think I’ll comment on stuff like that because I would leave that in your hands. You’ve been around us for 12 years. I’m surprised nobody [in the media] has any comments and then we would have to defend ourselves in that regard.”
So you do love the game? “Again, I don’t want to be defensive. Especially about stuff that really is ridiculous. That’s ridiculous. “
Can the Red Sox win in 2013? “Yes.”
Can the Red Sox make the playoffs in 2013? “It’s hard to know at this point and we may not be finished [adding players]. I definitely think that we will contend for a playoff spot.”
Evaluating GM Ben Cherington: “Yeah, again, this week he took responsibility for what happened last year. but I think, again, part of the responsibility that I think we have and maybe we haven’t done as a good a job on it, is that we haven’t had the kind of depth that it turns out that we need. That’s one thing that he’s worked on, that we’ve worked on this year, to think more in terms of depth, to plan more for an injury. It’s difficult. When you have your best players injured, even if you have sufficient depth, it’s hard to be a playoff team.”
How much responsibility does Bobby Valentine deserve for last season? “You know, it’s always hard to say how much a manager impacts performance. I think that Bobby Valentine is a great baseball manager – a great baseball mind. It’s clear in retrospect that he wasn’t the right man for that group last year. So, I don’t think you can blame Bobby for that. You can blame us. You can blame me or Larry or Tom. But I think he should manage again and he could be a great manager for the right team.”