02/18/2004 7:48 PM ET
Owners stir Sox-Yanks rivalry
Henry, Steinbrenner issue statements Wednesday
By Ian Browne / MLB.com
BOSTON -- The Red Sox and Yankees play their first meaningful game of the 2004 season on April 16, when a super-charged four-game series begins at Fenway Park. But this epic rivalry is already in midseason form.
|Red Sox owner John W. Henry (AP)
That became plenty clear Wednesday, as Red Sox owner John W. Henry made his first public comments since the blockbuster trade of Alex Rodriguez, and Yankees owner George Steinbrenner countered with some pointed words of his own.
It was the Red Sox who spent plenty of time trying to bring A-Rod to Boston this winter. But they couldn't make the dollars work, particularly once the Players Association vetoed a restructuring plan that would have cut nearly $30 million from the balance of Rodriguez's contract.
After seeing the Yankees put together a deal for A-Rod in a matter of days, Henry wondered if a salary cap might be the solution for leveling the financial playing field between the Yankees and the other 29 teams.
"As for me, although I have never previously been an advocate of a salary cap in baseball out of respect for the players, there is really no other fair way to deal with a team that has gone so insanely far beyond the resources of all the other teams," said Henry in an e-mail response to reporters. "There must be a way to cap what a team can spend without taking away from the players what they have rightfully earned in the past through negotiation and in creating tremendous value."
Steinbrenner countered with a statement.
"We understand that John Henry must be embarrassed, frustrated and disappointed by his failure in this transaction," Steinbrenner said in a statement issued by the Yankees. "Unlike the Yankees, he chose not to go the extra distance for his fans in Boston. It is understandable, but wrong that he would try to deflect the accountability for his mistakes on to others and to a system for which he voted in favor. It is time to get on with life and forget the sour grapes."
In response, the Red Sox issued a statement from Henry at 6:35 p.m. ET.
"I've been asked by the Commissioner to not respond to the New York Yankees' comments today. I've agreed and will abide by that request," Henry said. "The anticipation about the 2004 season is at an all-time high. So let's shift our sights to the field. Let the games begin."
While Steinbrenner has exchanged barbs with Sox CEO Larry Lucchino in the past, Henry -- who used to own a minority share of the Yankees -- is someone he has had a good relationship with over the years.
Even with the hindsight of knowing that A-Rod is a Yankee, Henry makes no apology for the way his team proceeded in their bid for a superstar who is likely to go down as one of the greatest players of all time.
And knowing that his team is expected to be second to the Yankees this season in team payroll, he also wasn't crying poor mouth.
Henry's main concern is that he knows his team doesn't have what it takes to get in a bidding war with the Yankees, and neither does any other team in baseball.
The Yankees, according to the Associated Press, have a projected payroll of $186 million for the coming season. The Red Sox are expected to have the second highest payroll, but it will be nearly $60 million less than that of the Yankees.
"It will suffice to say that we have a spending limit and the Yankees apparently don't," Henry said. "Baseball doesn't have an answer for the Yankees. Revenue sharing can only accomplish so much At some point it becomes confiscation. It has not and it will not solve what is a very obvious problem."
Henry then elaborated on exactly what he perceived that "very obvious problem" to be.
"More often than not $50 million, on average, will not allow a MLB franchise to field a highly competitive team. Every year there will be an exception, but that is really the baseline number," said Henry. "So what has meaning are the dollars spent above $50 million. Most clubs can perhaps afford to spend $10 million to $25 million above that figure trying to compete. A few can spend as much as $30 million to $60 million above that. But one team can and is spending $150 million incremental dollars and at some point 29 owners and their players say to themselves, we can't have one team that can spend 10 dollars above the baseline for every incremental dollar spent by an average team. One thing is certain the status quo will not be preserved."
Henry also noted a recent poll on ESPN.com, which showed 57 percent of the fans characterizing A-Rod's move to the Yankees as "disgusting and sad."
It should also be noted that there was a significant difference between the talks the Red Sox had with the Rangers in November and December, compared to the recent talks between New York and Texas.
The Red Sox could not have acquired Rodriguez without sending slugger Manny Ramirez's lucrative contract (which has a remaining balance of nearly $100 million) to Texas. The Rangers, who were only looking to trade Rodriguez to save money, weren't happy about taking on Ramirez's contract, so they repeatedly asked the Red Sox to send a significant amount of cash back to Texas. That was a big sticking point between the two teams.
On the other hand, the Yankees were sending a player in Alfonso Soriano who is the same caliber hitter as Ramirez, but he comes at a cheaper price. For the Rangers, the deal with New York was simply a better match.
Henry, who got to know and like Rodriguez during his team's well-documented courtship of the megastar, was happy for the player.
"Regarding the questions about how I feel about Alex going to New York, personally I am very happy for Alex," said Henry. "He very much wanted to play in games that have meaning. This year he will get that chance."
And despite the latest turn of events, Henry is optimistic about the chances of his own team, which has added Curt Schilling and Keith Foulke to a nucleus that also includes the likes of Pedro Martinez, Nomar Garciaparra, Ramirez, David Ortiz and Jason Varitek.
"We will be ready as well," said Henry. "The Yankees will have spent more than double the incremental dollars we will spend this year. It's a huge advantage, but we're not waving a white flag. We're going to continue to work just as hard to bring home a championship and are fortunate to have fans that are as uncompromising as we are when it comes to demanding excellence."
Ian Browne is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.