BALTIMORE — The Red Sox owners have been accused of being disengaged and aloof, but on Thursday night they came to Camden Yards — the House that Larry Lucchino built — taking a detour after a few days of owners meetings in Denver. They were very much interested in the current state of the team and disappointed with the way things have gone.
John Henry, Tom Werner, and Lucchino did not plan on addressing the team, but they rolled up the sleeves on their white shirts to watch up close and personal the struggling Sox on the road. It seemed as though they wanted to show their critics that they do care, as they engaged with their employees during batting practice, around the cage, and in the dugout.
Some will think it’s too little too late. Others will simply wait to see what they do about this 2012 failure after the 2011 failure and the 2010 failure.
The trio spoke to select players and to manager Bobby Valentine, then watched from a private box, not far from where the general manager they inherited in Boston, Dan Duquette, was watching his Orioles take the lead in the first inning. Later on, the trio moved into the stands for a fans’-eye view.
It has been three weeks since a July 26 round table with players and separate meetings with Valentine and the coaches were convened in New York. Although issues were brought up and dealt with at the time, a story on the meetings this week by Yahoo! Sports made the problems brand new.
Ownership has had to deal with the fallout from that story, disputing the suggestion that players were staging a sort of mutiny against Valentine, as Henry issued a statement in which he asserted that none of them ever called for the manager to be fired.
If the owners are disengaged, as some charge, they do not act that way. In fact, they have been far more visible than ever the last few weeks.
They seem to be keeping an eye on things more closely than in the latter years of the Theo Epstein reign, when they trusted the franchise to the GM and spent millions on free agents that didn’t pan out. They also trusted Epstein to fix the problems that surfaced in the clubhouse last season, problems that ultimately weren’t solved.
Now, it appears, with the team at a low point in this 10-year ownership, they realize they need to be more interested and more hands-on.
As much as that appears to be happening, not much has changed in the win-loss column since the New York meetings.
Things on the periphery — some of which really have no bearing on winning and losing, communication issues mostly, and player complaints — may have improved. A dysfunctional team has moved closer toward being on the same page, though much work remains.
But the biggest thing that hasn’t changed is that the Sox continually shoot themselves in the foot on the field.
“Obviously, time is expiring,” said Lucchino. “But there still are 44 games left, so technically we are still alive. Go to St. Louis and Tampa to get a sense of what can happen after this point in the season.
“I know it’s a bit of a long shot, but it’s still interesting baseball to me.”
Obviously, no franchise can win all of the time. Every organization has a bad year or two or three, and Boston is going through that phase. It isn’t as bad as it was pre-Henry/Werner, but it’s the worst it’s been since then.
“The end of 2001 was kind of a low point for the franchise,” Lucchino said. “We recognized that no organization is consistently winning all the time. There’s going to be some tough times and some difficult seasons. We just haven’t had that many of them.
“You don’t have to look that far to see some of those things in the recent past. I said it before: If it’s broke, we’ll fix it. We’re fortunate we have the baseball experience and passion to do it.”
Henry, Werner, and Lucchino say they are determined to fix things this offseason. It won’t be easy or cheap.
There are big contracts that may have to be eaten. They may need to acquire free agents. They may face a tough decision on whether to attempt to sign Jacoby Ellsbury if agent Scott Boras is willing to negotiate a year before free agency.
And they will have to make a decision on Valentine. Should they give him one more year to straighten it out or will they come to the conclusion that he won’t be able to bring it together, even with a different roster?
If this indeed is to be three years out of the playoffs, they have to be worried about their brand taking a hit. And you know that will definitely bring on major changes.
They have turned this into a franchise whose worth is likely more than $1 billion. The last thing they need is to see that worth decline, because all of their other businesses are fueled by the Red Sox brand.
Lucchino conceded that the brand isn’t as strong as it was two years ago.
“It can’t be, because so much of the brand is a reflection of the competitive success we’ve had over the last 10 years,’’ he said. “And a few years ago, we were coming off a not-too-distant world championship, coming off playoff participation.
“To some extent, that brand — and a significant component — is attributable to the on-field success. We’ve taken a few hits.”
The Red Sox lost the first two games of this series. The owners watched from Denver as Aaron Cook’s dismal throwing error in the sixth Wednesday turned a chance to win into a nightmare once again. Thursday night, they saw a glimmer of hope as the Sox bounced back from a 3-1 deficit to win, 6-3.
The owners are seeing what everyone else sees. They heard it from their fellow owners in Denver, where they voted to approve the $800 million sale of the Padres, a team Werner bought in 1990 for $75 million.
Everyone is wondering how a team so talented can be struggling so much. It’s baffling to the rest of baseball.
But sometimes, as on Thursday night, they show their talent.
Now the owners need to figure out what is happening the rest of the time.