- The Washington Times - Tuesday, April 23, 2002

Larry Lucchino grew up in Pittsburgh as a Pirates fan. He found his professional career in sports in Washington, under the direction of Edward Bennett Williams, first with the Washington Redskins and then with the Baltimore Orioles. Then he moved across the country to take on his greatest challenge to date breathing life into baseball in San Diego.
But perhaps Lucchino's destiny was always in Boston, where he now presides over one of the most storied franchises in all of sports the Red Sox, who make their second trip to Baltimore this season to begin a three-game series today at Camden Yards, the house that Lucchino helped build during his time as Orioles president from 1988 to 1993.
When Lucchino was working for Williams, the famed trial lawyer who owned both the Redskins and the Orioles during his legendary career often would tell Lucchino the franchise of his dreams was the Red Sox.
"He grew up in Hartford, and was a Red Sox fan growing up," Lucchino said. "He would often say to me, 'The Red Sox, there is a franchise. All of New England loves them.' He told me on a couple of occasions that he would trade the Redskins and the Orioles for the Red Sox."
Lucchino thought about Williams' words the day he and the ownership group he helped put together took over the Boston baseball team in February just days after spring traning began after one of the most high-profile, high-cost and highly bitter battles for a sports team in recent memory. But he also felt a far more personal connection to the franchise he was taking over.
In 1986, Lucchino spent five weeks at the Dana Farber Clinic in Boston receiving treatment for non-Hodgkins lymphoma. The first day he was released from the clinic, he went to Fenway Park to see a game. "It was a great way to bust out," he said.
So, in several ways, Boston feels like home for Lucchino, even though he wasn't welcomed to the city with open arms. In fact, the $660 million purchase of the Red Sox, New England Sports Network and Fenway Park by Lucchino's group set off a firestorm of protest in New England that drew threats of an investigation by Massachusetts Attorney General Thomas F. Reilly and repeal of Major League Baseball's antitrust exemption by Congressman William Delahunt from Boston.
Critics charged that baseball commissioner Bud Selig and Red Sox chief operating officer John Harrington, who oversaw the Yawkey Trust that had owned the franchise since owner Tom Yawkey died, had rigged the process to favor the Lucchino-Henry group over local bidders. Lucchino was welcomed to town with a hostile stack of newspaper columns and an angry wave of radio talk shows.
"There was an intense amount of media coverage," the 56-year-old Lucchino said. "It was dissected and examined every day in the papers. But the decision was not going to be made in the media. It would be made by John Harrington and his limited partners, and they were going to select the best, most reliable and most experienced option. But if we had ever forgotten how unique the Red Sox are as a franchise, that sales process and media coverage reminded us almost daily."
After leaving the Orioles shortly after Peter Angelos purchased the team in the fall of 1992, Lucchino became partners with computer software multi-millionaire John Moores to purchase the San Diego Padres in 1995. He helped turn the Padres from a laughingstock into a winning franchise, with two National League East Division titles and one NL pennant and trip to the World Series in 1998. He also boosted attendance and the profile of the team in the community, but his primary accomplishment was sheparding through plans for a new ballpark, just as he did in Baltimore with Camden Yards.
It was a difficult process, as the ballpark met with strong political and legal challenges the final one was only recently hurdled as plans move ahead for construction. But though Lucchino directed the design and construction plans, he would not see them through, as he had at Camden Yards.
Lucchino resigned in October after a year of battles with Moores on a number of issues from the ballpark to the operation of the franchise. Lucchino was advising Marlins owner John Henry on stadium issues when the opportunity to buy the Red Sox arose.
Tom Werner, the former general partner of the Padres in the previous regime, had retained a small portion of ownership in the club and grew to know Lucchino during the sales process in 1994 and 1995. So when Werner decided to pursue the purchase of the Red Sox when the Yawkey Trust was putting the franchise up for sale, and he learned Lucchino was on his way out with the Padres, he enlisted the help of Lucchino in the fall of 2001 to be part of Werner's ownership group, and to seek out new investors.
Henry had gotten to know Lucchino when Lucchino was sent to South Florida by Major League Baseball to study the stadium issues there, and when he learned Lucchino was involved in a bid for the Red Sox he called Lucchino and wondered if there was any way he could became part of the group. That set off the bizarre franchise swap this past winter that saw Henry purchase the Red Sox, while Montreal Expos owner Jeffrey Loria bought the Marlins and MLB took over operation of the Expos.
Henry became the lead investor, and Lucchino became the point man for the Red Sox. So when they arrived in Boston to take over, Lucchino met the criticism they had received head on. Henry met with nearly every beat writer who covered the team in New England to talk about problems they had in the past with the Red Sox, who had a reputation as one of the most media-unfriendly franchises in all of sports.
Lucchino went on radio talk shows and invited people to call in to talk to him about any issue, and worked to build relationships with the players, who under the previous regime of general manager Dan Duquette, had grown into one of the most poisonous clubhouses in all of baseball. Suddenly the Red Sox were receiving glowing reviews in the local media.
"We did a number of symbolic things that were well received," Lucchino said. "We heard plenty about the melodramas here last year and we were determined to provide a fresh start."
They also made some key personnel decisions that were welcomed, such as the firing of Duquette, who was intensely disliked by the players and the media, and manager Joe Kerrigan, replacing them with long-time baseball people with solid reputations Mike Port as general manager and Grady Little as manager.
The biggest challenge, though, remains the future of Fenway Park. Over the past few years, the plan appeared to be to tear down the historic ballpark and build a new one. However, Lucchino and the Henry ownership group are currently examining ways to refurbish the ballpark.
"Our basic commitment is to use all of our abilities to find a workable plan to preserve the best of Fenway Park, but modernize it in terms of additional capacity and fan comforts," Lucchino said. "To say that is a serious challenge is an understatement. But it's a privilege to be charged with the responsibility."
He has brought in the architectural and design planner that helped shape Camden Yards, Janet Marie Smith, to do just that.
Ironically, Lucchino and Smith were at Camden Yards for the 10th anniversary of the opening of the ballpark this season when the Red Sox played the Orioles on April 6. Lucchino helped create a legacy that shaped major league baseball for the past 10 years with the opening of Camden Yards. Now he is trying to preserve a legacy.
"Everywhere you turn in Fenway Park, there is history," he said. "It surrounds you. It's a special privilege to be the steward of this franchise that was here long before us and will be long after we are gone."

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