John Henry's Moment of Truth
In most respects, the new Sox ownership has been a major upgrade
from the Harrington era. Soon, though, John Henry will face his
moment of truth. He must decide whether to side with the best
interests of the Sox and their fans, or with the man who rigged
the sale of the Red Sox to him at a bargain price.
Nowhere is the difference between Henry and Harrington clearer
than in their treatment of Fenway Park. Under Harrington, Fenway
was a decaying, outmoded eyesore to be endured until a new park
could be built. Henry has not only embraced Fenway and its
history, but has opened it up to the community as never before.
Can anyone imagine John Harrington inviting fans to walk on the
field while the Sox are out of town?
Part of this may be realism. Henry knows that Boston taxpayers
aren't about to build him a new park, and recognizes that
building one himself makes little economic sense. A new ballpark
won't generate enough additional income for the Sox, already
one of MLB's highest-revenue clubs, to pay off the bonds
needed to build it. Meanwhile, the 90-year-old New England
landmark has a marketing advantage no new park can match. As the
Detroit Tigers have learned to their sorrow, a new park can boost
attendance in the short run, but once the novelty wears off fans
won't keep coming back without a good team to watch.
Henry's battle to evict the vendors from Yawkey Way is less
admirable. These vendors survive because fans prefer their
sausages, peanuts, etc. to the inferior versions sold inside the
park. Removing them would enrich the Sox at the expense of the
vendors and their patrons. If the Sox want to run these vendors
out of business, let them do so by selling better products at a
lower price, not by chasing Aramark's competitors off a
Now, though, another issue looms over the final third of the
2002 season -- the ominous specter of another potentially
season-ending labor confrontation. At press time the players
hadn't set a strike date, but have made clear that they do
not intend to enter the 2002-03 offseason without either a new
labor agreement or a promise by the owners to maintain the status
quo during the offseason. The owners have refused to make such a
promise. Unless negotiators can make a deal, the likeliest strike
date is September 16.
Consider the impact of a September 16 strike on the Sox. Boston
is chasing the Yankees for the AL East title, and embroiled in a
battle for the wild card against whichever of Seattle, Oakland or
Anaheim doesn't win the AL West. In their last four series of
the year, the Sox are scheduled to host Cleveland, travel to
Baltimore and Chicago, and finish by hosting the Devil Rays, the
AL's most welcome guests. The Yankees have an equally easy
schedule -- but out west, the Mariners, Angels and Athletics will
all play more than half their remaining games against one
Those last two weeks of the regular season thus provide the Sox
with a golden opportunity to pull ahead of their AL West
challengers for the wild card. Once in the playoffs, the
combination of Pedro Martinez and Derek Lowe would make them a
formidable opponent. Arizona showed last year just how far two
dominant starters can carry a club.
Unlike 1994, the parties aren't that far apart. The owners
and players have all but agreed on reforms to the amateur draft
which will save the owners millions of dollars. They're
within $70 million of one another on a revenue-sharing formula,
and while the players oppose the owners' demand for a 50%
"luxury tax" on payrolls over $98 milllion, they
accepted a temporary 35% luxury tax in the last labor agreement.
A reasonable compromise to avoid a strike is still possible.
But Bud and his buddies may not want a reasonable compromise.
Selig, Jerry Reinsdorf and the other hard-line owners who forced
the 1994-95 strike are still around...and there was a reason why
Selig made sure that John Henry, not Charles Dolan or Myles
Prentice, bought the Sox.
The hard-line position isn't in the best interest of the
high-revenue, high-payroll Red Sox team. It's not in the best
interest of Sox fans, who could be cheated out of a postseason
berth. It's not in the interest of any fans who
don't want a repeat of 1994-95.
Did John Henry's $90 million discount obligate him to sell
out the Sox and their fans as part of a corrupt bargain with Bud
Selig? Time will tell.
Copyright © 2002 Doug Pappas. All rights
Originally published in the August 2002 issue of Boston
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