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Questions abound on both sides following Red Sox sale report

Posted by Matt Pepin, Boston.com Staff  September 14, 2012 09:47 AM

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John Henry always has been worried about this, from the very beginning, from the time he and his partners took control of the Red Sox. Henry quickly understood that Boston was uniquely provincial, that New Englanders were guarded, that no one trusted him. He knew that he was looked upon as a modern day carpetbagger, a corporate raider here to merely flip the Red Sox for a profit.

And so back in 2002, Henry asked how he and his partners could fight that notion.

The answer given him?

You stay.

Now here we are, 10 years later, and Charles Gasparino of the FOX Business Network has reported that the Red Sox are at least "mulling" a sale in the wake of the historic trade that felt like a corporate gutting. Henry denies this. On the baseball side, Boston felt liberated by the trade that sent Adrian Gonzalez, Josh Beckett, and Carl Crawford to the Los Angeles Dodgers. On the business side, people like Gasparino saw it as a quarter-billion-dollar downsizing that could make the Sox far more appealing to prospective buyers.

The truth, as always, probably rests somewhere in the space between, and we all know that semantics are everything when the temperature gets hottest. If the Sox are "mulling" a sale, does that mean they will sell? No. But even Henry has publicly stated that he never intended to own the club for more than 20-25 years, which puts him and his partners somewhere around the 50-yard line.

Given the developments at Fenway Park over the last year or two, would it be a shocking if the Sox decided to just punt?

Questions obviously abound in the wake of a story like this, so let's at least try to provide some background and context. After the Red Sox won the World Series in 2007, one could have argued that the value of the franchise was at an all-time high. The Sox had won two titles in four seasons. Their average television rating was a mind-blowing 12. (By the end of 2012, that number had essentially been cut in half; it now sits at roughly 7.5.) There was speculation that Henry and his partners could double their original $700 million investment and leave Boston forever.

Wham, bam, thank you Ma'am.

I specifically asked Henry at the time: why wouldn't you just sell now? His answer? That when he and Tom Werner bought the team, they agreed on "20 good years," a play on the Werner-produced NBC sitcom of the same name. (The show went belly-up in a matter of months.) Henry then said that he and Werner had since amended their agreement to 25 years, which theoretically extend their ownership to roughly 2027.

Since that time, a great deal has changed. Henry has remarried. Fenway Sports Group bought Liverpool and went into business with LeBron James. Theo Epstein left the Sox a second time and the Red Sox have tumbled into last place in the American League East.

If it is possible, Boston trusts Henry and his partners even less than when they arrived here.

Whether or not Henry, Werner, and team president Larry Lucchino ever want to admit it, they have a credibility problem in this market and they always have. Much of it stems from their inability to honestly and sincerely communicate with the media or the fan base. Nonetheless, the first six or seven years of the Henry era were wildly successful, the Red Sox winning a pair of World Series titles and twice reaching Game 7 of the American League Championship Series.

As angry as Sox fans have been, dating back to September of last year, here's the question: are the Red Sox owners and operators capable of recreating the operation that existed from roughly 2003 to 2008? Can winning here (and not money-making) ever mean as much to Henry and Werner as it did then? If you believe the answers are yes, then you should not want this group to sell. If the answers are no, then let's hope Henry and his partners are telling lies and have every intention of unloading the franchise sooner rather than later.

Whatever you choose, be careful what you wish for. Frank McCourt is a native Bostonian and wanted the Red Sox back in 2002 ... and he bankrupted the Los Angeles Dodgers several years later. The answer isn't always inside of 128. The most frustrating part of the Henry era is that the Red Sox had a budding baseball dynasty, then let it slip through their fingers solely because they wanted to move on to new, bigger, and more exciting things.

Be it in 15 months or 15 years, Henry is going to sell the Red Sox. Eventually, he and Werner will stuff their belongings back into their carpet bags and leave New England. Maybe they've already started collecting some of their things. In 10 years, we have learned that the owners of the Red Sox are just as capable of building a World Series winner as they are of running a franchise into the ground, which makes them at least 50 percent better than ownership the Red Sox possessed for the large majority of the 20th Century.

Assuming, of course, that staying has any value to them at all anymore.

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About Mazz

Tony Massarotti is a Globe sportswriter and has been writing about sports in Boston for the last 19 years. A lifelong Bostonian, Massarotti graduated from Waltham High School and Tufts University. He was voted the Massachusetts Sportswriter of the Year by his peers in 2000 and 2008 and has been a finalist for the award on several other occasions. This blog won a 2008 EPpy award for "Best Sports Blog".

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