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Ownership’s fault? Not buying it

By Nick Cafardo
Globe Staff / August 14, 2012
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BALTIMORE — John Henry and Tom Werner have been clobbered by fans and media all season, but when you are in Baltimore, or Pittsburgh, or Kansas City, you gain some perspective.

How would you like to follow a team that hasn’t finished at least .500 in 20 years (the Pirates) or 15 years (the Orioles)? Or how would you like to follow baseball in Miami, where the team is ripped apart and rebuilt so often, or in Oakland, where players come and go like a clearinghouse and the team can’t even find a suitable place to play?

How has it been being a Mets fan, where the owners have been financially disabled by the Bernie Madoff scandal? What about the Dodgers, who went into bankruptcy before being recently purchased? How’d you like to be a Padres fan, or an Astros fan? Or a Cubs fan, with various ownerships unable to produce a World Series title in 103 years?

When you really break it down, the Red Sox ownership group starts to look pretty good, doesn’t it?

There is a perception that Red Sox ownership, which bought the team in 2002 and payrolled it to two World Series championships and $250 million in renovations of Fenway Park, took a dumb pill.

There’s a perception they have abandoned the Red Sox so they could focus on the soccer team they own in England, Liverpool FC. Henry and Werner have made a lot of money because the Red Sox brand has made everything else possible.

You hear that if only they had been more attentive and more meddling this season, it wouldn’t be going so bad.

Isn’t it awful that Red Sox Nation is facing a third straight season of missing the playoffs? That’s nothing in a majority of major league cities.

Boy, are we spoiled around here.

Owning a baseball team is not always smooth and it’s harder than you might think. You have to run it like a business and tough decisions must be made. Sometimes those decisions are right and sometimes they’re not. Sometimes they are perceived as harsh or cruel.

Henry and Werner have made some tough ones in the last 11 months. They parted ways with their manager of eight seasons, Terry Francona, who was at the helm for two World Series titles but also skippered a historic September collapse and had inappropriate clubhouse behavior under his watch, as detailed in an excellent exposé by Globe investigative reporter Bob Hohler.

The decision to fire Francona wasn’t popular in many circles, just as the decision not to fire Bobby Valentine this season wasn’t popular. Yet to Werner and Henry’s credit, they decided to back Valentine based on fairness and given the record number of injuries (25 players spending time on the disabled list).

Something nobody wants to hear is the Red Sox are just having a bad year. But that is a reasonable statement because organizations just don’t win every year. They don’t make the playoffs every year.

Even the high-payroll teams.

In the last decade the Red Sox have won two world championships and made the playoffs six times.

“They’ve had a heck of a run at the top,” said one American League owner. “We’d all kill for that. When you own a team you always want to win. There isn’t anyone in our game that doesn’t want to make the playoffs every year and win a World Series.

But when you had their success and the commitment John and Tom made to that team with payroll and the players they had, that was amazing.

“But it’s a short shelf life. It’s impossible to stay on top of things or stay ahead of things sometimes. It’s almost impossible and inevitable that you’re going to have a down period. You spend a lot of money on players so if you have them under longer commitments, you have to hope they play up to the compensation they receive. But sometimes they don’t. Sometimes they get hurt and that always leaves such a void when that star player isn’t around.

“So I’d say Boston has held up pretty well and been very respectable considering what they were up against. And they’ll figure it out. They’re just giving the rest of the league a break right now.”

Instead of focusing on the big picture, we focus on the last two seasons of missed playoffs, no playoff wins since 2008, the horrible collapse last September, and this sub-.500 season.

We’re sure they aren’t crying the Red Sox a river in Seattle.

Do you think the Phillies, with the most expensive pitching staff in baseball, figured they’d be playing .456 ball in August? Did the Phillies owners take a dumb pill, too? Didn’t the Phillies win a world championship in 2008?

The team with highest payroll every year, the Yankees, has won just one title in the last 11 years.

Every so often, the best teams lose top players and players who used to be good aren’t so good anymore.

There might be a gap in the farm system, depriving the team of young talent. That happens everywhere.

The Red Sox once had elite players in their prime years. They had Manny Ramirez and David Ortiz. They had Pedro Martinez, Curt Schilling, and later Josh Beckett. And they all eventually declined.

Kevin Youkilis began to break down. Mike Lowell faded from his 2007 high. Jason Varitek and his defensive mind wasn’t brought back.

Beckett became a 92-mile-per-hour fastball pitcher. Jon Lester has made only 12 quality starts (out of 24) this year. Clay Buchholz was in danger of being demoted in the first half of the season.

Jacoby Ellsbury and Carl Crawford didn’t return until July. Jonathan Papelbon wasn’t re-signed. Andrew Bailey hasn’t pitched yet.

The Red Sox roster has slowly eroded. The mistake was not getting ahead of it. And when you’re committing $180 million to payroll, it’s hard to get ahead of it because how much more can you add to that?

Sometimes there’s just a period when you have to transition to the next era of Red Sox players.

It’s really that simple. But nobody wants to hear it.

Nick Cafardo can be reached at or on Twitter @nickcafardo.

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