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Why Tom Werner can help save baseball 02.20.17 at 1:12 pm ET
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John Henry and Tom Werner met with the Red Sox media last week. (WEEI.com photo)

John Henry and Tom Werner met with the Red Sox media last week. (WEEI.com photo)

Earlier this month, MLB commissioner Rob Manfred revealed how the league is trying to shorten games. The proposals, which include limiting mound visits, are unimaginative. If Manfred truly wants to quicken up the pace, he should pay a visit to Red Sox camp in Fort Myers, Fla. this spring. Team chairman Tom Werner is the perfect person for him to speak with.

It’s fair to have apprehension about Werner presumably taking on a larger role in the day-to-day operations of the Red Sox. In Terry Francona’s 2012 tell-all book, Francona: The Red Sox Years, he says he nearly walked out of a meeting in 2010 when the former television executive told him to “win in more exciting fashion.” His tenure as majority owner of the Padres ended in disaster, with fans filing a class action lawsuit against him amidst one of the most infamous fire sales in professional sports history.

While Werner’s baseball acumen is questionable, there’s little doubt about his credentials in the entertainment industry. He served as executive producer of “The Cosby Show,” “Roseanne” and “That 70s Show,” all of which were ratings successes. In a meeting with reporters last week, Werner said his primary goal is to push the average game time to under three hours. One of the ways to get there would be shortening commercial breaks.

“And one of the things that I saw that the NFL did this year, they had an experiment at the end of the year where they moved their commercial breaks,” Werner said, via the Boston Herald. “One network tried it one way, another tried it another way. I’d be for less commercial breaks, because I think that increases the ratings. So in the end, I think is a good idea.”

Cutting back on commercials would possibly force television partners to take short-term monetary hits. But if more people wind up watching the games, then those networks can charge more money for spots. Thanks to an influx of multi billion-dollar TV deals, MLB has been able to avoid addressing the long-term issues that plague the league. Radical change, such as starting extra innings with a runner on second base, are needed to make the game more attractive to young people.

Werner seems to recognize this.

“There are experiments going on. I’m for experiments,” he said last week. “There’s a lot of debate about how to deal with extra innings. … The group that is talking about it is going to be expanded to players and general managers. Hopefully we’ll make some improvements to make the game as crisp as can be.”

The monstrous ratings for last year’s Cubs-Indians World Series shouldn’t deter Manfred from trying to dramatically alter how MLB presents its product. A seven-game Fall Classic that featured the Cubs trying to end their 108-year championship drought is what’s known as an anomaly. According to Nielsen ratings, the average age of a baseball viewer is 53, and half of the audience is older than 55. The average age of an NFL viewer is 47, and the average person who tunes into the NBA is 37.

Those numbers are troubling, but baseball’s lack of popularity among young people is what should make Manfred shudder. In a 2015 ESPN poll, adults aged 18-34 were 14 percent less likely to say they were interested in baseball than the overall population. Making subtle changes –– forcing players to stay in the batter’s box and putting a time limit on mound visits –– aren’t enough to bring the masses back. MLB needs to think big.

Despite years of minor tinkering, the average MLB game rose to above three hours in 2016 for the second time in three years. This is because pace-of-play rule changes can only go so far. Due to the prevalence of analytics, the majority number of teams now favor a deliberative approach to the game: work the count on offense, create favorable match-ups on defense. As a result, strikeout rates have risen for 11 straight years, setting a new record each time. In 2016, there were more pitching changes than ever before, too.

MLB can’t dictate how teams play. But it can change the rules they play around. Maybe it’s time to mandate that relief pitchers face at least two batters, or put a cap on the number of timeouts each club is allotted. Sports Illustrated scribe Tom Verducci argues for doing something crazy, like introducing a bonus batter (under this rule, each manager would be able to select any player and have him take a random at-bat once per game).

One of the knocks on Werner as a Red Sox executive is that he thinks like a TV guy. But that’s exactly the kind of perspective MLB needs right now. Werner may not know how to build a winning baseball team, but he knows how to make good television.

Read More: Boston Red Sox, MLB, Rob Manfred, Tom Werner
Top Boston Sports Stories of 2013, No. 13: Red Sox owners go on defensive after being blasted in Terry Francona’s book 12.20.13 at 10:44 am ET
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Over the final days of the year, WEEI.com will count down the top 13 stories of 2013 in Boston sports. This is No. 13: Red Sox owners go on defensive after being blasted in Terry Francona‘s book.

While memories of the 2013 World Series championship are fresh in the minds of many Red Sox fans, looking back, the mood and atmosphere surrounding this team was significantly less positive during the first few months of the year. Entering 2013, the sting of the September collapse of 2011 and the massively disappointing 69-93 campaign under the helm of one-and-done manager Bobby Valentine in 2012 loomed over Fenway Park like a dark cloud.

One of the most interesting storylines that emerged during Boston’s bleak franchise slump was the war of words between former Sox manager Terry Francona and team ownership, specifically John HenryLarry Lucchino and Tom Werner, upon the release of Francona’s book, “Terry Francona: The Red Sox Years.”

The manager of the Sox from 2004-11, Francona was one of the most successful and beloved skippers in franchise history, leading his team to two World Series titles in 2004 and 2007 while posting a 744-552 (.574) regular-season record.

While Francona boasted an impressive track record in Boston, he was was the manager during one of the worst collapses in MLB history, as the 2011 Red Sox went 9-20 in September, blowing a nine-game lead to the Rays in the American League wild card race and missing out on the playoffs.

After the season ended, the Red Sox and the manager agreed to part ways. The divorce was not pretty, as a source from within the Red Sox organization told a Boston Globe reporter that Francona was distracted by marital problems and an addiction to pain medication during Boston’s September slump.

Fair to say, Francona was not happy with these allegations, and he blamed ownership.

“If there was one thing I was probably guilty of, it was protecting everyone in that organization. Everybody. I felt that was part of my responsibility, even to the point where in that last press conference, I said I take responsibility for this,” Francona said during an appearance on The Big Show in December 2011. “I couldn’t get to the players. I thought, ‘OK, I’m done here. I’ll take responsibility and go away.’ Little did I know I was going to be going away limping because someone cut my legs out from under me.”

Read the rest of this entry »

Read More: Boston Sports Stories of the Year 2013, Dan Shaughnessy, John Henry, Stories of the Year 2013
Liverpool soccer team names Brendan Rodgers manager 06.01.12 at 12:23 pm ET
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The English soccer team Liverpool, owned by Fenway Sports Group and Red Sox owners John Henry and Tom Werner, introduced Brendan Rodgers its new manager Friday.

Werner, the Liverpool chairman, called Rodgers a “forward-thinking coach at the forefront of a generation of young managers [who] will bring to Liverpool attacking, relentless football.”

Rodgers is replacing Liverpool legend Kenny Dalglish, who was fired less than a month ago. Liverpool also spoke with Wigan manager Roberto Martinez before deciding to appoint Rodgers.

In his only season as a manger in the English Premier League, Rodgers headed first-time EPL member Swansea to an 11th-place finish. His team finished three points below Liverpool in the standings. The eighth-place finish was Liverpool’s worst in 18 years.

The 39-year-old Rodgers spent most of his coaching years in minor leagues, coaching the youth team at Chelsea before managing Watford and Reading.

“My pathway as a young coach has been different to most managers,” Rodgers said. “I have actually been coaching and working in football for 20 years. At Chelsea I had experience of working with big players. I look at Kenny Dalglish, he was the manager [of Liverpool in 1985] at 34 and resigned at 39. I arrive here at 39.”

Read More: Brendan Rodgers, Kenny Dalglish, Rumor Mill, Tom Werner
Fenway Sports Group fires Liverpool soccer coach Kenny Dalglish 05.16.12 at 1:02 pm ET
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Fenway Sports Group, headed by Red Sox owners John Henry and Tom Werner, announced the firing of Liverpool soccer coach Kenny Dalglish on Wednesday morning.

Dalglish, who spent stints with Liverpool both as a player and a manager, came back to the Anfield club to manage in 2011. He led Liverpool to a Carling Cup victory but watched the team sink to eighth place in the Premier League standings.

Dalglish’s departure means Henry and Werner must search for a replacement manager for Liverpool along with handling any problems the Red Sox have. Boston is currently on a five-game winning streak, but the team has been struggling this season and is last in the AL East, 5½ games out of first place.

“Kenny came into the club as manager at our request at a time when Liverpool Football Club really needed him,” Werner said in a Liverpool release. “He didn’t ask to be manager; he was asked to assume the role. He did so because he knew the Club needed him. He did more than anyone else to stabilize Liverpool over the past year-and-a-half and to get us once again looking forward. We owe him a great debt of gratitude.

“However, results in the Premier League have been disappointing and we believe to build on the progress that has already been made, we need to make a change.”

Dalglish began playing for Liverpool in 1977, later changing his role to a player manager. He stayed with Liverpool until 1991 and returned in 2009 as an ambassador.

Read More: John Henry, Kenny Dalglish, Rumor Mill, Tom Werner