When the Red Sox came apart at the seams last season, we all put the blame squarely on Bobby Valentine’s shoulders, but according to some damning things Sox preceding manager Terry Francona and former general manager Theo Epstein have come out and said about the team’s ownership, maybe the problems stemmed just a little further up the totem pole.
The things Francona and Epstein are quoted as saying in Boston Globe columnist Dan Shaughnessy’s new book, Francona: The Red Sox Years do not bode well for Boston owner John Henry, chairman Tom Werner and president Larry Lucchino.
“They told us we didn’t have any marketable players, that we needed some sizzle,” Epstein is quoted as saying. “We need some sexy guys. Talk about the tail wagging the dog. This is like an absurdist comedy. We’d become too big. It was the farthest thing removed from what we set out to be.”
It’s incredible how true that last part actually rings. What made the Sox of the mid-2000s so successful was the fact that they were the opposite of sexy. They were the Idiots, and they broke an 86-year World Series drought, and tacked on another three years later, just for good measure. It was a successful formula, apparently damaged by ownership’s need to bring in “sexy” stars (like Adrian Gonzalez?) But hold on, it gets worse. Because TV ratings>>>on-field success.
The books stated the marketing report said: “(W)omen are definitely more drawn to the ‘soap opera’ and ‘reality-TV’ aspects of the game … They are interested in good-looking stars and sex symbols” — a reference to All-Star second baseman Dustin Pedroia.
Francona said owners refused to let the Red Sox play day games on final days of homestands because of television.
“One thing the players were always asking for was getaway day games,” he said. “The owners would never go for it. They couldn’t have more day games because the ratings were already suffering, and that would have hurt worse.”
What the what? This can’t actually be what happened, can it? It’s so clear that Bobby Valentine — if not a likeable character, then at the very least an intriguing one — had no business managing under such toxic, deluded ownership. At least Terry Francona had the success, long leash and level head to put up with it, but the bug ultimately bit him, and Epstein, too. And you haven’t even read the biggest burn yet.
“They come in with all these ideas about baseball, but I don’t think they love baseball,” [Francona] said. “I think they like baseball. It’s revenue, and I know that’s their right and their interest because they’re owners … and they’re good owners. But they don’t love the game. It’s still more of a toy or a hobby for them. It’s not their blood. They’re going to come in and out of baseball. It’s different for me. Baseball is my life.”
Unfortunately, this is the case with a good deal of owners of pro sports teams. For every Robert Kraft or George Steinbrenner, you get your fair share of John Henry. The next best example that comes to mind is Jets owner Woody Johnson, whose flair for the dramatic has usually outweighed his football prowess. Except unlike Sox ownership, Johnson never had a good team to fuck up in the first place, where it seemed like Red Sox brass did everything in their power to reverse a formula that led to two World Series titles and perennial playoff contention.
As you know, Francona and Epstein have moved on, becoming the manager of the Indians and entering his second year as general manager of the Cubs, respectively. Francona’s book comes out in a week, allowing Bostonians to wallow in full force.
[ESPN, Getty Images]