Henry's quiet confidence could transform Liverpool's fortunes
The Red Sox ended their 86-year title drought under John Henry's ownership
The quirky Henry made a fortune in the commodities and futures market
Henry is an advocate of statistical analysis as a basis of strategic decisions
Fans of Liverpool FC, one of the signature teams in the English Premier League, are no doubt stunned that American businessman John Henry recently paid $476 million to buy their team.
Remain calm, futbol fans. I've seen this before. Henry bought the vaunted Boston Red Sox in December 2001 and my city has been pretty happy with Henry's stewardship over the last nine seasons.
Here's a handy-dandy, clip-'n'-save guide for those who know nothing about your new owner:
Henry is first and foremost a businessman. Born in 1949, he grew up in farm country in the middle of America and was not much of an athlete himself. As a young man he loved baseball, guitars and statistics. He wrote music, played in a band and was a devoted fan of the St. Louis Cardinals. His dad died when he was 26 and he took over the family soybean farm. It was then that he learned about commodities markets.
He attended the University of California and spent time at the library studying the history of commodities pricing. He started his own managed futures company in 1981 at age 31. Within a decade, he was rich enough to actually consider buying a Major League Baseball team. In 1998, Henry bought the Florida Marlins. Less than four years later, he was the major investor in a group that paid $700 million for Fenway Park and the Red Sox.
In his nine seasons in Boston, Henry has rebuilt ancient (1912) Fenway Park and sent his team to the playoffs six times. In 2004, the Red Sox won their first World Series in 86 years, shattering the Curse of the Bambino, and bringing great joy to multiple generations of long-suffering Red Sox fans The Sox won another World Series in 2007 and last year had a payroll north of $170 million, second only to the New York Yankees.
Henry is a quirky guy. He is shy, fragile, private and a notorious low talker. He doesn't smoke and drinks little alcohol. He does not seek the spotlight. In 2007, he bought the home of Dodger owner Frank McCourt for $16 million, only to tear the place down and build a new home. He has been married three times, has a teen daughter by his second marriage and recently became a dad again when his wife, Linda, gave birth to a baby girl, Sienna, in late September. Those who know him best believe that, personally, he has never been happier.
He is a nocturnal creature, famous for sending e-mails at all hours of the night and morning. Other than his wife and children, his greatest love is statistics. Baseball is a game of stats and Henry spends hours poring over data, questioning any strategic decision that is not supported by the numbers. Kansas native Bill James made a nice career publishing books of baseball data, but did not work for a big league team until Henry came calling.
The most traumatic event of Henry's Red Sox tenure came when brilliant young general manager Theo Epstein resigned suddenly after the 2005 season. Henry blamed himself for the departure and suggested, "Maybe I'm not fit to run the Red Sox.'' Epstein eventually returned and Henry came to regret his remark.
"I think when it comes to leadership, people don't want to hear introspection,'' he told me in 2008. "So it wasn't the best thing to say, but I think anytime things go wrong in a business or a franchise you have to question yourself, especially if you are near the top. But it was an emotional day. And there were things that could have [been] done and should have [been] done.''
Henry was the first Sox owner to use Fenway Park for rock concerts. Since Henry bought the team, Fenway has featured Bruce Springsteen, the Rolling Stones, Paul McCartney, Jimmy Buffett, the Dave Matthews Band and Phish. The ballpark was the site of a National Hockey League game between the Boston Bruins and the Philadelphia Flyers last New Year's Day. It was also the site of an international soccer match last summer.
While owning the Red Sox, Henry bought into the Roush racing team of NASCAR fame. Now he owns Liverpool FC.
When he bought Liverpool, I was hoping he would throw down the gauntlet, Curt Schilling-style, and announce, "I guess now I hate Manchester United.''
But that is not Henry's style. He prefers to stay in the background. And he just found out that's going to be hard to do as owner of a struggling soccer power in Great Britain.
Dan Shaughnessy is a columnist for The Boston Globe. Read more of his columns here.