It's been 10 years now since the Red Sox put an end to their 86-year championship drought, 10 years since Dave Roberts' steal, Ortiz' walk-offs, Schilling's bloody sock, and the ensuing sweep of the Cardinals. Somehow, where Red Sox fans once were born, lived full lives, and died dreaming only of "next year," we have now celebrated three World Series in the past decade.
Looking back at these 10 years, there are only two constants that bridge the gap from 2004 to 2013. The first is David Ortiz, but he certainly does not lack for appreciation. The second is Fenway Sports Group.
In 2002, John Henry and Tom Werner, along with Larry Lucchino and the rarely-mentioned George Mitchell (of Mitchell Report fame, amongst other things) dropped $660 million on the Red Sox. At the time, this was actually concerning news. After all, Werner's experience with the Padres and Henry's with the Marlins had seen plenty of costs cut and pennies pinched. That the group's bid had actually come in well under that of their competitors seemed to reinforce the idea that the new owners were perhaps not as invested as Red Sox fans would hope.
The idea seems silly looking back. While the Red Sox have not become the Yankees, they have consistently ranked among the top payrolls in baseball. The only real fire sale the team has experienced was the widely-celebrated dumping of albatross contracts in 2012.
This is not to say Fenway Sports Group are our charitable benefactors. Nobody is under any delusions that the Red Sox are being run as anything other than a business. They have done what they can to turn Fenway Park into a viable stadium in a world where their New York rivals play in a 50,000 seat mall featuring sushi joints and steakhouses, but Red Sox fans are left paying hefty ticket prices to keep the books balanced. And while most of the team's moves (or non-moves) fall into the category of financial responsibility, there have been times when the bottom line seemed too-high of a priority. The Marco Scutaro trade ahead of 2012 comes to mind.
Still, if the road to profit involves winning, who cares about the ulterior motives?
Ultimately, it's not the men signing the checks who do the work on the field, or even choose the players who do. The credit for that goes to Ben Cherington and Theo Epstein before him. But the owners are the ones who put them there. Henry et al. were quick to embrace the new wave of baseball analytics, and aside from the questionable influence of Larry Lucchino in the early days of Epstein and Cherington, quick to get out of the way of the people they've entrusted with building their team.
For all this, they don't really get the appreciation they deserve in Boston. It seems like not a single Patriots broadcast goes by without a montage of that franchise's achievements under Robert Kraft, but the Red Sox have won just as many championships in roughly half the time. Still, it seems like every other year rumors pop-up that ownership is abandoning the team. The purchase of Liverpool launched a million snarky comments and accusations of disinterest in the goings-on at Fenway Park. When John Henry said he let Theo Epstein go ahead with the signing of Carl Crawford despite personal reservations he was criticized for doing exactly what every fan should want their owner doing: getting out of the way of baseball operations.
There is no more hopeless feeling in baseball than being a fan of a team with bad owners. Bad owners lead to bad or crippled front offices lead to bad results on the field year in and year out. But when the problem lies at the top, it's that much harder to root out. Not only are bad owners not easily fired, but they are often slow to fire those they hired in the first place, leaving fans wondering not when the next great team will come, but when they can even get started on the rebuilding process with a competent helmsman.
Red Sox fans are not living the dream of magical owners with bottomless pockets. At the beginning of the offseason we survey the market and have to cross some players off the list as likely being too rich for our blood, even if every once in a blue moon the biggest name will end up coming to Boston. But in FSG we have a group that's going to give us enough.
Maybe the Red Sox won't win every year--no team does--but even at their lowest points (and 2014 was certainly one of them) there is confidence that the system is in place to at least keep the team moving forward. That 2015 will be better and, even if another worst-to-first miracle isn't in store, that Fenway will be back to hosting October baseball once more before too long. That is the sign of a well-run team, and for these past 12 years, we have John Henry and company to thank for that.