Red Sox owner John Henry predicts pitch clocks will be in baseball’s future
MASHANTUCKET, Conn. — Red Sox principal owner John Henry believes baseball will take the radical step of instituting a pitch clock in the next few years to improve the pace of play.
A 20-second clock will be used in Triple A and Double A games this season and Henry said Friday to expect that at major league ballparks before too long.
“I wouldn’t be surprised if in the next year or two we didn’t see a pitch clock,” Henry said. “Just as the NBA learned to live with the 24-second clock, I think baseball will learn to live with a pitch clock to keep the pace of the game going. . . . The players and the staff will all get used to it. It will be interesting to see how the fans react.”
In September, outgoing commissioner Bud Selig appointed a committee to find ways to improve the pace of game. New commissioner Rob Manfred is part of the group along with Red Sox chairman Tom Werner and Michael Gordon, one of the team’s most influential partners.
One of their first recommendations was a pitch clock for certain games in the Arizona Fall League.
“Even the purists who attended the Arizona Fall League games came away with a sense that the pace of the game and the feel of the games were quite different with the clock,” Henry said.
Henry, who also owns the Globe, spoke about a variety of issues during a rare extensive interview at Foxwoods Resorts Casino, where the team is holding its inaugural Winter Weekend fanfest.
The Sox, he said, will have a payroll over $200 million and are comfortable exceeding the luxury tax threshold for the first time since 2011.
“We are significantly over the competitive balance tax, which this year is $189 [million],” Henry said. “The reason we’re over $200 [million] is we’re building the team we wanted to build.”
More additions could come during the season if needed.
“We’ve consistently done that if we were competitive,” Henry said. “We’ll be in the same position this year.”
Henry isn’t concerned about the team’s apparent lack of an ace, pointing to recent Sox teams that had top-tier pitchers but still finished poorly.
“I think it’s a strong rotation. If there is one thing I’ve learned in this game it’s that depth ends up usually being more important than anything else,” Henry said. “You always underestimate injuries. . . . We had aces last year and didn’t win.”
The Red Sox finished last in 2012, won the World Series in 2013, then finished last again in 2014. Henry said the team has taken steps to avoid such dramatic inconsistencies.
“I don’t know if I’d be willing to finish last every other year to finish first every other year,” Henry said. “I don’t know if that’s the appropriate trade-off. We spent a decade being consistently at the top and challenging. It’s been frustrating two out of the last three years to basically be in rebuilding mode midway through the season. We committed to each other that’s not going to happen again.”
Henry said, “There are a few things we won’t talk about publicly” that were identified as problems.
But he doesn’t view general manager Ben Cherington or manager John Farrell as part of the problem. He praised Cherington and his staff for being able to quickly remake the roster.
“I think his decisions have been right. I think that will be proved again this year,” Henry said. “He took really bold steps to rebuild the team both times. . . . There are certain things we can point to and will point to that we can address.”
Farrell is entering the final year of his contract. To this point, there have not been extension talks but Henry said he wants Cherington and Farrell to remain in place.
“I don’t want to discuss contracts,” Henry said. “That would be Ben’s area. I expect John and Ben to be here a long time.”
Henry also spoke for the first time about the loss of lefthander Jon Lester to the Chicago Cubs via free agency. Henry twice visited Lester at his home in Georgia but the team’s offer of $135 million fell well short of the $155 million guaranteed by Chicago.
“I think we did everything we could to sign him and shouldn’t have gone any further and didn’t,” Henry said.
A year ago, Lester spoke at length about his desire to stay in Boston. But negotiations broke down in spring training and that led to his going on the market. Team president Larry Lucchino said last month that he regretted how the process played out. But Henry wants to move on.
“Everybody’s been over that ground. This is 2015; he’s with the Cubs now,” Henry said. “I don’t think going over that is productive.”
Henry is not involved with the organization trying to bring the 2024 Olympics to Boston but supports the idea.
“I think it would be great,” he said.
The Red Sox, Henry said, have not yet been approached about using Fenway Park as a venue. But he is open to the suggestion.
“That depends on what it is,” Henry said. “We’d certainly endorse it.”
Henry was thrilled to see Pedro Martinez elected to the Hall of Fame and plans to attend the induction ceremony in Cooperstown on July 26. The Sox, he said, have not yet discussed retiring Martinez’s No. 45.
“There’s extraordinary pride in our organization,” Henry said. “He’s not only a unique talent but a unique person.”
Henry finished the interview saying he remains committed to owning the Sox.
“I’m not going anywhere. They’ll have to carry me out,” he said. “It’s a good investment. . . . Tom and I have made a lot of money in our lives. We’ve been very fortunate. This is what we love doing. We’re here for the duration.”