For Red Sox owners, spring training news conference is a victory lap
FORT MYERS, Fla. — Red Sox owner John Henry — the only man wearing a sportcoat on a blazing hot and humid Florida afternoon — stood in the shade, chatting, moments after his annual “state of the Red Sox” address Monday.
While Henry visited, camera crews broke down equipment, and it was hard not to notice a piece of red confetti breaking loose from a tripod and fluttering to the ground.
“That was probably a camera used to cover our parade,’’ offered Zineb Curran, Red Sox vice president of corporate communications.
This is Boston sports in 2019. It’s all confetti and sunshine. This is a spring in which a 24-minute Q&A with Henry and Red Sox chairman Tom Werner does not generate any of the traditional contentiousness that has marked these sessions through the years. This is Camp Tranquility, the Red Sox are defending world champs, and everything is awesome.
There were no shots fired and only a few bullet points to be taken from Monday’s presser.
Five years after the fact, Henry conceded, “I think we blew the Jon Lester signing in spring training.’’
Beyond that, there was a lot of boilerplate talk about attempts to sign Chris Sale, Xander Bogaerts, and the core of Sox talent that will soon be in the open market. Henry said he has no concerns about Sale’s shoulder. Both men said they are going to the White House and nobody is worried about a split in the clubhouse. Werner said it was “extremely unlikely” the Sox would re-sign Craig Kimbrel to a short deal. Henry indicated that president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski will soon have a new contract.
When I noted that this was Henry’s 18th season as owner and asked how he feels about the way things are running now, Henry deferred to ubiquitous wingman Werner, who said: “I can’t believe it’s been 18 years. We couldn’t believe when we won our first World Series, and we certainly felt extraordinarily proud of what the franchise has done in 18 years.
“Speaking for the two of us, we are hungry to continue the success we’ve had. We’d love to repeat this year.
“Looking back, I can’t believe we’ve gone through as much success and failure — we took very seriously the pain of finishing last three out of four years — but overall I’m very proud of what we’ve done and we’re not done yet.”
When the difficulty of repeating was raised, Werner said, “We rolled over three very good teams, but there’s a degree of good fortune and randomness to it.’’
Henry was quick to qualify Werner’s response.
“If you see what goes on behind the scenes, especially last year, you don’t think as much in terms of, ‘Well, we had a lot of good fortune,’ ’’ said the low-talking owner. “There were a lot of things going on behind the scenes that were really smart last year.
“This was a really talented group, and we’re committed to each other and committed to doing whatever it took. I do feel you’ve got to have some good fortune, but this wasn’t . . .”
So there. This World Series was won by design, not a twist of fate.
Monday’s victory-lap presser was a far cry from one year ago, when Henry (who also owns the Globe) was snappish, saying, “I don’t think we need to be popular.’’
On that day, he refused to answer questions about his wish to change the name of Yawkey Way. He also insisted that the 2018 Sox were in great shape and merely had to change “the approach.’’ After reporters pushed back with challenging questions, Henry walked away from the session asking one scribe, “What is your guys’ problem?’’
Two months later, Henry hosted a mea culpa dinner at the Capital Grille in Boston and broke bread with the ink-stained wretches. But, oddly enough, all of his springtime theories about what was in store for the 2018 Red Sox proved to be true.
They did change their approach at home plate and on the basepaths. And they did have enough talent. They steamrolled to the world championship. They “rolled over” the Yankees, Astros, and Dodgers in October.
In 2019, Henry presents as a man who believes he has figured it out. He is at peace. Four championships in 15 seasons will do that.
Here’s Henry on the limits of keeping the Sox stars: “We won’t be able to keep all of them. It’s just that simple. We may have the largest payroll in baseball, but even then you can’t keep all of your players with the way free agency works.
“There’s been less and less players opting to sign [with their own clubs] before they hit free agency. So it works both ways. Maybe with the state of the free agent market at this point, you’ll start to see more of that happening.’’
On concerns about a clubhouse split over the White House visit: “No. It’s strictly optional. I think it would be a political statement for us not to go, and we try to keep politics out of the Red Sox. Taking positions politically is something that’s inappropriate.
“It’s a tradition and something that a lot of our players really look forward to.’’
Near the end of the session, Henry spoke about manager Alex Cora’s unusual confidence and its role in the magic of 2018.
“We’d bring up certain things, and he’d say, ‘That’s not going to be a problem,’ ’’ recalled Henry. “And he turned out to be absolutely right. At one point, our bullpen was on fumes and I saw him after a game and I asked him how he felt about the bullpen going forward. And he would tell me the same thing he said on so many occasions, even in the World Series and the playoffs. He’d say, ‘We’re going to be be fine.’ ’’
Cora was right about all of it.
And so was the Red Sox owner.