FORT MYERS, Fla. -- For years, the mention of "Red Sox ownership" has had a well-defined meaning. The involvement of "the owners" in the team's processes meant the inclusion of three individuals: principal owner John Henry, chairman Tom Werner and CEO/president Larry Lucchino.
A name has been added to the list.
Over the last 18 months or so, limited partner Michael Gordon has emerged as an increasingly important figure in the affairs of both Fenway Sports Group and the Red Sox. According to multiple industry sources, when The New York Times sold its 17.5 percent ownership stake in FSG (and the Red Sox) in three separate transactions (each to multiple investors) totaling $210 million from July 2011 through May 2012, Gordon -- one of the team's limited partners since Henry became principal owner in 2002 -- emerged as the second-largest shareholder in Fenway Sports Group and the Red Sox, with a larger stake than Werner. Only Henry owns a larger share of the Red Sox and FSG.
Gordon does not have a title in the Red Sox organization, nor does he have an office at Fenway Park. But he has become a significant voice in all of the FSG holdings, including the Red Sox and (particularly) Liverpool Football Club. While he is in many ways the member of the ownership group who is most directly responsible for the day-to-day activities of the soccer team, Gordon has seen a steady growth of his involvement in both the business and baseball operations of the Red Sox.
So who is he?
Start with this: His first employer with baseball was current Major League Baseball commissioner Bud Selig.
Gordon, who is in his late 40s and lives in Brookline with his wife and four children, grew up in Milwaukee. His family is very close with Selig (who was the owner of the Brewers during Gordon's upbringing), with a friendship that played a role in Gordon's employment as a teenager.
"I look upon Mike as I look upon a member of my own family," Selig said by phone. "I'm the guy who gave Mike Gordon his first job in baseball. … I put Mike to work in County Stadium many years ago. I think he was selling popcorn if my memory serves me correctly.
"He always grew up with the game. His family did. There's no question Mike did. I have great respect for Mike. He's really one of the finest young men I've ever known. I really mean that. I'm a great fan of his in a lot of ways."
Selig suggested that Gordon ended up attending Tufts for college in no small part because Selig's daughter, Wendy Selig-Prieb, had gone there first. ("She sort of talked Mike into going there," said Selig.)
After he graduated from college, Gordon entered the financial sector and enjoyed tremendous success as an investor, most notably as the manager of Fidelity's Blue Chip Growth Fund in the 1990s and, beginning in 1996, as a co-founder and managing partner of Vinik Asset Management. He became, by multiple accounts, extremely wealthy, with one Forbes report pegging his earnings in 2000 alone as $66 million. That, in turn, positioned him -- along with Jeffrey Vinik, now the owner of the NHL's Tampa Bay Lightning -- to become one of the Sox' limited partners at the time of the ownership transfer from the Yawkey Trust to Henry's group.
Selig said that he enthusiastically encouraged Gordon to join the Sox as a limited partner at the time of the ownership transfer.
"Of course I did," Selig said. "And I'm grateful that I did."
For years, the title of "limited partner" was an accurate depiction of Gordon's role in the organization and, for that matter his personality. Gordon -- who politely declined to be interviewed -- is described by Henry as "probably our most private partner, so he is virtually unknown." Those who do work with him describe an unassuming individual who is content to work behind the scenes and to avoid status as a public figure.
He typically offers advice and feedback when asked -- he's characterized as a valued sounding board for strategic decisions in the Sox organization and FSG -- but does not cross lines if his input is not sought, and is mindful of what he does not know. Those who have worked with him characterize Gordon as exceptionally bright, thoughtful and kind, capable of boiling down complex decisions in a very clear fashion that lends itself to sensible long-term strategic thinking.
So what does he do?
"Mike is well known among professional investors as being one of the brightest financial minds in the country," Henry wrote in an email. "So he is involved in virtually all of our important financial discussions and decisions."
"Mike has been a partner of FSG since the beginning, since the inception of the ownership group," added Sox COO Sam Kennedy. "He's been an extremely valuable resource to John and Tom in their stewardship of Fenway Sports Group. As we've grown over our 12 years together, he's been a very valuable resource to those guys in all of the Fenway Sports Group businesses: Red Sox, NESN, Roush Fenway, Liverpool, Fenway Sports Management. [Henry and Werner] work closely with a lot of the limited partners. Mike is one of those partners that John and Tom work very closely with."
But despite the fact that his input was valued, for most of his first decade of involvement in the Sox, Gordon's work with Vinik dominated his business energies. He operated in the same very limited capacity as most of the team's other limited partners, attending quarterly meetings but without a regular connection to the operations of the team.
But in the fall of 2010, the first hints of a growing role emerged when he joined the board of directors for Liverpool. As the member of the ownership group with the most grounding in soccer, Gordon quickly became a critical figure in the daily running of LFC.
"He is, by far, FSG America’s most knowledgeable person with regard to soccer and is involved on the football side daily in constant communication with the members of our football committee and our manager," Henry wrote. "He took a lead role just about the same time as we brought in Brendan Rodgers [who became manager of Liverpool in June 2012]. All of us give him a lot of credit for Liverpool’s improvement over the past 18 months."
"He runs Liverpool," one industry source said. "He's the point person [among FSG owners] for the people in Liverpool. If it wasn't for him, it wouldn't function."
Gordon elected to buy a sizable chunk of The New York Times in 2011 at a time not only when FSG had added Liverpool to its assets but also when he and Vinik were beginning to shift their attention to pursuits beyond their investment firm, permitting more time for both he and Vinik to become involved in the running of sports franchises. Vinik Asset Management closed last year, returning an estimated $6 billion of its clients' money, and Gordon is enjoying retirement.
That, in turn, has given him more free time to work on other projects. Gordon quickly became the member of the FSG ownership group who dealt on a day-to-day basis with Ian Ayre, Lucchino's equivalent in Liverpool, discussing issues including team resources for player transfers and the complex questions surrounding the renovation and expansion of Anfield, the team's stadium. During the time of his increased involvement, Liverpool has enjoyed considerable progress in both its on-field success (after dismal finishes in the previous three seasons, Liverpool currently is in fourth -- in position for a Champions League playoff berth -- with three months to go in the 2013-14 season) while seeing its overall operation improve considerably.
His impact on Liverpool, in turn, has led to what several sources describe as an increased role in the Red Sox, characterized as part of the governing group (along with Henry, Werner and Lucchino) that is involved in the day-to-day operations of the Red Sox. At this point, Gordon is described as being more involved with broader decisions -- for instance, the nature of the team's commitment to player development and the long term -- than at the level of specific player transactions, but his involvement is real.
Henry described Gordon as FSG's "most generous partner -- devoting significant time and energy in the community for individuals and some of the most important charitable organizations in our community." But his role in the team's baseball and business operations has also become significant, to the point where it has gained visibility in a couple of respects.
First, Red Sox GM Ben Cherington, in accepting an award of the Major League Executive of the Year from the Boston chapter of the BBWAA, cited Gordon alongside Henry, Werner and Lucchino for his committed support. Secondly, Gordon has begun attending meetings of MLB owners, a visibility that would have been unlikely two years ago.
His day-to-day impact on the Red Sox is somewhat difficult to classify. But at a time when the organization has enjoyed a striking 360-degree pivot, Gordon has emerged as an intriguing behind-the-scenes contributor to its successes.
"He's a wonderful young man who will always represent the Red Sox extraordinarily well," said Selig. "He loves the game. I think he has great respect for the game. He's just what you want. The Red Sox, in my opinion -- and I like the Red Sox ownership a great deal -- they're lucky to have Mike. No question about it."