“If you could afford it, would you own a major league baseball team? I can’t imagine anything more fun … I have nothing to complain about. How could I possibly complain? Everyone in this community loves the Red Sox so much.”
— Red Sox principal owner John Henry, September 2008.
FORT MYERS, Fla. — Has owning the Red Sox stopped being fun?
This is one of the questions I wanted to ask John Henry at Fenway South Monday. Henry was there with his wife, Linda Pizzuti Henry, and Red Sox CEO Sam Kennedy for the annual ownership meeting with players and team support staff.
But he wasn’t taking questions. Not in the conventional way, at least.
From 2002-20, Henry & Co. engaged in a state-of-the-team press conference after their annual pep talk to the team at spring training. The pandemic and lockout interrupted that tradition in 2021 and 2022, but now Henry won’t take questions in a live setting. He prefers email questions, which produce careful, canned answers.
The Globe submitted questions via e-mail to Henry last Friday. Other media outlets — some of which did not request access — were invited to do the same. As of early Monday evening, Henry had yet to respond to the Globe’s questions. He did, however, deliver email answers to The Athletic and the Boston Sports Journal Sunday, and in both interviews, Henry complained about a “false narrative” in coverage of his team.
He contested reports that he was booed at Fenway’s Winter Classic hockey game. While acknowledging that fans did “shout us down” at the club’s Winter Weekend in Springfield, he asked The Athletic, “Did anyone report the standing ovation at the end?”
Henry has morphed into Boston baseball’s Howard Hughes. The man who owns New England’s largest newspaper (Henry bought the Globe in 2013) hasn’t taken questions from the media in a live setting since February of 2020 after the Sox traded Mookie Betts.
Henry, Pizzuti Henry, and Kennedy arrived at Fenway South just before 9 a.m. Monday, quickly ducking into the team’s executive office building. The organizational meeting in the clubhouse lasted about an hour (Henry did not address his team; Kennedy did) and when it was over, the reclusive owner — he was miked up by Red Sox in-house media — came out for a meet-and-greet with folks from the Fort Myers area who lost their homes in Hurricane Ian last September.
While Henry chatted with the mayor of Fort Myers Beach, Kennedy conducted an impromptu baseball press conference with New England media.
After the hurricane victims left, Henry had brief chats with Sox pitchers Kutter Crawford, James Paxton, and Corey Kluber. WBZ-TV’s Dan Roche crept in for a quick question and asked, “Any message for Sox fans?”
“Hang in there,” Henry said into Roche’s cellphone camera.
The owner waved off a second question, then went over to chat with longtime clubhouse manager Edward “Pookie” Jackson. Minutes later, Henry sat and chatted (off the record) with WBZ’s Jonny Miller, who has been covering spring training since 1972.
I have a theory about why Henry doesn’t like answering questions in a live setting. It’s because he has a tendency to blurt out truths, which is rarely beneficial when you run professional sports teams.
Remember when Theo Epstein resigned on Halloween 2005 after an in-house dust-up with then-CEO Larry Lucchino? A sad Henry took questions at Fenway a few days later and said, “Maybe I’m not fit to be the principal owner of the Boston Red Sox.”
Fortunately for Sox fans, Henry stuck around and won World Series again in 2007, 2013, and 2018.
Henry and I enjoyed a good personal/professional relationship in his early years of owning the team. We once took a ferry ride to Bainbridge Island in Seattle, and there was a one-on-one dinner at his home in 2006 when I thoughtfully arrived with a bottle of Kendall-Jackson chardonnay.
In a lengthy one-on-one interview before the ‘08 playoffs, he made the heartfelt comment (above) about how much fun it was to own a baseball team and how beloved the Sox were in our community. When I asked him about his “not fit to be owner” comment, he sighed and said, “I think when it comes to leadership, people don’t want to hear introspection. So it wasn’t the best thing to say, but I think any time things go wrong in a business or a franchise, you have to question yourself.
“There were things that I could have done and should have done.”
Sox fans and media members are looking for a little of that now as the team tries to rebound from a last-place finish, but Henry has turned off the faucet. The last two times he answered questions in a group interview were Sept. 27, 2019 — about three weeks after Dave Dombrowski was fired as president of baseball ops — and Feb. 17, 2020, a few days after trading Betts.
The gathering in ‘19 proved to be a big reveal regarding the direction of the team. On that night, Henry out of nowhere stated, “This year we need to be under the CBT [competitive balance tax]. That’s the goal.”
In the same presser, Sox chairman Tom Werner said, “One of the things we observe is that there are teams that make the playoffs with half the payroll that the Red Sox have.”
It was the first tell that the Sox were on their way to the Tampa Bay model — a roster with payroll flexibility instead of star players. Chaim Bloom was hired as chief baseball officer a month later, and since then, the Sox have been selling the illusion of contention rather than winning at all costs.
There was another small moment from that presser. When Henry was asked why there had been no immediate press conference the night Dombrowski was suddenly fired (while the Patriots were playing their season opener), the owner looked at his PR chief and said, “Should I tell the truth?”
Now it appears there’ll be no more back-and-forth with Henry and the media.
In this space over the weekend, I asked fans to send questions for the owner in case he spoke Monday. Dozens of you sent serious, on-point questions regarding your concerns about the direction of the franchise. It would have been interesting to hear Henry’s responses. Maybe even fun.