It's 10 years since I first wrote that the purchase of the Boston Red Sox by the group headed by John Henry, Tom Werner, and Larry Lucchino was more about real estate and media that it was baseball. So it came as no surprise to me that excerpts from Terry Francona's new book, released by Sports Illustrated yesterday, seem to confirm that many of the team’s recent baseball decisions actually may have been driven by the findings of a marketing survey.
Now let's be clear: I have no issue with a ballclub commissioning research among its fans – Bill Veeck did this well over a half century ago to help him provide the kind of experience that would keep people coming back, and every self-respecting television executive (like Werner) today does the same thing. But I do wonder how much longer we are going to pretend that the objectives of the ownership group and the expectations of the fan base are in sync with one another.
If we are to believe what Francona wrote and former GM Theo Epstein apparently confirmed – and there's no reason not to – then Carl Crawford and Adrian Gonzalez were brought here to satisfy the survey-reported need for more marketable players. Epstein is recorded in the book as describing this as “the tail wagging the dog,” but that's only true if you are dedicated to fielding the winning team that fans crave. If your primary concern is making money, then it makes a certain amount of sense to heed the advice of your $100,000 marketing consultant and sign two high-profile players, no matter how expensive they are and how badly they end up underperforming.
The point that our franchise leaders missed is something that Veeck well knew: there is no single better way to increase and retain the interests of your fans than to assemble a team that can win. Ultimately, the greatest hope Red Sox Nation has is that the Three Marketeers at the top will realize that Nielsen ratings winning percentages are inescapably tied together, and that their interests and our interests really aren't that different. If we're lucky, the Nick Punto trade last August is a tangible sign that this lesson is being learned.