Tuesday, February 28, 2012

The Red Sox, their owners and beer

The Boston Red Sox play their first spring training games this weekend at JetBlue Park at Fenway South in Fort Myers (dubbed Fenway South by the Red Sox). The $77.8 million stadium project for the Red Sox includes $20 million for the land and $7.2 million for design and permits. The project is being funded by federally-subsidized bonds and will be repaid through a tax for short-term rentals and hotel stays.

For Red Sox fans heading to Fort Myers for spring training, drinking beer at games won’t be an issue (at $9.50 per beer – the only issue is the price). But for the members of the 2012 Red Sox, having the occasional beer at the ballpark will be an issue. The Red Sox have banned beer in their clubhouse for the 2012 season.

Saturday afternoon, with the Red Sox ownership team John Henry, Tom Werner and Larry Lucchino meeting with the media, Red Sox Manager Bobby Valentine announced the Red Sox would become the 19th major league baseball team to ban the consumption of alcohol (including beer) in the team’s clubhouse. There was no team meeting to discuss Valentine’s decision (nor should there have been).

"It's just what I've always done, except in Texas (the Rangers who Valentine managed), I guess," Valentine said in explaining the decision. "I'm comfortable with it that way."

The announcement didn’t come as a surprise to anyone who followed what happened to the Red Sox in September, after a calamity of errors for the Red Sox. After beating the Texas Rangers on September 3, the Boston Red Sox were 84-54. Although half a game behind the Yankees in the American League East, the Red Sox had a nine-game lead over the Tampa Bay Rays for the American League wild card playoff spot and roughly a 99.6 percent chance of making the playoffs. The Red Sox went 5-18 over their last 23 games, one of the more remarkable collapses in sports history, and on the last day of the season, they failed to make the playoffs.

An October expose in The Boston Globe reported that Red Sox pitchers (who weren’t pitching that day) drank beer in the team’s clubhouse during games. Beer drinking in the clubhouse took place throughout the 2011 Red Sox season.

Red Sox designated hitter David Ortiz endorsed Valentine's decision.

"We're not here to drink," he told reporters. "We're here to play baseball. It ain't a bar."

Terry Francona, the Red Sox 2011 manager didn’t quite see the beer drinking in the Red Sox clubhouse the same way.

"I think if a guy wants a beer, he can probably get one," Francona said. "I don't think it's a surprise that they put this in effect, or the fact they announced it. It's probably more of a PR move just because the Red Sox (took) such a beating at the end of the year."

Tampa Bay Rays Manager Joe Madden took it one step further Sunday when asked about the Red Sox decision to ban beer.

"We're not the Boston Red Sox," the manager told reporters Sunday in an apparent shot at the Rays' AL East rivals. Boston Manager Bobby Valentine last week banned alcohol in the Sox's clubhouse in response to some Boston pitchers drinking beer last year during games in which they weren't working.

Maddon said responsible alcohol use after games is fine by him.

"I've said it a hundred times," Maddon told reporters. "For me at the end of the day, I'd much prefer our players making good decisions, and if you're of legal age, and the game is over, and you've sweated and lost a bunch of pounds and you want to sit down and have a beer, I see nothing wrong with that."

The arrival of the Red Sox ownership team at JetBlue Park was a chance for the ownership to do their part to move the team forward from the disasters end to their 2011 season.

“We feel individually and collectively that we have something to prove in 2012,’’ team President Larry Lucchino said according to a Boston Globe report. “Players feel that way. I think our managers and coaches feel that way. We have something to prove. It’s a new chapter beginning today.’’

Two days after the Red Sox season ended in Baltimore in a bizarre series of events, Francona resigned after meeting with the ownership three times in a five-hour period. Francona’s contract ended when the 2011 season did. The Red Sox suggested they were ready to offer Francona a contract for the 2012 season.

No one other than those who met with Francona (and Francona himself) will really ever know if the Red Sox offered Francona a contract. What did take place on September 30 was a public relations nightmare for the Red Sox. Francona, who managed the Red Sox to their first World Series in 86 years in 2004 and in 2007, was left embarrassed and on the outside looking in. The Red Sox ownership group looked indecisive in their handling of Francona’s departure.

“We accept our share of the responsibility for perhaps not having a more open-door policy,’’ Tom Werner said. “I think we’ll be more present this year.’’

“I sort of feel like this is the next chapter,’’ Red Sox principal owner John Henry told The Boston Globe. “There’s a real excitement here at camp. It’s palpable. I’m extremely happy with the leadership of the organization and with the product that we’re going to have on the playing field.’’

The 2011 Boston Red Sox signed Carl Crawford to a seven-year $142 million contract; and then acquired Adrian Gonzalez from the San Diego Padres and signed him to a seven-year $154 million contract. The Red Sox 2011 payroll was just over $161 million.

The 2012 Red Sox didn’t sign any major free agents and lost one of the team’s best pitchers, Jonathan Papelbon, who signed a four-year, $50 million contract that carries a $13 million option for 2016, with the Philadelphia Phillies.

Are the Red Sox forsaking their free spending days?

Lucchino believes the 2012 Red Sox payroll will be much bigger than the team’s 2011 $161 million payroll. Lucchino believes by the time the Red Sox finish their 2012 roster, the team’s payroll will top $190 million.

“In terms of 2012, it’s only February,’’ Lucchino offered. “We’re not done. There are things you do during the season that are possibilities . . . there’s still that option as well.’’

Said Henry: “The discussion seems to be centering around that we’re not spending money. We have the second-highest payroll in baseball. This year, 2012, we have the second-highest payroll. Does that mean we’re not spending?’’

The Red Sox average ticket price during the 2011 season was $52.32, more than double what it cost to attend a game at Fenway Park in 2000. Team Marketing Report determined the Red Sox Fan Cost Index for the 2011 season was $339, what it cost for a family of four to attend a game at Fenway, pay for tickets, parking and buying hot dogs and beverages.

Talk isn’t cheap for Red Sox fans. The Red Sox sellout string passed 700 games in September, the team sold out their entire 2011 schedule. Red Sox fans are still bitter about how the 2011 season ended. Ownership seems to understand how angry their fans are, but actions are much louder than words, and not signing any significant free agents made for a very quiet off-season from the Red Sox owners.

For Sports Business News, this is Howard Bloom

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