There’s a disingenuous and, frankly, pathetic thing I sometimes do when I get in an argument with my wife. She’ll get mildly upset at me for putting dirty dishes in the sink instead of the dishwasher, let’s say. And, rather than owning up to it and saying “my bad, I shouldn’t have done that,” I will instead pile up one excuse after another to irrefutably prove that not only was it impractical to put the dirty dishes in the dishwasher, but that it was damn near impossible to do so, and that even attempting it would have put our entirely family, if not the whole world, at risk of something catastrophic. How could I put the dirty dishes in the dishwasher — there were still clean dishes in there that hadn’t been unloaded, see? And while I would’ve loved to take some time to empty it, I had to do a little thing called making dinner, which in case you don’t know, is literally necessary for the human body’s survival. And, by the way, it took even longer than usual to make dinner, because you bought the wrong kind of fish and I had to spend extra time deboning it so we wouldn’t all choke and die at the kitchen table tonight. You’re welcome for the fact that you can still BREATHE right now.
Regardless of whether the dishwasher is full or the stripped bass has or has not been properly deboned, this is a categorically awful way to act! What I’m doing when I do this is not treating my wife as an equal partner with whom I share the burdens and responsibilities of maintaining a house and family, but as an adversary to be semantically defeated. I’m disrespecting her intelligence and dismissing her own feelings and concerns. I’m treating her critique as entirely unworthy of of a thoughtful and sincere response. That this is behavior that just about everyone in a long term relationship slips into every now and again doesn’t make me feel any better about it.
I bring this up because, over the weekend, John Henry answered a few piddly questions from The Athletic’s Jen McCaffrey via email. Among them, was this:
Q: What, if anything, do you think you could have done differently in the negotiations with Xander Bogaerts?
A: We could have offered 12 years!
Hats off to you, John. Game recognize game.
What McCaffrey is doing is asking a question that requires a thoughtful response: in light of (1) an emerging pattern in which the Red Sox fail to hold onto home-grown talent and, (2) the fact that, as Chaim Bloom and Sam Kennedy repeatedly insisted, signing Xander Bogaerts was the top priority of the Red Sox front office, what did they do wrong in failing to achieve that goal?
Henry could have offered a thoughtful and sincere response that respected McCaffrey’s question and the intelligence of the fans he was indirectly addressing. He could have talked about the difficulty of reading a free-agent market that exploded beyond almost anyone’s expectations. He could’ve addressed the reports from the single most respected Red Sox reporter on the beat, Alex Speier, that Bogaerts would have accepted a much more modest deal had it been offered a year before. He could have admitted that opening the 2023 season with the team’s center fielder playing shortstop is not ideal. He could have, at the very least, acknowledged the hurt that countless fans feel when the team loses a franchise icon.
He declined the opportunity to do so, instead, glibly dismissing the concerns of anyone who would dare question the team’s handling of the Bogaerts situation. What he did was stand in front of a dirty kitchen sink and refuse to take even the slightest bit of responsibility for the mess.
That disgustingly wealthy people don’t like being questioned by the unwashed masses isn’t surprising. But in Henry’s case, it is disappointing — especially if you remember how he acted and communicated with the fans in the early stages of his ownership twenty years ago.
John Henry, at one time, seemed to be a different kind of sports owner, one who was uncommonly communicative with and responsive to the fans. When he first bought the Red Sox, it wasn’t unusual to find him roaming the concourse before games, chatting with fans and upgrading their seats. When the game started, you could usually find him sitting in the stands with the rest of us instead of cloistered off up in the owner’s box. And he made himself widely available to the media — on one occasion, he even showed up unannounced to the studio of a Boston sports radio station, where he proceeded to spend 70 minutes on air in an attempt to defend the front office from what he viewed as unwarranted attacks (considering that the attacks came from notoriously bad-faith shirt-stirrers Michael Felger and Tony Massarotti, he might have had a point; considering that the front office had just run beloved manager Terry Francona out of town via a media smear campaign alleging prescription drug abuse, maybe not).
Perhaps the most remarkable example of his openness with his team’s fans was his participation on the Sons of Sam Horn, a widely-read Red Sox message board that has claimed amongst its membership Curt Schilling, Bill Simmons, Michael Schur, Alan Yang, and the guy who married Gwyneth Paltrow after Chris Martin (not that Chris Martin, the other one). Nowadays, corporate brands view social media as just another a marketing tool, and any old criminal hedge fund operator-cum-baseball team owner can win over the fans by simply hopping on Twitter and promising to bring back black jerseys. But 20 years ago, Henry’s message-boarding was unheard of. Moreover, it appeared to be completely genuine. He was sometimes found posting as late as three or four in the morning. On one occasion, he wrote over 1300 words in a thread about the 2004 Red Sox payroll, engaging in good faith discussion with other posters and touching nuanced issues like the impact of salary depreciation on the team’s overall cost basis.
All things considered, it seemed like John Henry didn’t mind hanging around with us. He didn’t interact with fans with the same flare or polish as someone like Mark Cuban, but that only made him seem all the more sincere. He was a highly online nerd who loved baseball, and he let everyone see that.
Fast-forward to 2023 and that John Henry appears to be gone. He hasn’t posted on Sons of Sam Horn since 2005. He almost invariably eschews his front-row seats at Fenway in favor of the owner’s box. And he hasn’t spoken to the Boston media since before the pandemic — this despite owning the single most important media outlet in all of New England.
What happened to the old John Henry? Money, obviously. The John Henry who bought the Florida Marlins in 1998 (his sixth attempt at buying a major professional sports team) was a mere multi-millionaire. Twenty-five years later, the millions have turned into billions, as he owns two of the most famous and valuable teams in all of world sports, a NASCAR team, a hockey team, the tenth-largest newspaper in the United States, and is reportedly looking to expand into both the NBA and NFL. He’s no longer the nerdy baseball fan who once spent an afternoon working in the stands of an empty Wrigley Field because he just loved being close to the game — he’s an empire-builder now.
To be clear, despite my disappointment, I still believe that John Henry is generally an outstanding owner, and I would dread the prospect the Red Sox changing hands. But he is fundamentally a different owner than he once was. And with regard to the way he communicates and does or does not respect the fanbase, he is categorically a worse one.
Sometimes, as may be the case with the Bogaerts saga, front offices are forced to make unpopular decisions that may in fact be prudent. And sometimes, as may be the case with the Bogaerts saga, front offices make mistakes that force them to make those unpopular decisions in the first place. In either case, honestly communicating with the fans, respecting their intelligence, and acknowledging the role you might have played in the situation is the best way to move forward.
Sometimes the dishes just don’t get done. But standing in the kitchen with a towel drapped over your shoulder and insisting that no one dare question why the sink is still filled with that morning’s cereal bowls isn’t going to lead to happiness. John, it may be time for a little marriage counseling — that is, if you’re still willing to talk to us.