Bridesmaid, revisited: John Henry, Dan Duquette, and the BBBWA dinner of 2002

January 10th, 2007 → 12:09 pm @ // No Comments

Finally, let’s take today’s Boston Baseball Writers Association dinner as an opportunity to post a previously unpublished (except for in the book, that is) excerpt about this same dinner, on this same date, back in 2002, when John Henry and Tom Werner were on the verge of taking control of the team. (Like what you read? There’s plenty more available in Feeding the Monster, this year’s amazing New York Times bestseller, available for only $17.16 (cheap!). And you can still get personalized and signed bookplates! Operators are standing by!)

On January 10, 2002, six days before baseball’s other owners officially approved the sale of the Red Sox to John Henry and Tom Werner, the Boston Baseball Writers Association of America held its annual fundraising dinner at the Back Bay Sheraton. The dinner, which every year is advertised as a chance for attendees to mingle for a few hours with a handful of Red Sox officials and players, began in the 1930s and originally functioned as a fundraiser for indigent writers and their families. Today, the Boston writers donate the money raised from the meal—in 2002, tickets were $100 each—to various charities. The evening is generally a ho-hum affair, more of an opportunity for a wintertime check-in than an occasion to get serious business done. Henry saw the dinner as a chance to begin forging the kind of relationships he’d had with many of the Marlins writers when he was in Florida.* That afternoon, from three until six PM, he met individually with many of the beat reporters and columnists who covered the team.

In addition to introducing himself, Henry wanted to know what the reporters thought of Dan Duquette. Since being awarded the team, Henry had found Duquette increasingly difficult to deal with. When he tried to talk to Duquette about the possibility of his staying on as the Red Sox’s general manager, Duquette said he thought he deserved to be named the team’s president. “My goal was to help the Red Sox win a World Series championship and I wanted to stay and fulfill that goal,” Duquette says. “I made it clear I wanted to stay.” Henry thought Duquette’s approach was bizarre. For one thing, Larry Lucchino had already been named the Red Sox’s president and CEO.

“I tried to convince him that just being general manager, if we ended up going with him, would be a big enough job,” says Henry. Duquette was not assuaged. He began to complain about how little he had been paid while working under Harrington, about how he was unappreciated, about how no one seemed to realize how valuable he was to the club.

Henry was well aware that the Red Sox front office was notorious for being needlessly combative. The previous year’s disarray—Duquette’s war with former Sox manager Jimy Williams; Carl Everett’s meltdown; the Sox’s precipitous September swoon—had been well documented. “Before we took over,” Henry says, “it seemed as if [the team] was out of control.” But prior to making any decisions, Henry felt he needed to determine the extent to which the Red Sox’s breakdown was due to circumstances that had nothing to do with Duquette. The team, after all, had been in a much-scrutinized state of flux for almost a year and a half.

The city’s assembled newshounds answered that question for him. Many of the reporters told Henry that they’d never had a single significant—or friendly—conversation with Dan Duquette during the eight years he had run the team. The interactions they did have were marked by an arrogance and elitism they found insulting and obnoxious. With little prompting, they began telling Henry what covering the Red Sox had been like under the previous regime. One writer described how, in the late 1990s, he’d called the Red Sox training facility in Fort Myers to inquire about injured utility infielder Lou Merloni’s physical rehabilitation program. The trainer who answered the phone not only wouldn’t discuss Merloni’s progress, he refused even to confirm that Merloni was in Florida. When asked why he couldn’t comment, the trainer whispered, “If I talk to you, I’ll get fired,” before quickly hanging up. Reporter after reporter described an environment in which the writers, the players, and the team’s management all seemed to be at war with each other. One famously feisty scribe said simply, “Get out your broom and sweep out the Duke.”

Henry’s one-on-one meetings with Red Sox writers gave Henry a fresh perspective on the team. Just as importantly, they helped to thaw the decades-long resentment that existed between the media and the Sox’s front office. In the past, taking shots at ownership had been easy (and fun) to do: when a reporter is treated poorly, he doesn’t worry much about being too hard on a subject. Henry, even after emerging from his bruising battle to buy the team, demonstrated immediately his commitment to changing the way business was done in Boston.

“The media was telling me if they tried to interview a minor league pitching coach they were told, ‘I can’t talk to you because I’ll get in trouble,’” Henry says. “I was shocked.” To each reporter, Henry promised that things would soon be different. “We were committed to being open and having open lines of communication,” says Henry. “That was the opposite of Duquette. And I knew that we had to show we were different as quickly and as aggressively as possible.”

Post Categories: Feeding the Monster Excerpts

2 Comments → “Bridesmaid, revisited: John Henry, Dan Duquette, and the BBBWA dinner of 2002”

  1. benschon

    17 years ago

    This anecdote is interesting in the context of Jim Rice again not getting elected to the Hall of Fame. The lesson: being a jerk to other people, especially to the media, will eventually bite you in the ass. The primary reason Rice is not in the Hall is because he was surly to people who vote for the HoF. His stats are superior to a lot of the inductees of the last 10 years. Karma’s a bitch.

    Likewise, Duke was widely despised, and Everybody Loves Theo, but I don’t think he gets enough credit for the Pedro and Manny signings. These were some of the only huge contracts of the last decade or so that actually panned out. Six years each of Pedro and Manny in their full peak is a very smart decision. Sure, he’s should take the heat for the Jose Offerman and Carl Everett fiascoes, but what about getting Lowe and Varitek for Heathcliff Slocumb?


  2. themack

    17 years ago

    I went to a bunch of the BBWAA dinners between 1999-2004. Some scattered memories:

    1) Tim Wakefield getting a standing ovation three months after giving up the homerun to Aaron Freakin’ Boone.
    2) Getting Pedro’s autograph and while feeling kind of lame (I was about 27 at the time) thinking the feeling of lameness was worth it.
    3) Duquette’s speech which Seth refers to in this posting. The person I sat with (a friend of my wife’s uncle) has been going to this dinner for decades. She buys a whole table and is always right up front. I was sitting about ten feet away from John Henry’s table. There was a noticeable air of tension in the crowd as Duke started, people were fairly agitated. The tension built has he droned on and once he said “while the season didn’t end the way we wanted, but we spent more days in first place than any other team in the Major Leagues” people started to loudly boo, some stood up and yelled, he got pretty ugly. I looked over at Henry. He just shook his head. I wasn’t surprised when they fired him in March.


Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: