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John Henry on D&C: ‘Theo is not going to be the general manager forever’

10.07.11 at 9:23 am ET
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Red Sox principal owner John Henry and president/CEO Larry Lucchino stopped by the WEEI studio for a sit-down interview on Friday’s Dennis & Callahan show to talk about the team’s September collapse, the departure of manager Terry Francona and the future of general manager Theo Epstein.

Henry and Lucchino, citing privacy concerns, refused to discuss whether they have been contacted by the Cubs to talk to Epstein about Chicago’s GM vacancy. But Henry did speak in more general terms about the topic of Epstein’s future.

“Everyone has to understand a couple of things, and I think Tito alluded to this,” Henry said. “I think there’s a certain shelf life in these jobs. You can only be the general manager if you’re sane. You can only be the manager for a certain amount of time. It’s a tremendous pressure-cooker here, 162 games. It’s a long season, and the pressure here is 365 days.

“So, Theo is not going to be the general manager forever. Just as if Tito had some back for the last two years, would he have gone past 10 years? I can’t imagine that he would have. I think that Theo will. He’s the guy now, he’s been the guy, we’ve had tremendous success. We fell apart at the end of the season. As Larry expressed, we’re upset about it. No fan could be more upset than I am about the result this year. But he’s done a tremendous job for us over the last eight years.”

Following are more highlights from the conversation. To hear the interview, go to the Dennis & Callahan audio on demand page.

On if the owners assumed the team would make the playoffs before the September collapse:

Henry: “You never assume. In other businesses as well, you generally never assume that you’re going to accomplish your goals until you accomplish them.”

Lucchino: “I think that was a reasonable assumption at that point, given the length of the lead, given where we were in the season, given the statistical probabilities of what would happen. Certainly, none of us anticipated a collapse of biblical proportions that we endured.”

On the Sept. 6 team meeting following a win in Toronto:

Lucchino: “I was not aware of it at that time. I learned of it much later. But that’s not uncommon. Tito can have meetings in the clubhouse or things that happen in the clubhouse that we just don’t know about. We’re not included in them because it’s a clubhouse matter. I think the manager has the right to speak to his team and talk to them as he chooses. So, it’s not unusual that we wouldn’t have known about it.”

Henry: “We did know that Theo had had a couple of talks. We knew about that. But we heard about the Toronto talk, it may have been after the season.”

On what Francona was talking about when he said he couldn’t reach players:

Henry: “There was some crypticness when we met. But, you remember, we’ve had problems over the years with certain players. Like, Manny Ramirez was a big problem at one point for the manager. But he had his back. That’s the clubhouse culture. As a manager, you don’t throw your players under the bus. You do everything you can to make them productive and keep them that way. In this case, we didn’t get any information along those lines at that point.”

On the players quitting on Francona:

Henry: “Well, if that’s the case, definitely, it’s shocking.”

On reports of players drinking in the clubhouse during games:

Lucchino: “There are certain principles that are important within the clubhouse culture. And I think that’s one of them. It’s not something that we think should be tolerated. There’s a rule about it and it should be enforced. It was much after the fact that that point was brought to our attention. And we’re still trying to dig in to find out how pervasive it was, how extensive it was, and not try to superficially conclude it was a major factor in anything.”

On at which point during the team’s collapse it became clear how bad the situation was:

Henry: “We went, what, 7-20. This was a team that was going 20-7 and suddenly went 7-20. So it was throughout that process that we began to wonder, Why is this team breaking down? This is the second straight year that on August 1st we were looking great and looked like we were headed for a potential World Series. And the second straight year that the team broke down physically. I haven’t heard — I’ve been reading somewhat what the media have been saying, and I haven’t heard enough about that. That was the concern that started at some point during that decline. The biggest concern we had was, we’re just not doing well physically.”

On concerns that some pitchers were not in proper physical condition:

Henry: “Talking to a few people, one thing thus far that I’ve been able to establish is that the pitchers did their work. They did their cardiovascular. This organization is as good as any in baseball, I’m told, at doing their work. And what is their work, cardiovascular? Shoulder exercise is very important. Very important. We have very little in the way in this organization of shoulder problems, compared to other clubs. And they did their legwork. Some of the people, including the person you mentioned [Josh Beckett], they’re adamant. That’s what they do. And they don’t shirk those responsibilities.

“Were there nutritional issues, which was another question I asked? Yes, I believe there were nutritional issues. One of the things we’re learned in getting involved with English football is they have sport science. The science of fitness is very advanced among football teams around the world, at least the top football teams. So, we’ve learned a lot recently, and our people within the Red Sox have learned a lot. I think that there’s much more we could do.

“To me, the most important thing is that this is the third time in six years, and certainly the second straight year, in which a great team just couldn’t make it through 162 games physically. And it wasn’t just one or two players. We were really banged up. We were really struggling to put healthy players on the field. Every team has be able to make it through 162 games. Two years in a row, we couldn’t do it.”

On Francona’s comments referencing a lack of support from ownership:

Henry: “I don’t engage in encouragement. My way of encouraging the manager is generally, if we win, I’ll go down and say hello. My experience over the years is they really don’t want a lot of interaction from our level when things aren’t going well. But every once in a while I will send — over the last eight years I would send Terry an e-mail and basically say either, ‘You’re doing a great job,’ which I did this year, or, ‘We’re going to be fine.’ I’m probably the person inside, among Tom [Werner] and Larry and Theo and Tito, among all of us, I’m probably the person who most often says, ‘We’ll be fine.’ The problem is, we weren’t fine this year.”

Lucchino: “We did make an effort as things were proceeding in the wrong direction in September, certainly we made an effort before games, I would go down on the field and try — certainly not pep talks, but just to engage in some conversation to show that we were in this together, and to try to be as comfortable as I could around players and the manager and coaches.”

On if ownership questioned some of the manager’s decisions, such as batting Jed Lowrie cleanup:

Henry: “For better or for worse, I’ve always been a chain-of-command guy. We have guys that that’s their job. That’s Theo’s job. Now, I will say to Theo, ‘Why are we doing X?’ And he’ll either have a good answer, or he may go to Terry. But I didn’t go to Terry and second-guess him.

“During the offseason, I might say — during this offseason at one point we had ‘€¦ a substantive discussion, Larry, Theo and I, about the last couple of years David Ortiz wasn’t hitting lefties. That’s the timing in which I might say, ‘Look,’ and I did say, ‘We have to be careful with David and lefties.’ And his response was, ‘Well, let’s see how he starts the year.’ And what happened? He was better against lefties this year than he was against righties. So, that’s the time where I think you have these types of discussions. You don’t, when things are going badly, go down there and start saying, ‘Why is Lowrie hitting [cleanup]?’ ”

Lucchino: “If something like that happens and if we have a question about it, we let at least a day or two pass before we talk about it, to avoid the kind of day-to-day micromanaging of lineups that I think would be really troublesome to any manager.”

On why Francona’s option was not picked up before the end of the season:

Lucchino: “It was certainly something that we considered during the course of the year. I think you’ve got to go back a step and understand the contract arrangement that we had with Tito, which was that we gave him a longterm deal and we agreed that we would not talk about options until the end of the, I guess it was the fourth year — ’08, ['09], ’10 and ’11. We said that there would be a 10-day period, the first order of business after the season would be to talk about options. But we don’t want the distraction of that happening during the year. Because we had it in ’08. The first part of the ’08 season was all about contracts and his situation, dealing with agents and all that.

“So, I think he understood and we understood that it was not something that was going to happen during the course of the season. In fact, to his credit, he never came to us early and said, ‘What do you think about my option?’ His agent never called us and there were never any discussions. We always anticipated that that discussion would take place, as understood, the first 10 days [after the season], it would be the first order of business in the offseason.”

On if Francona’s departure was a mutual decision:

Henry: “Well, we really didn’t get a chance to make it mutual. Thinking about it, would we have ended up at the same place that he ended up? Based on the things that we heard and the things that we saw, there’s a strong likelihood that we would have. So, you could say it was mutual. But the actual way it took place, in my mind wasn’t really mutual, the way it took place.”

Lucchino: “We had a conversation, that first day after the season when we sat for an hour and a half, two hours, talking about the season. We went through challenge after challenge, and various reasons for the breakdown. We talked to Tito about whether he was he ready for this challenge, given all the challenges that he had enumerated. He made it clear to us that he wasn’t. What were his words? He said something like, ‘You need a new voice down there. I’m not your man for next year. I think my time here is up.’ So, in some ways, he took that position. And that is a very determinative factor, when your manager feels spent or feels like there needs to be a change.

“He did a fantastic job for us over the years. Remember, he was contemplating his ninth year in this pressure-cooker that is Boston. Different teams require different skill sets or different talents. And I think he made a self-assessment with which we concurred. And to that extent, it was mutual, and the phrase mutual does fit. It was still a sad occasion. There was no joy that day. We had a myriad of problems identified for us and a manager who suggested in pretty clear teams that we should [go another way].”

On if Francona would still be managing the Red Sox if the team had made the playoffs:

Lucchino: “I’m not sure. I think the same process would unfold. I think we’d sit down as planned, the first 10 days, the first order of business after the season, sit down and talk and find out. It takes two to tango. We’re talking about the ninth year. Tito is like the second-longest duration for a manager in Red Sox history, 110 years. You have to find out if the manager is still ready for the challenges.”

On if Theo Epstein will be allowed to meet with the Cubs:

Lucchino: “Our position on that is we don’t comment on requests. We’ve gotten requests every year, sometimes one or two or three a year from people. We don’t talk about them publicly. A few years ago we got a request from another team about Theo Epstein; you heard nothing about that because we didn’t discuss it publicly. I think there’s good reason for that. There are privacy considerations here. I don’t think people would want their career, development or their job decisions to be debated publicly or for people know what they’re considering or not considering. And I’m not sure the other team, necessarily, would like that to be made public. So our consistent policy and practice is to not to discuss whether there’s been a request made.”

Henry: “If it gets out and he doesn’t go ‘€¦ then somebody looks bad. Either the team looks bad that asks him and he said no, or if he goes and interviews for the job and doesn’t get it.”

On if Henry and Lucchino would allow any team to talk to Theo:

Henry: “There is a certain protocol in this game and it is if someone asks permission for a job that is not lateral, then you give them permission. That’s just the way it works.”

Lucchino: “We don’t mean to sound evasive on this, but this is the one subject when I don’t think there needs to be full disclosure. Our fans have a keen interest in knowing as much about this team as they can possibly know, but there are some things that come up against the line of personal privacy where there are some considerations to be factored into it, and that’s where we are with respect to this thing.”

On if they can hire new manager before solidifying who the GM will be for next year:

Lucchino: “We’re actively engaged in our search for a new manager. We’re not sitting around, twiddling our thumbs, there’s a lot to be done. Theo is actively engaged day to day in that search, we just had a meeting with him the other day going through a list of candidate possibilities. Ben Cherington is actively involved in that process. Certainly John, Tom and I are involved in it as well. That process is moving ahead and it’s not going to happen overnight, there will be some time that will pass. There’s a lot of work to be done, and Theo and Ben are knee deep in doing it.”

Henry: “I don’t think people understand the governance of the Red Sox. When we talk about a manager, general managers, when we talk about important decisions that are made here, this isn’t ‘John’ or isn’t ‘Larry.’ We really over the last 10 years have consistently done things collectively. This is a collective process. We are intimately involved in the manager search. It’s not just Theo that’s involved. ‘€¦ We make collective decisions, we build consensus.”

One who gets the blame for poor free agent signings:

Lucchino: “We share the success and the share the blame. ‘€¦ At the time, when we made the decision [to sign Carl Crawford], we all concurred in the decision.”

Henry: “I thinks that’s one of the problems in baseball. It’s hard to predict things, it’s hard to predict performance going forward. When I look back over the last 10 years, the last eight years with Tito being here, the last nine years with Theo being here, and I look at what we’ve accomplished. Every year, including this year, we’ve felt we were headed for a World Series. The biggest thing to us every year is playing in October.”

Lucchino: “This was a disappointing, tortuous end to the season. We watch every game, we’re in this because we’re competitive people. Go back to December 21, 2001, our very first press conference. The first thing we said is, ‘We have an obligation to field a team that’s worthy of the fans’ support.’ It hurts not to be playing right now.”

On why they hired Terry Francona over Joe Maddon eight years ago:

Lucchino: “They were both good. Two different flavors of ice cream. Both are good, but I think at the time, the sense was that Francona’s history was clearer, and maybe the kind of easy rider that we understood him to be was appropriate for that team.”

On what they look for in a manager:

Henry: “We have a certain organizational philosophy. We want somebody that is highly intelligent, someone who can communicate with the players and be able to get the best out of the players. So, I think we lean in general toward player managers, but the most important thing, to me … if I had to choose one aspect is that he really fits in to our organizational philosophy.”

On members of the Red Sox appearing in country musician Kevin Fowler’s “I Like Beer” music video:

Henry: “Wow. It’s surprising given everything I’ve heard about drinking recently. It’s very surprising.”

Lucchino: “I haven’t seen it, but I’ve heard about it.”

On if the Carmine computer system is flawed because it doesn’t determine how a player is wired:

Henry: “When you look the last two years, to me, we broke down physically. That’s not a Carmine [issue]. That’s something that we’re looking at this point. Why did this team break down physically? Why do we have a problem after 120 games? That, to me, is a bigger issue than is there something wrong with Carmine. Again, on September 1st, this team looked pretty damn good. …

“I think baseball is changing, there’s something going on, we can talk about what the reasons for it are, but if we look at the manifestations at what is actually going on, young players are having a much greater impact on the game than older players. ‘€¦ The game is changing. I think there are clear statistical studies that show that the signing of free agents at a certain age, after they’ve already peaked in their career and they’re starting to decline, is counterproductive. This isn’t just about Carmine, this is about how dynamic baseball is, all sports is. And we’re on it.”

On if they are reluctant to go after big-name free agents after free agents from the past season did not work out well:

Lucchino: “We are not going to turn off any avenue to improve this team, particularly this year. We are not going to say, ‘No, we’re not going to dive into the free agent market’ because the recent record has not been as successful as we might like. We are going to explore free agency, we are going to explore trades, we are going to explore waiver wires, minor league free agents, international signings. We are going to look at the whole panoply of possibilities because the challenges are very real for this next year.”

On if proven Red Sox players such as David Ortiz and Jonathan Papelbon have leverage after disappointing performances by recent free agent signees:

Lucchino: “Those players have leverage because of their performance. Their performance has been substantial here and with that comes a bit of leverage, to be sure. But does that mean that we cannot find players elsewhere that can’t fit in? We think we can. That doesn’t mean we’re always right, but we think we have a process that Theo and our baseball operations department takes into consideration makeup and ability to deal with this city. Carl Crawford has had one kind of year, this is one year of a longer-term commitment. I think it’s too early to say this is a guy who cannot play in Boston. We will see about that.”

Read More: John Henry, Larry Lucchino, Terry Francona, Theo Epstein
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