Should We Believe John Henry?

I've got ambivalent feelings about John Henry.

It's quite possible that Fenway Park would today be just a memory without John Henry. The previous owners wanted to destroy Fenway, and Henry probably could have made that happen after taking over. He chose not to, and baseball is better for it. A lot better.

I will always admire John Henry for hiring Bill James in 2003. Bill James has two World Series rings. I don't know what those World Series rings mean to Bill, and I wouldn't feel comfortable asking him. But I'm happier that Bill has those rings than I would be if I had them. And Bill would not have two World Series rings without John Henry. He just wouldn't.

What's more, Henry was instrumental in me "breaking" the story that the Red Sox were hiring Bill James. It might not seem like a big thing to you, but it was the first real story I'd ever broken and for a few days I was sitting atop the world. That's how I felt, anyway. The feeling faded fast, of course. It always does. But though Henry soon stopped taking my calls and responding to my e-mail, I have been grateful to him ever since. For all of the above.

Still, there's this: He's a billionaire (or close enough). Lately it's become fashionable to throw around the term class warfare, so let me be clear about this ... I'm not interested in firing a broadside at John Henry's yacht, or turning three or four of his biggest mansions into homeless shelters. But didn't someone once say that the rich are just like us, but with money? And with money often comes a sense of entitlement. If you have enough money, you don't have to worry about parking tickets, or how much it will cost if you divorce your wife to take up with the 24-year-old yoga instructor you met at Starbucks, or whether you really can pull of a nifty swap of the Florida Marlins for the Boston Red Sox without getting your hair mussed.

Yes, I know how hypocritical that paragraph might seem to someone who has to worry about paying the rent next month. Wealth, like everything else, is relative, and compared to most everyone on this planet I'm doing incredibly well. Which is why I can hardly begrudge John Henry his hundreds of millions. He's incredibly smart and (I suspect) moderately lucky, while I've been moderately smart and incredibly lucky, and neither of us need worry much about paying the rent.

My point is that I'm not beholden to John Henry for his long-ago kindness to me, nor do I cut him extra slack simply because he has employed my long-ago employer (and mentor) for some years now. I admire John Henry, but at this point he's (mostly) just another rich guy who owns a baseball team. And a NASCAR team. And God knows what else. Because billionaires need hobbies too, I guess.

And I raise this point because I want you to believe, as I believe, that I maintain a healthy sense of skepticism when it comes to John Henry. I want to believe that I apply the same tests of logic and evidence to his actions and statements that I would apply to any other owner.

You might have heard that some pretty intimate details about Terry Francona were leaked to Boston Globe writer Bob Hohler, and that Hohler included them in his post mortem of the Red Sox' September collapse. You might also have heard the suggestions that Hohler's sources inside the franchise were highly placed, including team president Larry Lucchino and perhaps even John Henry.

I treated those suggestions as I treat most things, with a curious agnosticism. It wouldn't surprise me terribly if Henry and Lucchino threw Francona (and for that matter, Theo Epstein) under the bus. All I really know about Henry and Lucchino is that they're used to getting what they want, and for all I know they're perfectly capable of such perfidy.

On the other hand, baseball teams have a lot of employees and it seemed a bit strange to simply assume that Henry and Lucchino were the leakers. Anyway -- and yes, finally we get to the point of this lengthy essay -- apparently the accusations against Henry and Lucchino have been thrown around relentlessly in Boston these last few days. Including on (of course) sports-talk radio. And Friday afternoon, John Henry was heading from Point A to Point B, for some reason was listening to sports-talk radio, and didn't like what he was hearing.

He made his driver head right to the station, so he could make sure people know the Red Sox ownership did not give out the information about Francona's marital issues and problem with pain killers.

"We didn't. That's one of things you've been discussing that I'm trying to answer but thankfully the author of the article is answering because he thinks it's wrong," said Henry. "It's just... it's unfortunate."

Henry said he was upset about the information coming out about Francona's marriage, agreeing it was a cheap shot.

"It's reprehensible that was written about in the first place," said Henry. "If it's someone within the team, and that's what it says in the newspaper, I'm upset about it. And I've been upset about it."

Do you believe John Henry?

I don't know Henry at all. I don't have any confidence that he's not capable of leaking, or conspiring to leak, damaging information about an ex-employee, with the aim of making himself and his organization look better. I just don't know him well enough.

But would he make a special point of detouring to a radio station simply to dissemble? Is he capable of sounding sincere in that environment, while pestered by a couple of confrontational radio guys, if he's not sincere?

I don't think so. I believe John Henry when he says he's upset about Francona's personal life becoming a part of the story, and I believe him when he says he had no part in it.

I don't know anything. But that is what I believe.

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