Tomase: Sox fans gave John Henry 36,000 reasons to sign Shohei Ohtani


John Henry has always been most comfortable discussing numbers, so here's one that ought to resonate with him: 35,889.

That's the average attendance for the four-game series the Red Sox just completed with the Angels over Patriots Day weekend. That included an announced crowd of nearly 35,000 for Monday's twice rain-delayed finale that saw shirtless fans drinking from their sneakers, because never let anyone outside New England tell us we're a bunch of idiots.

Only a week and a half earlier, Fenway had looked very different, with some of the smallest crowds of Henry's ownership during a sweep by the Pirates. Not even 25,000 showed up for the finale, the club's lowest non-Covid attendance in two decades.

So what changed? It certainly had nothing to do with the Red Sox, who limped home with a double play combo of Bobby Dalbec and Yu Chang after a sweep at the hands of the mighty Rays.

It was all Shohei Ohtani.

Angels phenom Shohei Ohtani reflects on Fenway Park experience

The Angels superstar made his only trip to Boston and fans treated his presence like an Event. With all due respect to Giannis Antetokounmpo, Ohtani is the most absurd freak in professional sports. No one hits the ball farther, throws it harder, or goes from home to first faster. You couldn't build him in a lab.

This once-in-a-lifetime talent is set to become a free agent in the fall, and it's already depressingly easy to see what role the Red Sox will play in the drama of his courtship: spectators.

He's going to command somewhere north of $500 million and the Red Sox have built a massive analytics department that will come up with at least as many reasons to say no. They can whisper that his elbow won't hold up, or that his unprecedented combo of power hitting and power pitching has a limited shelf life, and they might be right.

But they're also missing the point. The goal is to create a compelling product that fans will do anything to see. Nothing against Justin Turner, Adam Duvall, and Kenley Jansen, but constantly cycling through somebody else's veterans builds neither buzz nor loyalty.

Ohtani exists on another plane, with the crowds to prove it. Imagine one player being Pedro Martinez every five days, and David Ortiz the other four. He'd be the club's biggest draw ever.

You can't put a price on that, even if it's $600 million over 15 years, but the Red Sox seem determined to build from within and then hope that the postseason law of averages plays in their favor once every eight years. They utterly lack imagination, focused as they are on thinking so frustratingly small.

Ohtani might not even consider coming here, since he wants to win and the Red Sox don't really offer that opportunity, looking up as they are at the rest of the American League East. Ohtani is sick of missing the playoffs, so his next stop had damn well better be ready to contend for a World Series.

The real contenders will make their pitch this winter, whether it's Steven Cohen's Mets, the profligate Padres, the always lurking Dodgers, or even the more cautious Yankees.

Henry's Red Sox? They talk more about spending than actually doing it these days, their one big splurge – a $300-plus million contract extension for Rafael Devers – feeling more like an acknowledgement of fan unrest than a signal of philosophical change.

That's a shame, because they're in the business of filling seats and as he just proved over the weekend, no one opens that spigot like Ohtani.

Contact Us