John Henry, the 60-year-old principal owner of the Boston Red Sox, is a strange cat. He’s often seen on the tube at Fenway Park, courtesy of his obliging employees at the New England Sports Network (NESN), looking like a modern-day Banquo’s ghost and, on the occasion of a live interview, with about as much to say. Several times a season, Henry and his far more loquacious management comrades—no slur intended, although Henry and Sox GM Theo Epstein are staunch Democrats, who undoubtedly hope their 2004 ace Curt Schilling, a Republican, doesn’t run for Teddy Kennedy’s vacant seat in Massachusetts—amble into the lair of Sox announcers Jerry Remy and Don Orsillo, and the man says about as much as Calvin Coolidge. It’s painful watching Henry looking so pained—mortified!—at having to open his mouth.
Yet Henry, an asthmatic who grew up in Illinois, Arkansas and California, and as a youngster favored the St. Louis Cardinals and Stan Musial, has embraced the digital age with a ferociousness that’s uncommon for a man his age. He Tweets (although now on hiatus), wears out his thumbs texting and, until recently, was a regular presence on Facebook. (In fairness, despite his retiring personality, Henry has amassed a fortune running his eponymous trading company, John W. Henry & Co., founded in 1981, so apparently he was able to communicate on some level.) Now Henry, who fulfilled his sports dream by—along with Epstein, Tom Werner and Larry Lucchino—creating “Red Sox Nation” (a fairly obnoxious marketing term to those who don’t share my lifelong affection for the Sox) after buying the team in 2002, has begun a blog on NESN, the inauguration of which was mentioned by Orsillo about two dozen times during the course of Sunday’s game against the Rays.
On the one hand, it’s an extraordinary step for a baseball owner to jot down thoughts about his team for everyone to see. And his second post, a gooey valentine to the team’s struggling and beloved icon, David Ortiz, was engaging. Ortiz, as is well known throughout baseball, is no skinflint, and with his wife Tiffany heads up numerous charities in Boston and his native Dominican Republic. (As I’ve noted previously, it’s the Hispanics in MLB who, perhaps because of their impoverished backgrounds, are, by and large, the most generous ballplayers.) After ticking off examples of Big Papi’s Big Heart, Henry then ripped into Boston’s media for its harsh treatment of the star after it was (illegally) leaked that he may have tested positive for performance enhancing drugs in 2003. Henry writes: “Even after David offered an articulate defense of his actions, no member of the media said that perhaps there had been a rush to judgment, or that perhaps their remarks should be reexamined, or that perhaps, given their knowledge of David’s character, he should be given the benefit of the doubt.”
Who doesn’t relish a catfight between a baseball owner and the grunts who cover the team for a living? It’s hard to believe Ortiz, and hundreds of other players during this era, wasn’t on some kind of “juice,”—not that I particularly care—and Henry isn’t very convincing when he expects a hometown pass from the media.
All of which is to say that Henry’s blog seems, at least to me, as just the latest cog in his ever-expanding gingerbread house known as New England Sports Ventures. A daily commercial, if you will. Now, it’d be uncharitable not to give Henry and his team credit for adding seats to Fenway Park each year, milking every cent they can from the 1912 facility (which, despite the grandeur of, say, the “Monster Seats,” is still a dump) from round-the-clock tours of the “little lyrical bandbox” to allowing big name concerts to take place there. Still, I find it somewhat incredulous, as Henry claims in his first post, that he was “asked” by NESN to write the blog.
Henry says it’s important for a baseball franchise owner to have a sense of humor, especially “when you lose 60 games a year.” (More than that in ’09, but no matter.) Okay, I’m a fan of humor, but the following words didn’t crack me up: “I’ll try to write about meaningful subjects and provide meaningful information when I can about what I can. Most of it will simply be my opinions because I don’t have all of the answers regarding the Boston Red Sox, Roush Fenway Racing, Fenway Sports Group, NESN, iRacing.com, JWH or Fenway Park—they’re too large and dynamic—each in their own right. But I’ll try here at NESN.com to give you a view on these entities from my perspective.”
Hey, don’t know about you, but I can’t wait for his first post on Roush Fenway Racing!
As I wrote above, Henry’s blog is a novel idea, and one can only imagine how Yanks’ owner George Steinbrenner, had the technology existed in his heyday, would’ve come up with, but unless I’m completely off the mark this blog is just another marketing ploy, a daily public relations sheet, that’s all about Henry’s commercial interests. No harm in that—it’s what a businessman does—but dressing it up as a service to Sox (and racing) fans is too rich for my blood.