Long before Red Sox principal owner John W. Henry invested in the commodities market and developed the trading model that would make him a billionaire, he was deeply emotionally invested in another business — St. Louis Cardinals baseball.
That’s right. There is not only a Cardinals fan in our midst at 4 Yawkey Way, but at the top of the Red Sox masthead. Well, a recovering Cardinals fan now.
In another time, the owner of the Red Sox (and, via obligatory disclosure, the Boston Globe and its affiliated media properties) would not have been eagerly anticipating a Boston baseball celebration following Game 6 of the World Series Wednesday night at Fenway Park. He would have been wracked with anxiety about the Cardinals staving off elimination.
“I was a huge fan. I lived for the Cardinals when I was a boy,” said Henry, speaking from a room near the visitors clubhouse in Busch Stadium, after the Sox won Game 5 to take a three-games-to-two lead in the World Series.
The Cardinals and players like Stan Musial, Bob Gibson, and Ken Boyer were practically like extended family for Henry, who grew up on farms in Paloma, Ill., and Forrest City, Ark., listening to games on the radio.
“I lived on a farm where the nearest neighbor was over a mile away,” he said, recalling Paloma. “I had Cardinal games and statistics. I kept stats from as far back as I could remember.”
In 1982, Henry was in Houston on his first business trip for his fledgling firm, John W. Henry & Co., when the Cardinals won the World Series.
Henry remained such a devout Cardinals fan into adulthood that he cried when Bruce Sutter struck out Milwaukee’s Gorman Thomas for the final out.
With a win in Game 6, Henry’s club probably caused some tears among Cardinal fans and heartbreak in the heartland.
The Sox had two chances to win a World Series on home turf for the first time since 1918 and they only needed one, winning Game 6, 6-1. It’s a circumstance that few expected them to be in after the ignominious 2012 season, the nadir of Henry’s ownership.
The theme of this season for the Sox has been redemption. Who else but Game 6 winner John Lackey, who epitomizes the team’s transformation from last-place pariahs to hirsute heroes, could’ve taken the mound in the clincher? ?
Cardinals fans are renowned for their unwavering, almost Pollyannaish support of their team. We do it a little differently here, as Henry knows.
Henry, team chairman Tom Werner, and president/CEO Larry Lucchino took as much of a public flogging as any of the players after the epic collapse in 2011 was followed by 2012, the worst Red Sox season (69-93) since 1965.
Ownership that had delivered two World Series titles became a frequent target of fan and media ire. Like Big Papi on a fastball, public opinion turned quickly and with great force.
Henry dismissed the idea that 2012 and the criticism it spawned served as extra motivation to get the Sox back to the World Series.
“This organization has never needed motivation,” Henry wrote in an e-mail. “It’s a highly motivated group throughout.
“That’s what made 2012 so difficult. It’s not the media carping, it’s losing that is difficult. Very difficult.”
OK, but I think you have to give an assist to the most passionate fans in baseball for creating a backlash that prompted some organizational self-evaluation.
In Game 3 of this series at St. Louis, the Sox learned how difficult losing in October can be.
Henry said he was extremely proud of how the Sox responded to win two straight in St. Louis following a gut-wrenching loss on the now-famous obstruction call on Will Middlebrooks.
“These guys, as [bench coach] Torey Lovullo said to me about a month ago, find a way to win,” said Henry. “It’s extraordinary.”
So, too, is the idea of an ardent Cardinals fan having the chance to beat his boyhood team not once but twice in the World Series in less than a decade.
Henry said he still pulls for the Cardinals in the National League and counts being interviewed by legendary Cardinals broadcaster/raconteur Jack Buck among his greatest thrills in baseball.
When Henry owned the Marlins, he got to throw out the first pitch with his boyhood idol and the patron saint of St. Louis baseball, Musial.
“He could play ‘The Star-Spangled Banner’ with the harmonica,” said Henry. “He was a great harmonica player.”
But don’t worry, Sox fans. Despite his fond memories and the professional admiration he expressed for the current Cardinals, Henry’s loyalties have obviously and unequivocally shifted to the Red Sox, the team he has owned since 2002.
Think of the Cardinals as his high school sweetheart, and the Red Sox as the supermodel he went on to marry.
Henry has been through this before, after all.
The Sox vanquished the Cardinals in 2004, as the Olde Towne Team beat Henry’s old favorite team in four games to end an 86-year hardball hex.
Henry made a point of mentioning the way the Cardinals fans opened up their stadium and their hearts to Red Sox fans, allowing those who had made the pilgrimage to St. Louis to witness a moment 86 years in the making to revel in it.
The Cardinals were on the precipice of being foils for another historic moment in Red Sox history: the first World Series title celebrated on the verdant Fenway Park lawn since Woodrow Wilson was in the White House.
Henry’s boyhood dreams of Cardinal Octobers have given way to his adult desire to see the Red Sox restoration completed with World Series hardware.
He has divested himself of the Redbirds. He is fully invested — both financially and emotionally — in the Red Sox.Christopher L. Gasper can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @cgasper.