John Henry is entering his eighth season as principal owner of the Boston Red Sox. With Henry at the helm, the Red Sox have won two World Series and been to the playoffs five times in seven years.
I asked Henry over e-mail about owning the Red Sox, watching the Yankees commit nearly half a billion dollars to free agents CC Sabathia, A.J. Burnett, and Mark Teixeira this winter, and what the current recession means to the Red Sox and Major League Baseball.
TC: What was your immediate reaction when you learned the Yankees had signed Mark Teixeira?
Henry: This was another typical negotiation with [agent] Scott Boras. The Yankees were going to get the last call. We felt that was going to be the case from the beginning and didn’t like our chances — particularly after hearing from the player that Boston was not his preference and [from] the agent that we were the low bidder among clubs. The New York Daily News reported that the player told the Yanks he preferred playing for them from the beginning. So it wasn’t surprising.
TC: That signing was part of a commitment by the Yankees totaling more than $400 million to three free agents this off-season, and they are moving into a new ballpark. Can other teams compete with them in the free-agent market?
Henry: Not at that level.
TC: In the wake of the Mark Teixeira signing, you said the Red Sox “have to be even more careful in deploying our resources” in light of the financial gap between the Yankees and the rest of baseball. Is this a change in philosophy or a continuation of how the Red Sox have always operated under your ownership?
Henry: The timing of that quote was misleading. I gave that quote months ago concerning the impact of the new Yankee Stadium. Right after the Teixeira signing, the Associated Press ran the quote and it appeared to be current. In fact, [Yankees president] Randy Levine responded to it as if it were about the signing — which it wasn’t.
TC: At least one other owner has said this is further proof that the sport needs a salary cap. Do you see that happening?
Henry: It’s difficult to predict the future in baseball or in anything. A salary cap would certainly be great for competitive balance within baseball.
TC: Was Tampa Bay’s run to the American League pennant good for baseball? Do more teams have a chance now than in recent years? And, if it’s good for baseball, is it good for the Red Sox to have that much more competition?
Henry: Tampa Bay’s turnaround was due to an excellent management team now running the club from top to bottom. It was also a triumph of revenue sharing. People seem to think I am opposed to revenue sharing, but that has never been the case. What I have said is there have to be limits when it comes to transferring assets and there have to be incentives for all clubs to invest in their teams.
TC: The Red Sox have done a very good job augmenting the development of prospects with free-agent additions. We’ve heard it called “the Red Sox Way.” How would you describe the Red Sox Way?
Henry: Well, we’ve taken an approach of building from within as much as is practicable. It isn’t easy to move from a very good team getting older to a very good team getting younger. [Executive vice president and general manager] Theo [Epstein] and baseball operations have done a great job in this regard.
TC: How much have you changed as an owner in your time at the helm of the Red Sox? Two championships later, do you still get the same enjoyment from the team?
Henry: I don’t take any of it for granted. Life goes by too rapidly. You have to take time every day to appreciate and realize the value of each day, every month and every season. I remember saying in 2003 and 2004 to people in the organization that we have to make every day of the season enjoyable — as much as we are able in this challenging sport — because if we end up winning the World Series, it would be a shame to have spent a championship season stressed out or unhappily. My philosophy is that if we don’t win a championship, I’ll be upset about it over the off-season. We only have so many seasons to enjoy. I’m really looking forward to 2009. The Yankees and Rays will be very challenging. We’ll have our work cut out for us.
TC: What is the best part about being the principal owner of the Red Sox?
Henry: There are a lot of great parts. But one of the best aspects is the camaraderie we have within and throughout the organization — the ability to work closely with people you respect, admire and like — there’s nothing like that.
TC: How will the recession affect baseball? If there is an effect, what is your forecast for the financial health of the game?
Henry: There will be an effect. No one will escape this Great Unwinding. The Red Sox, our fans and MLB as a whole will be impacted. We just don’t know the extent of it yet at this point.
TC: The Red Sox are still a very hot ticket. How do you keep the business growing in this difficult economy?
Henry: At this point, with the economy where it is, we’re very happy just to try to continue our sellout streak. That demands doing everything we can to be competitive.
TC: Theo Epstein and manager Terry Francona have often pointed out that championships are won in October, not in the middle of winter. That said, do you feel good about your current team’s ability to compete for another championship?
Henry: Yes. It’s hard to predict how one player and especially a group of players will do from one year to the next. The recent history of the Cleveland Indians is illustrative of that point. They have a great organization and a great group of players, but recently they’ve only been able to put things together successfully only every other year. We have a young team and that bodes well for the future, but as the Indians, Yankees, Tigers, Rays and others have shown recently — the game is changing. It’s getting harder and harder to predict who is going to do well.
OT contributor Tom Caron is the studio host of Boston Red Sox broadcasts on the New England Sports Network.
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