Baseball: Henry can pull Sox up but will Liverpool see readies?

Nick Szczepanik
Sunday 27 March 2011 02:00

When the Boston Red Sox' newly-signed outfielder Carl Crawford was presented to the media last December, he realised that he was without appropriately-coloured neckwear. Executive vice-president Sam Kennedy gave him a Liverpool tie, "thus merging Major League Baseball and Premier League", according to Peter Gammons, the respected baseball broadcaster.

The purchase of Liverpool by the Fenway Sports Group, the owners of the Red Sox, was seen as an example of sporting synergy. After all, Fenway revitalised one historic but underachieving team with a large Irish following, so they might be able to repeat the trick on Merseyside. But as the Red Sox look forward to the beginning of the 2011 baseball season on Thursday, confident that they have a team that will take them to the World Series, Liverpool supporters will wonder whether their mutual owners' heavy investment in new talent at Fenway Park will affect the chances of a title challenge being mounted at Anfield in the 2011-12 campaign.

John W Henry, the principal owner, and Tom Werner, the chairman, brought the Red Sox their first World Series win in 86 years in 2004, another in 2007 and, in pursuit of a third, have splashed out on two top-tier reinforcements. Crawford, 29, a speedy and athletic All-Star, will receive $142m (about £88m) over seven years, while power-hitting first baseman Adrian Gonzalez, 28, will get $154m over a similar period. They are joined by relief pitchers Bobby Jenks ($12m for two years) and Dan Wheeler (one year, $3m).

Crawford and Gonzalez are the first players in the team's history to earn more than $20m per season, an outlay more in keeping with their spendthrift rivals, the New York Yankees, than a team known for recruitment based on careful statistical analysis and relative financial restraint. Fans have enjoyed the novelty after years of being outbid by the hated Yankees for the services of players such as Alex Rodriguez and Mark Teixeira.

The denizens of The Kop will hope this spending demonstrates Fenway's will to win rather than affecting Kenny Dalglish's budget in the summer.

Henry maintains that any scepticism is unfounded about an ownership group voted the best in Major League Baseball by readers of Sports Business Journal. He can point to the five-and-a-half-year contracts awarded to Andy Carroll and Luis Suarez, whose transfers were largely funded by selling Fernando Torres. But Henry emphasised the separate status of the two teams when Sox fans worried about the possible drain on their budget when Liverpool were acquired, saying that each team's budget depended on its discrete revenue. "People don't have a clear understanding of Fenway Sports Group, so it's understandable that they may believe that buying Liverpool deprives the Boston Red Sox of capital," he said. "But it doesn't work that way."

Will the Red Sox' spending bring success? They are favourites to win the American League with the Yankees ageing and last season's champions, the Texas Rangers, losing pitching ace Cliff Lee. He has joined the Philadelphia Phillies, who have added to a formidable pitching rotation but are weakened by the departure of outfielder Jayson Werth and an injury to key infielder Chase Utley, but remain favourites to take the National League title and face Crawford and companyin the World Series in autumn. Liverpool fans will be more interested in summer arrivals at Anfield – whichever team's ties they wear.

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