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Baseball economist Andrew Zimbalist: ‘Francona’ filled with ‘petty,’ inaccurate portrayals of Red Sox owners

02.03.13 at 2:00 pm ET
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Smith College professor of economics Andrew Zimbalist, in a podcast interview with Kirk Minihane to discuss the portrayal of Red Sox owners in “Francona: The Red Sox Years,” suggested that the book (co-authored by former Red Sox manager Terry Francona and Boston Globe columnist Dan Shaughnessy) offered a dramatic misrepresentation of the strong work done by Sox owners during their almost 11 years in charge of the team.

“I felt like a lot of the book engages in these kinds of petty accusations where Francona and Shaughnessy would cite a presumed sentence that [Red Sox CEO Larry Lucchino] uttered or that [chairman Tom Werner] or [principal owner John Henry] uttered. My reaction to that stuff is, ‘€˜Come on ‘€“ all of us are human beings and during the course of a week, all of us probably say a couple things we wish we hadn’€™t said or we wish we could have said it better,’€™ ” said Zimbalist. “When you’€™re sitting around in a meeting and you’€™re brainstorming about what should we do to deal with flagging ratings on NESN or issues with potential drops in season tickets or whatever the meeting might be, you’€™re sitting around and you’€™re brainstorming and you say something. It’€™s just trying to, it’€™s off the top of your head. You’€™re trying to have a discussion about an issue. . . .

“To take out certain things like that, to take them out of context, I thought it was petty. Some of the more strident things that were said about Henry and Werner not understanding the intricacies of baseball or that they don’€™t love the game, they only like the game, just seem to be me to be terribly inaccurate and mischaracterizations, and also not representative of what I think is really a terrific job overall that this ownership team has done. Obviously, any Sox fan who waited 80-plus years for the World Series know that they brought us two World Series over the course of 10 years, which is phenomenal, and except for the last few years, practically every year the postseason experience. They invested almost $300 million of their own money in Fenway Park, which is up against the plan that John Harrington had to tear down Fenway Park and build a new park that was down the street from Fenway Park, primarily with a plan that had hundreds of millions of dollars in public money as opposed to private money.

“They’€™re playing with the second highest payroll in baseball for the last several years. So this is an ownership group that has done really well by Boston, and I found it difficult — Francona, after all, was the manager for eight years. Then all of a sudden, he has a bad year, there’€™s a swoon in September, he himself personally has a bad year which starts with marital separation, rumors of affairs, probable addiction ‘€“ certainly serious problems with painkillers, and stuff going on in the clubhouse. It’€™s pretty clear that he’€™s losing control. And it seems to me that he’€™s just trying to deflect the culpability, to deflect the blame, from himself to the owners. And frankly, I think it’€™s inappropriate.”

Zimbalist added that the notion that the team’s owners do not love the game was also misleading.

“I think they’€™re all really smart. And I think they all really do love baseball, and I think they understand the intricacies of baseball,” said Zimbalist. “John Henry is a stats guy. John Henry brought Bill James to Boston — along with some other very good sabermetricians, by the way. John Henry understands a lot of sabermetrics that’€™s quite important in the game of baseball. I’€™d be willing to put his sabermetric knowledge up against Terry Francona’€™s any day.

“Of course, Francona has spent many more hours on the field than John Henry has. I’€™m sure there are lots of things that Francona knows that Henry doesn’€™t. But that’€™s not the point. These guys understand baseball. It’€™s silly to say they don’€™t understand the intricacies of the game.”

(Zimbalist is a consultant for Major League Baseball, and in that capacity, acknowledged that he has a “business relationship” with the owners of the Red Sox that has included time spent with the ownership group at games and casual email exchanges with team owners, including “a short email with either Larry Lucchino or Tom Werner” about Francona’s book after it was published.

However, Zimbalist said that he does not feel that his working relationship with Sox owners represented a conflict of interest when it came to discussing the merits of the group, and he said he did not feel it was necessary to disclose his ties to the group in a recent Boston Globe editorial.

“I’€™ve never been paid by the Red Sox,” he said. “Do I know them? Yes. Because I know all the ownership groups, or virtually all of them, through my work with Major League Baseball, and of course I live in Western Massachusetts, so I probably see this ownership group more often than I see other ownership groups. But I’€™ve never been paid by the Red Sox.

“I had that discussion with the Boston Globe [about whether or not to disclose his work in MLB for his editorial]. I think that people who know me and follow my work would have respected what I said and know that I’€™ve consulted with Major League Baseball. I think if I had a business relationship where they were writing me checks, I certainly would have had an obligation to disclose that.”)

To listen to the complete podcast, click here.

Read More: andrew zimbalist, John Henry, Larry Lucchino, Terry Francona
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