FORT MYERS, Fla. - In heaven, there is no beer.
Same goes for the Red Sox clubhouse.
That’s right, ladies and gentlemen. In the wake of Boston baseball’s bacchanal of 2011, the Sox yesterday said goodbye to suds in the locker room.
I caught up with owner John Henry after manager Bobby Valentine made the announcement and told him that this was the end of 111 years of Red Sox tradition. Down the drain, so to speak.
“We support the manager,’’ said Henry.
This was the day we’d been waiting for. Henry, flanked by ubiquitous wingmen Larry Lucchino and Tom Werner, made it down to the Fort to cut the ribbon on the Sox’ spectacular new spring playpen, and to finally address the troops after the cataclysmic fall of 2011 and the chaotic Boston baseball winter of 2011-12.
It was Henry’s chance to:
1. Comment on no beer in the clubhouse after the disaster of 2011.
2. Deny that he loves Liverpool more than the Red Sox.
3. Promise Sox fans that he’s not done spending on the baseball team.
4. Acknowledge the darkest period of his decade-long ownership.
5. Apologize to Carl Crawford for ripping him during a spontaneous appearance on 98.5 The Sports Hub.
6. Explain why he wouldn’t return phone calls from his fired manager, Terry Francona.
7. Explain why the Sox allowed an under-contract Theo Epstein to go to the Cubs before agreeing on compensation.
8. Deliver one of those patented, Steinbrenneresque win-one-for-the-Gipper pep talks to the 2012 Red Sox.
OK, I made the last one up. Henry never has been one to fire up his troops with rhetoric. But would it have killed him to speak to his team yesterday during the annual “big meeting’’ that launches the season?
He did not. Lucchino spoke to the team. Werner spoke to the team. Bobby Valentine and Ben Cherington spoke to the team. Traveling secretary Jack McCormick and Red Sox Foundation czar Meg Vaillancourt spoke to the team.
But during the 45-minute session - which, by Lucchino’s admission, sets the tone for the entire season - Boston’s low-talking owner said nothing at all. He just stood back and let it all be.
Hard to believe, I know. But that’s John Henry. He has been a great owner and could continue to be a great owner, but he is one quirky guy. And after everything that has happened to his ball club since September of 2011, he chose not to say anything in the biggest meeting of every season. Sort of like an inauguration without an inaugural address. Or a wedding without a toast from the best man.
Any payroll restraints for Cherington?
“No, no payroll restraints, none at all,’’ Henry said, kiddingly.
Lucchino tried to sell the idea that the Marco Scutaro trade (salary dump) was a baseball move. On the heels of that whopper, I asked Henry if he was done spending on the Red Sox.
“The discussion seems to be centering around that we’re not spending money,’’ he said. “We have the second-highest payroll in baseball.’’
But are you done?
“What do you mean?’’ he asked. “No. How are we done? This year, 2012, we have the second-highest payroll. Does that mean we’re not spending?’’
Most of that spending involved pre-existing contracts, we offered.
Lucchino came to Henry’s defense, saying, “No, we are not done. In terms of 2012, it’s only February. We’re not done.
“There are things you do during the season that are possibilities of improving the club. There’s still that option as well.
“Our payroll is going to be in the $190 million range. If you look at it the way we do, you’ll see that. That’s a gigantically large commitment to winning that we have in this organization. If we haven’t proven that to you in 10 years, then shame on us.’’
Regarding the bollixed Epstein compensation issue, Henry said, “If it’s a tough negotiation, both sides generally are a little unhappy with the way it worked. The Cubs probably aren’t happy with it. We probably aren’t happy with it. Given the amount of time that was spent on it, it probably was the appropriate result.
“I think there was a basic misunderstanding between [Cubs owner] Tom Ricketts and I when we first spoke about it. I really admire Tom Ricketts as an owner. We probably had a misunderstanding, at least as far as expectation. There was no real agreement. We probably had different expectations based on our first conversation.’’
Not the first time Henry’s inattentiveness has cost the Sox.
What about Liverpool, John? Have your attention and wallet moved across the Atlantic in the quest to battle Manchester United?
“I’m not actually here right now,’’ Henry joked. “If I were here . . . it’s about baseball. With us, every day is about baseball.
“We have other things . . . but virtually every day there’s something about baseball.
Is his eye still on the ball?
“I think more recently there’s been more to attend to,’’ he acknowledged, without referencing Liverpool, Fenway Roush Racing, or LeBron James.
“We’re there,’’ he added. “We’re at every home game.’’
Is he paying more attention than ever?
Regarding the Sox image, Lucchino said, “We feel we have something to prove,’’ and Werner said, “We accept our share of responsibility. We’ll be more present this year.’’
In the spirit of Mickey Mantle echoing Casey Stengel before Congress (look it up), Henry said, “I agree with what both of them said.’’
Henry said he was not concerned about the direction of the ball club. He said this was the “next chapter,’’ and that the excitement around the team was “palpable.’’ He said he was extremely happy with the leadership of the organization.
Regarding his radio remark that he was against signing Crawford to the $142 million contract, Henry said he planned to speak with Crawford, adding, “I should have never made those comments. It was an off-the-cuff remark I shouldn’t have made.
“When I see him, I’m going to apologize to him. I don’t want to go through it again. I explained it. People don’t seem to want to hear the explanation.’’
Henry caught up with Crawford later in the day and they had their face-to-face meeting. The $142 million would be enough sorry for me, but it’s nice of Henry to think of his player’s feelings.
Regarding a report that Francona hadn’t been able to get a return phone call from Henry, the owner said, “We had a long conversation a few days ago after I found out he was trying to get in touch with me. It was a great conversation, one that we should have had prior to this.
“As he said, we were able to clear the air. I think there were points of view that we both had about last year when he left, so it was good.
“He said he didn’t leave any messages, but that he tried to call me on my cell phone. I wasn’t avoiding him. As soon as I heard that, I called him.’’
Lastly, what about no beer in the clubhouse. Is this not the end of an era?
“It’s the beginning of a new era,’’ said the owner.