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Editorial: Expanding the Roster; Red Sox Owner Acquires the ‘Globe’

When the Boston Red Sox traded their flashy young infielder Jose Iglesias for the veteran right-hander Jake Peavy last Tuesday, the deal was described as a blockbuster. As it turned out, it was by no means the major acquisition made last week by John Henry, principal owner of the Sox. Indeed, while his baseball team was suffering through a frustrating loss to the Arizona Diamondbacks Friday night, Henry was sequestered in his suite at Fenway Park, putting the final touches on a deal to buy The Boston Globe, its websites, the Worcester Telegram & Gazette and its website, and affiliated Globe properties from The New York Times Co.

Much as we hope Peavy proves a reliable starter down the stretch for the Sox, we’re rooting even more intensely for Henry to succeed in his entry into the newspaper business, which in many places (although happily not here) has fallen on hard times in the face of digital competition and a deep slump in advertising revenue. How hard may be inferred from the fact that Henry is paying only $70 million in cash for all the properties, while the Times company is retaining responsibility for pension obligations. By way of comparison, the Red Sox paid $70 million over five years to sign the solid but enigmatic outfielder J.D. Drew in 2007, and the Times company paid $1.1 billion when it bought The Globe in 1993 and $295 million when it bought the Worcester paper in 1999. Henry, meanwhile, has a net worth estimated at $1.5 billion, a fortune largely accumulated in the commodities trading business.

There are many reasons to hope that this deal works out. If Boston is not the hub of the universe, it is at least the hub of New England, and the Globe — along with the Red Sox — is one of its signature institutions. The paper has not always covered itself with glory (Upper Valley readers may remember a serious misstep in its coverage of the Zantop murder case in 2001) but over the years it has published a great deal of distinguished journalism — much of it exposing wrongdoing in high places — on the way to being recognized as one of America’s premier metropolitan newspapers.

Henry, having been in town a decade since buying the Sox, appears to appreciate that the Globe represents something more than a mere business opportunity. “This is a thriving, dynamic region that needs a strong, sustainable Boston Globe playing an integral role in the community’s long-term future,” he said after the deal was announced. Indeed, publishing a good newspaper is a trust as much as a business enterprise. His understanding of this will undoubtedly be tested the first time his newspaper writes something unflattering about his baseball team, but he will get used to it as the price to be paid for journalistic independence.

Like good newspapers everywhere, the Globe is an adhesive that helps hold the town together. And like following the Red Sox, reading the Globe is something that people have in common — or at least something they did have in common. It won’t be easy for Henry to turn things around. As one media analyst told The New York Times: “The U.S. is littered with people trying to buy metro papers here in the last five or 10 years that turned out to be very unsuccessful.”

Yet Henry has a reputation for being both a creative and hard-headed businessman, a combination that suggests he may bring something to the table that others may not . And if he figures it out, journalists and readers all over the country will be on a winning streak.