Henry: Red Sox strayed from core beliefs
Principal owner acknowledges Valentine was wrong manager for last year's squad
FORT MYERS, Fla. -- Entering his 12th season as the Red Sox's principal owner, John Henry has never had more questions to answer.
For nearly 25 minutes on Monday morning, Henry answered all of them in a wide-ranging picnic-table session with reporters.
Henry acknowledged that the organization strayed from its core beliefs -- such as building from the farm system and avoiding long-term contracts with free agents, and he said that had a great impact on the club's recent struggles.
Henry also mentioned that he took great exception to former manager Terry Francona's claim in his recently-released book that Henry, team president/CEO Larry Lucchino and chairman Tom Werner like baseball, but don't love it.
"We were talking about the Senior League when we were walking out here. I don't think I'll comment on stuff like that, because I would leave that in your hands. You've been around us for 12 years," said Henry. "I'm surprised nobody [in the media] has any comments [about that], and then we would have to defend ourselves in that regard. Again, I don't want to be defensive -- especially about stuff that really is ridiculous. That's ridiculous."
Henry was incredulous that Francona and co-author Dan Shaughnessy asserted in their recent book that owners pressured former general manager Theo Epstein and the baseball operations staff to make "sexy" player acquisitions to help the team improve its television ratings.
"I have to laugh. That's just laughable," Henry said. "The shift in philosophy [was because of that]? … No, no, no. I think we've been over that ground before. I created a lot of news before by being honest about it. It's ludicrous to say that we signed any player since we've been here for PR purposes. I don't think anybody would assert that, and if it's asserted, it's just ludicrous."
Perhaps the bigger problem was this: When Epstein first took over as general manager, he had a Moneyball-style approach in finding gritty players who got on base a lot. The industry eventually caught on to that philosophy, and the players the Red Sox took pride in scoring were no longer undervalued.
"I think people always look for an edge," Henry said. "Not always, but a lot of people look for an edge. If you think that maybe other people are catching on to your edge, you look for another one. But you've got to make sure that whatever edge you're seeking to have is valid, and there was. … We had a big advantage.
"We had, I think, the right philosophy; we spent more money than anyone but the Yankees. It's gotten more difficult. There are a lot more restrictions on spending now, there are more restrictions on the Draft. You've got to be smarter, and you've got to make sure that if you're seeking to have an edge, that it has validity."
Henry also acknowledged that former manager Bobby Valentine was the wrong man for the 2012 Red Sox.
"You know, it's always hard to say how much a manager impacts performance. I think that Bobby Valentine is a great baseball manager -- a great baseball mind," Henry said. "It's clear in retrospect that he wasn't the right man for that group last year, so I don't think you can blame Bobby for that. You can blame us. You can blame me or Larry or Tom. But I think he should manage again, and he could be a great manager for the right team."
And for those who think the Red Sox might have a new ownership group in the near future, Henry emphasized that he plans on being around for a long time -- despite a report in a financial publication last September that said Henry had "quietly shopped" the team to potential buyers.
"No," Henry said, "but after all these reports came out, I got a lot of phone calls from people, and for the last 12 years, honestly, people have come to me and said, 'Don't sell this team without calling me first.' Those people came out of the woodwork as a result of those stories, which had no basis in anything, any fact."
A 69-win season in 2012 -- Boston's lowest win total since 1965 -- has obviously been tough for him to deal with.
"Winning is fun. Losing isn't fun," Henry said. "Again, for us, despite what you may read or see, for us, the joy of this is being successful on the field.
"The thing that's difficult is when you lose. I don't think there's anybody in the organization who doesn't feel it. Certainly the three of us feel it. When we have a loss, it's painful. So last year we had a lot of losses, and that was very painful. I know we [still] enjoy working on this on a daily basis."
Henry maintained that he doesn't own the Red Sox for profit margins, and he said the same goes for Werner and Lucchino.
"Tom and I have made a lot of money over the years, so that doesn't drive us," Henry said. "If it were a driving factor, yes, I'm sure that would be a consideration. The quality of our lives is what drives us, and our competitive spirit. We're determined to be successful, and we have been since Day 1. That hasn't changed. The value of these assets is just something we don't think in terms of. We think in terms of our day-to-day lives."
Though the Red Sox haven't made it to the postseason the past three years, Henry is optimistic about the season ahead.
"Well, I would say especially in comparison to last year, I should be optimistic," Henry said. "You have to be optimistic we won't have the same kind of injuries we had last year. I was told that we expect to have something like 15 percent of our payroll on the DL during any given season. Last year it was 45 percent. We had seven outfielders on the DL at one time. You have to be optimistic that if nothing else, we'll be healthier than we were last year."
Can the Red Sox make it to the postseason in 2013?
"It's hard to know at this point, and we may not be finished [adding players]," Henry said. "I definitely think that we will contend for a playoff spot."
To get back to prominence, Henry spoke of an organization that will get back to believing in what it used to.
"There's no doubt in my mind that we had a core philosophy for a lot of years, and we moved away from that philosophy, and it's hurt us. It's definitely hurt us," Henry said. "Last year, I think, was the beginning of trying to put us back on that track."
Even now, Henry seems a little stunned that the Red Sox abandoned principles that had served them well for a nine-year period, when they made it to the postseason six times and won two World Series championships.
"I think that when you have a certain amount of success, generally, you don't tend to change your philosophy. But in our case, there was a very profound shift in what we were trying to do," Henry said. "It's a good question as to why. I would only be speculating as to why. There was a shift. We made a shift, and I don't think that ultimately, with hindsight, it proved to be [right]. I think the things we did when we first got here and started, which was the basic core philosophy of the Red Sox, was something we needed to get back to."