TORONTO -- There's no way of telling, definitively, whether there was any merit to the published report that the owners of the Red Sox have begun consideringplottinginvestigating selling the team.
But for now, let's assume that the depths to which John Henry, Tom Werner and Larry Lucchino went to deny the story means they are not, in fact, selling. Time will either validate their denial or expose them as less than truthful.
A large segment of the fan base, understandably upset over three straight playoff DNQs, to say nothing of the soap opera that has been ongoing for the past 12 months, would like nothing more than Henry and Co. to leave town.
And to be sure, to borrow one of Lucchino's favorite phrases, there's plenty of criticism warranted at the trio, who, beyond allowing the franchise to go to seed, have demonstrated a tin ear of late.
(Example: Recently, one member of ownership expressed complete surprise that the near-universal outside perception is that the organization lacks the proper chain of command).
But let's be fair: in the past decade, this ownership has overseen two world championships and performed a nice remake of a ballpark now 100 years old.
They have spent -- not always wisely, of course -- and invested. Complain about the incessant marketing and "Sweet Caroline,'' but the fan experience at Fenway is worlds better than it was before they took over from the Yawkey Trust, when the ballpark was a dirty, outmoded money pit.
But here's why you should hope that Henry et al stay around: they're motivated.
Not motivated, as in ''motivated sellers.'' Motivated to repair their standing and legacy.
An oft-repeated criticism of Red Sox ownership is that they're too mindful of what others think. They read coverage of the team, listen to talk radio and ask around what's being said about them.
Lucchino can recite all the anecdotal evidence he likes about Massachusetts-reared-Rockies employees hugging him at owners' meetings and professing their undying love for the franchise.
But he and Henry and Werner aren't so isolated that they don't know how angry the fans are. And that may be the Red Sox' saving grace. Because these owners want -- some would suggest "need" -- to be liked. They enjoyed being seen as the white knights who rescued the team from the crony clutches of the Yawkey Estate.
Having experienced that emotional high, having been celebrated, they now are about as well-regarded as Jeremy Jacobs was pre-Cup: depicted as absentee and blissfully unconcerned about the team's fall from grace.
Long ago labeled "carpet-baggers'' because they had the poor sense to have been born outside Rte. 128, they're now in the community. Lucchino lives here year-round and Henry is here nearly half the year. So they hear, they read, they're all too familiar with the fact that the tide has turned against them.
What's more, they know they're going to take a hit for their misdeed. Already, TV ratings have fallen sharply, and the real trouble will come this winter when ticket sales -- both season-ticket and individial game -- take a similar dip.
Henry, Werner and Lucchino understand the importance of restoring the brand and making the Sox winners again. Such a turnaround will restore their standing and prove that the titles in 2004 and 2007 weren't happy accidents.
Could they cash out now and double their investment? Undoubtedly. But what's the hurry?
Name a baseball franchise whose value has decreased. The presence of labor peace provides stability and continuity for the forseeable future. Further, the escalation of TV money boosts the value of every franchise.
(The cable deal with ESPN resulted in a doubling of rights fees and when MLB reaches agreement with either Fox or NBC on the bigger package involving the World Series, All-Star Game and other post-season properties, the jump could be bigger still).
So, yes, the Sox could sell right now for, conservatively, 1.5 billion. But in another few years, with another pennant or World Series flag flying over Fenway, the selling price could put the L.A. Dodgers' pricetag to shame.
Better to have Henry, Werner and Lucchino have something to prove rather than sell when the team has bottomed out.