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

January 10th, 2007 → 12:09 pm @

Finally, let’s take today’s Boston Baseball Writers Association dinner as an opportunity to post a previously unpublished (except for in the book, that is) excerpt about this same dinner, on this same date, back in 2002, when John Henry and Tom Werner were on the verge of taking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

I have no idea what to say about this

July 9th, 2006 → 11:39 pm @

A couple of years ago, Norm Swerling, who taught me driver’s ed in high school, was accused (and acquitted) of raping one of his students. This week, his story is on the front cover of The Boston Globe Magazine…the same issue with an excerpt from my book. And now I’m forever linked with the man who scared the daylights out of me by forcing me to sit through “Mechanized Death.”

Post Categories: Driver's Ed & Feeding the Monster Excerpts & The Boston Globe Magazine