Interview with John Henry
Q. Generally, what's your overall hope for this team?
A. Each year we set a goal of making the playoffs while at the same time building our farm system and seeking to ensure that what we do during any particular year is not going to substantially hurt our chances to make the playoffs in the future. It isn't easy to do any of these three and very difficult to do all three each year. But those are our goals. Those are our goals because we know the fans have the same goals.
Q. How do you like its composition at this point?
A. I feel very good about the composition of the team, the front office and the organization as a whole. We're focused and unrelenting.
Q. With the team missing the playoffs last season, and finishing in third place, is it unrealistic to expect this team to make the postseason every year, given the payroll?
A. It is probably unrealistic to expect to make the playoffs off every year. We talk about 80% of the time as a goal but the goal is really every year. I consider the year to be a failure if we don't make the playoffs. Last year was a failure on our part. We didn't have enough depth and we had too many injuries. I've never seen a first place team collapse like that. But we were scotch-taped together prior to that.
Q. How often have you been able to watch them in spring training?
A. I watch less and less of spring training because the season is so long and our teams are generally set up pretty well heading into March. As a spectator it is very difficult to judge what is going on with position players and pitchers. The business of the Red Sox is a 12-month occupation so there is plenty to do other than watch spring training. Players are preparing and so are we, but in different places. The best thing about spring training is the atmosphere and fans. But spring training is much too long.
Q. Will you be watching in either Kansas City or Texas?
A. I'll be in Kansas City. It's a beautiful ballpark and there is nothing like opening day. The Royals' owner, David Glass, is one of the most respected men in baseball. He reminds me of the old EF Hutton commercials: when he speaks the room goes completely silent; there is rapt attention. I look forward to seeing him there. As we saw last year, the Royals have improved greatly.
Q. Where are you currently? When will you be heading to Kansas City? What, for you, is the best part about opening day? What do you look forward to the most?
A. I am in Florida and will be heading to KC on Opening Day. Tom Boswell wrote a great book called "Why Time Begins on Opening Day." He is a great writer and a great fan. He cautions in the book that it is important to revel in the mundane rather than the spectacular. But Opening Day is to me a bigger spectacle than the World Series. Every baseball fan in the country is wonderful - meaning full of wonder - and expectant, excited. The pageantry is going on all over the country - not just in one ballpark.
Q. What has surprised you about the results of the Daisuke Matsuzaka signing?
A. The most surprising aspect has been how much the signing of this one man has seemed to uplift our entire region. It is remarkable and a great thing. He seems to be comfortable with all of the expectations. I imagine this is because the expectations he places on himself are so much larger. He is so likeable and such a good man, we're all going to be rooting for him on and off the field. One thing he will have to understand is that the passion of the fans has incredible exuberance in Boston. He will have to learn that what sometimes seems out of control is really just primarily exuberance and good will.
Q. Has the response been what you expected? What have you thought about his performance?
A. It's spring training and he has had a lot of adjustments to make. I've enjoyed his performances and he's been amazing, but all of us now are focused on the regular season.
Q. How much contact have you had with the Japanese media contingent?
A. Some. They have been absolutely great to work with and to interact with. I love having them aboard.
Q. How much time have you spent with him in person since he signed, and what have you thought about his personality and ability to handle the demands that will be put on him playing both in Major League Baseball and with the Red Sox?
A. I've tried to stay away because he has so many demands on him. I don't want to add to that. It's somewhat the same with Theo. It would be easy and fun to hang out with the baseball operations staff during the season, but they have enough going on without me looming! Matsuzaka-san is just as remarkable a person as he is a pitcher.
Q. You mention not wanting to loom over anyone, whether it be the baseball operations staff or Matsuzaka. How do you decide how much input to have? Or how often to be around? Is it difficult to balance an obvious joy in baseball with wanting to let everyone do their job?
A. I question everything and I suggest a lot of things. But we are consensus builders - all of us. And we reach consensus because there is so much respect among us. Make no mistake, Larry runs the Red Sox, Theo runs baseball operations and Sean runs NESN. Tom and I are very involved strategically and very involved with league-level issues.
Q. How much are you looking forward to seeing him pitch in games that actually count? What do you think should be expected of him this season? How important is it to welcome not just Matsuzaka, but Japanese fans to Fenway?
A. Next Thursday should be a lot of fun. I know from David Glass, the KC fans are really looking forward to it. I expect Matsuzaka-san to greatly enjoy the challenge of the American League East. It is genuinely exciting to hear about the growing number of Japanese citizens who are discovering all that Boston has to offer. I am told they are learning via the Internet about the history of the region and the city as well as all that Boston has to offer as a destination beyond Fenway. Reservations from Japan are exploding.
Q. How much input did you have in the decision to turn Jonathan Papelbon from a starter to a closer?
A. You could say I was involved, but that it is not my decision. This was Jon's decision. We have tremendous respect for him and great expectations for his career. It is up to us to help him maximize his abilities and attain his career goals in any way we can. They are completely consistent with the club's goals. I believe he would have been a very effective starter, but we know he has the rare psychological qualities of a dominant closer.
Q. What is your thinking about the switch? Where do you stand on the argument of whether a starter or a reliever is more important to a ballclub? How much do you think confidence in the person coming in at the end of games impacts a club?
A. A starter contributes more innings, but it is difficult to dispute the impact there is on a club that has a Mariano Rivera or a Jon Papelbon sitting out in their bullpen.
Q. How much better will it make you feel to have someone with a 0.92 ERA last season in that role?
A. I believe we have a strong bullpen. The problem is that, for some reason, fans don't often expect relievers to give up any runs. Major league teams score runs in the 7th, 8th, and 9th innings just like they do in the first 6. No one has a perfect bullpen or a perfect rotation. They are going to struggle from time to time and get hot from time to time. We're much stronger there this year than we were last year; the rotation too.
Q. How much do you worry about injury and his shoulder in that role? Is there a commitment to have him continue his career as a closer, or is this a decision that you think should be re-evaluated at the end of the season?
A. Everyone and everything is evaluated at the end of a season, but the doctors have told Jon that his shoulder is strong enough to be the closer-- much stronger than it was late in the season-- and he will be watched. He is extremely diligent with his shoulder program. This decision would not have been made if there were substantive concerns. His career is more important than his 2007 role.
Q. With the increase in payroll this season, the Red Sox are looking more like the Yankees of the past six or so years. How then does that fit with Theo's assertion last August that the Sox can't compete with the financial resources of the Yankees? Would this payroll number represent the upper level of what's possible for the Sox, or is there room to go from here?
A. Last August Theo was referencing the trade deadline. As it turned out there was not a trade we could have consummated that would have made up for the injuries that beset the Club. We were fortunate that we didn't do anything, as much effort was put into making a deal. We continue to narrow the revenue gap with the Yankees, but they still have 57,000 seats and they are not having a hard time selling them. I began saying internally last August that we needed to close the payroll gap going forward and we have somewhat, but not only is it incredibly expensive, it is a losing battle because they are moving into a new ballpark in 2009.
MLB is determined to limit our baseball revenues. They are determined to take more and more. Incredibly they now seem determined to invade local media markets. We have no choice but to look outside of baseball to grow our overall enterprise and business revenues, hence the move into NASCAR where revenue sharing does not exist. Free enterprise is the hallmark of NASCAR and that makes it very attractive in comparison.
Q. Will the new ballpark put the Yankees out of reach in terms of payroll ability? If it's a "losing battle," what happens then? At that point, what more can you do to find additional revenue streams to make up for the new park? Do NASCAR-like opportunities become more of a priority?
A. You do the best you can. That's what we always do. You acknowledge that you will never be able to outspend the Yankees and then you proceed accordingly. We do everything we can improve the club on and off the field every year and we will continue to do that.
Q. How concerned have you been with the decrease in offensive production over the past couple of years? [From 961 in 2003, to 949 in 2004, to 910 in 2005, to 820 in 2006.] How will this offense compare to those?
A. Those numbers above 900 are huge. The important number is the amount of runs scored minus the number of runs allowed. Last year we had two players who produced a huge amount of runs: Manny and David. This year we expect much more balance and to score a lot more than 820 runs.
Q. How important is it to have a No. 5 hitter to protect Manny Ramirez, given the lack of production [bottom of the league] from that spot last season? Are you worried at all about the injury history of J.D. Drew? How do you think he will fit in on this team, given the concerns about his passion for baseball in the past?
A. I'm not worried about J.D. Drew at all. Our opponents should though. This is going to be one tough lineup. I love to watch J.D. bat. You can no longer pitcher around Manny Ramirez.
Q. Did Curt Schilling consult you on starting his blog, or have you spoken to him about it? Do you read it? How often?
A. Curt doesn't need to consult with us on his outside interests, but he does. I'm sure I talk with Curt more than any other player. Curt has more to say than anyone else. It's a very interesting blog and very well done. We're both emailers and I have a blog as well, it just hasn't reached the surface yet by design.
Q. Of course, I have to ask about your blog. How long have you had it? To whom is it directed? Family and friends? People who stumble upon it? What do you write about? When you say it hasn't reached the surface "yet," does that mean it will?
A. I'm sure it will, but it represents a time commitment. If it were truly public it wouldn't make sense for me to write sporadically. I have enough going on that I am not sure I want to be tied to a blog. I don't think many people have found the domain name it resides under. But at some point.
Q. Is there any concern on your end about things he might reveal in the blog, like the Papelbon news? Have there been any directives to him about what he's able to reveal on the blog, and what should be kept in house?
A. Curt has been effectively blogging on the Internet for some time. Now he has an official one. He sent an apology about the timing of the Papelbon story, but he didn't need to. He didn't purposely cause a stir. We don't tell him what he can say. He's a damned good source for news and opinion!
Q. How do you feel about the decision not to meet his demands for a new contract for next season?
A. I don't believe anyone could have handled the situation with more class than he has. He didn't demand anything. He wanted to avoid a season of "WHAT'S GOING TO HAPPEN?!?"" Both sides want to see him in a Red Sox uniform next year. We're all clear on that. He wanted to avoid the distraction. We wanted to wait. But, as I said, we all want the same thing next year. His family, my family and the entire organization.
Q. Would you be open to negotiations continuing during the season, despite his claims that he doesn't want to negotiate while the season goes on? How do you feel about the potential for losing him for the last year (or years) of his career?
A. Curt and Shonda are committed to our community and the Red Sox. The Red Sox are committed to the Schillings. Of course, I was the one most surprised when Theo didn't sign his contract initially, but I would be very surprised if we can't get something done. But if we try to start the process during the season, well there are no secrets in baseball (a Lucchinoism). We'll wait.
Q. With what has happened with some of the young arms -- Cla Meredith, Craig Hansen -- is there any worry on your part about how the organization is bringing along its young pitching, especially with the size of the contract signed by Hansen?
A. Craig was pitching in school 20 months ago. No one should write him off. Baseball players don't go directly from school to the majors. He is going to be a big part of this team for a long time. It's also evident that there is nothing wrong with Cla. Both of them came up too early. I worried about both of them coming up early, but we were just out of pitching last year. We had to go to Craig. Both of them will be very successful and effective pitchers.
Q. What was your reaction to Manny Ramirez's late arrival? Given his offensive abilities, is there ever a scenario when his trade requests and oddities become too much? Or is the threshold so high because of his talent? What do you expect out of him this season?
A. Gee, I thought Manny arrived early. I was in a department store and saw on CNN a headline and a picture: "Manny reports early". He is focused and ready for the season. I expect him to have a great, great year. He has J.D. hitting behind him. Watch out for Manny this year.
Q. What prompted the gift of the truck to David Ortiz? Is this something you do often, gifts for players? Why?
A. It's a long story. The short story is this. I always tell David he is the engine that drives this team; he's like a truck. I saw a super truck -- an evolutionary, huge truck called the Super Chief. I don't know if they are ever going to make more than a prototype of it, but when I saw it I thought of Papi as our Super Chief. Well this year Toyota and Ford have produced enormous trucks that are incredibly well done and I just did it. I didn't think it would be a story. The fact is David is one of kind and you want to find ways to let him know how much you appreciate what he brings to the franchise as the perennial Most Valuable Player in the American League in my book, as the perennial MVP with regard to what he brings to our clubhouse, as the perennial MVP with regard to what he brings to our community with his efforts on behalf of kids. You know when he went through the rapid heartbeat episode due to stress last year, it brought into focus just how much he means to all of us, how much all of us in New England love the man. The truck wasn't a big deal, it was just symbol of appreciation. I'm sure there are better ways to show it; after all he drives a Lamborghini. But it was a spur of the moment thing, sort like the Greatest Clutch Hitter of All Time plaque. He did it again one night (another clutch, dramatic, walk-off home run) and there we were - Tom, Larry and I - marching down to the clubhouse to present him with this plaque. We had it made a few months earlier (Phil Morse crafted it) and I knew it was just a matter of time before we would have to present it to him. He's one of a kind.
Q. What do you think about the team's chances to land Roger Clemens this season? How interested are you in having that happen? Have you reached out to him or his agents recently? How important would that be for the on-field product, and for him to potentially end his career where it began?
A. It's the perfect conclusion to his career. The return to Boston to fight for a final world championship. This is more than a dream scenario; it's a dream scenario that is a very real possibility. Somewhere in California right now Tom is writing the script. Larry and Theo are executing it. And my partners -- all of them who never get any public credit -- are going to be the ones who make it possible. But if he comes, it will be for one reason: It will be for the fans who gave him a standing ovation the last time he pitched at Fenway, the fans of New England who love the game and adored him even when he wore a Yankee uniform.