Remembrance of a Brilliant but Flawed Baseball Visionary

Remembrance of a Brilliant but Flawed Baseball Visionary

The sports world never lacks people with Jekyll and Hyde personalities. Roger Clemens, Aaron Rodgers, and Howard Cosell come to mind immediately. In other words, these are people whose competitive nature and desire to be the best at what they did won them admiration from afar, but whose surly personalities and arrogant demeanors caused some to take a dim view of them at times.

Larry Lucchino, the former Boston Red Sox President, who died on April 2 at the age of 78, certainly fit that bill.

When Lucchino came to the Red Sox in 2001, he was an experienced baseball man. He was the driving force behind the Baltimore Orioles building a jewel of a ballpark and helped do the same thing for the city of San Diego as a Padres executive. He also had a reputation for being tough. Baseball reporter Ken Rosenthal in an April 2 column posted on The Athletic, mentioned Lucchino once spent 37 days in the hospital undergoing an experimental treatment for lymphoma that was at an advanced stage. He later survived renal and prostate cancer as well. Rosenthal went on to say that Lucchino had a reputation as someone who had a “volcanic” temper. One business associate said at times that Lucchino would get so angry that he’d start shaking. Indeed, to a skeptical Red Sox fan base who was starved for championship glory, Lucchino’s appointment as team President seemed like a welcome respite from the ambivalence of the previous regime. They had no idea how right they were.

Larry Lucchino was everything the Red Sox and their fans could have hoped for— brash, overcompetitive, and omnipresent. Lucchino was at his best and most revered though in standing up to New York Yankee owner George Steinbrenner. Steinbrenner delighted in using his deep pockets, boorishness, and his team’s cachet to crush the baseball establishment like a bug to ensure the Yankees dominance on the field and in the headlines. Lucchino proved it takes one to know one by standing toe-to-toe with Steinbrenner in the competitive department. This is best exemplified by Lucchino’s labeling of the Yankees as “the evil empire” in the wake of the typical big money free agents signing The Yankees were wont to make in the early 2000’s.

How sweet it was then when Lucchino was able to back up his words by watching his 2004 Red Sox team win their first championship in 86 years and even defeat the Yankees by overcoming a 3-0 deficit in a memorable League Championship Series. Someone had finally broken the Steinbrenner stranglehold on Major League Baseball. Along the way, Lucchino modernized Fenway Park, the ancient ballyard the Red Sox called home by adding seats atop the famed Green Monster and helping revitalize the area around the ballpark through scores of bars and restaurants. It seemed like Larry Lucchino could do no wrong. Then, as quickly as the bolt of lightning, everything changed.

By 2011, Lucchino’s aggressiveness and need for control started to catch with him. His protégée, Theo Epstein, felt disrespected and locked in his power struggle with his mentor. He soon left the organization to become General Manager of the Chicago Cubs. Soon afterwards, beloved manager Terry Francona was not brought back after an epic late season collapse. Lucchino recommended a long- time friend for the managerial job despite the fact he hadn’t managed in the major leagues in 12 years. Valentine was hired and led the Red Sox to their worst season in over half a century. In 2015, Lucchino resigned his post as President to be the public face of the Red Sox lead minor league operation.

When you hear the people of Worcester praise Lucchino for bringing a team to them, just remember what he did to the Rhode Island baseball fans to make that happen. He said our ballpark was too small, when the same was for Fenway, and yet he found a way to modernize it. He said the business model wasn’t sustainable long term, which was true, but did he try to find a solution in Pawtucket? Most of all, he disregarded almost 50 years of tradition and loyalty because he wanted a modern showpiece for people who aren’t necessarily baseball fans. Now, McCoy Stadium looks soulless and ready to be torn down thanks in no small part to Larry Lucchino’s need to look cool and modern.

So how should we view Larry Lucchino in the wake of his death? A driven ambitious baseball man? A kind and charitable man, or a man for forsook the loyalty of the Pawtucket Red Sox fan for a buck towards a modern baseball palace he had to have. They’re all true, but you can decide for yourself.

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