SPRINGFIELD — It snowed all day before Red Sox Winter Weekend officially kicked off on Friday evening, but the freezing temps in western Mass were nothing compared to the frigid reception principal owner John Henry and Chief Baseball Office Chaim Bloom received when they took the stage for the Town Hall.
To say Henry’s attendance was a surprise would be an understatement. He’s eschewed the spotlight almost entirely since the Mookie Betts trade of February 2020, which was the last time he sat down for the media. Likewise, he didn’t make himself available to the media on Friday.
The crowd quickly recovered from the shock of seeing Henry, and soon greeted him with echoing boos as he followed CEO Sam Kennedy, Bloom, and manager Alex Cora to their seats.
What followed was a Town Hall straight out of the pages of “Lord of the Flies.” Several times, Henry and Bloom were unable to complete answers to probing questions. When NESN’s Tom Caron, the panel’s moderator, asked Bloom to expand on the comments he made at Rafael Devers’ extension press conference about the team’s vision of the future, the crowd wouldn’t let the embattled executive get a word out. “There’s been some ups and downs” was met with loud boos. Several fans screamed Xander Bogaerts’ name. Someone shouted, “Fake Dombrowski!”
Bloom took the chaos in stride, and implored the crowd, “Let’s talk about this. Let’s talk about this. Let’s talk about this,” and endeavored to speak to a room full of people who pay for actions, not words.
At one point, Henry, principal of an ownership group valued at nearly $10 billion, attempted to explain that high ticket prices are necessary in order to field a top payroll. Boos drowned him out before he could finish claiming, “It’s expensive to have baseball players.”
Even Kennedy’s explanation that fan revenue goes into preserving America’s oldest ballpark was not enough to quiet the storm. Only Cora, with his positive energy and repeated promises that the team would show up and “bust our butts” every game, escaped condemnation.
The brass had to expect some negativity. This is the first Winter Weekend since January 2020. That year’s event wasn’t without controversy, either. Days before, Cora and the team had “mutually agreed to part ways” following news of his involvement in the Houston Astros’ sign-stealing scandal.
Still, Winter Weekend 2020 came on the heels of a winning season, even if it was a deflating follow-up to the glory of the 2018 championship. In 2019, Bogaerts and Rafael Devers both had received MVP votes. And Winter Weekend was smack-dab in the middle of the Sox avoiding arbitration with Betts and trading him exactly one month later. It was two months before the coronavirus pandemic shut down the country, and before this club finished at the bottom of the division twice in three seasons.
Three years later, the Red Sox are largely unrecognizable. Not only is Bogaerts gone, but Devers is the last man standing from that 2018 championship lineup. Chris Sale is the only remaining champion starting pitcher, and has pitched fewer than 50 innings since 2019.
Fans spent $50 for a day pass or $95 on a weekend pass. For those unhappy with the brass, that’s a small price to pay to air grievances.
As the Town Hall wrapped up, Henry was able to placate the crowd, to an extent. Caron gave each member of the panel a chance to address the fans, and the club’s principal owner went first. Famously soft-spoken, fans shouted for him to speak up, and he did:
“I think it’s important to say that over the years, we’ve given everything that we can give to this franchise. We live and die every game. Look, I’ve had my share of disappointment… we’ve had quite a few. Often, those years have been a disappointment because we’ve been focused on what came next … when Nomar (Garciaparra) was traded, I got a call from Theo Epstein. He said, ‘I feel like the loneliest man in New England right now.’
“You have to make decisions. You have to let players go sometimes. That’s very, very tough. It’s the worst part of this game… It really sucks. I just want to let you know that we think about everything that happens here. We’re fully invested, not just monetarily, we’re fully invested in wanting to win championships. I promise you.”
This time, instead of boos, Henry’s closing remarks were quieted by applause.
(Quotes have been edited for clarity.)