- The Washington Times - Thursday, October 9, 2003

Boston Red Sox president and co-owner Larry Lucchino is feeling pretty good these days, and he should. Vindication is almost as sweet as victory, and no matter what happens in the American League Championship Series between Boston and New York, which now moves to Boston tomorrow for Game3, Lucchino already has been vindicated.

There were many in baseball that were rooting for the Red Sox to fail when Lucchino, the former Baltimore Orioles president and protege of Washington lawyer Edward Bennett Williams, took the bold step and hired an unproven 28-year-old to sit in the hottest seat in New England — general manager of the Red Sox.

But Theo Epstein has proved to be up to the task, retooling the roster, building the most potent offense in baseball and also assembling a team that, unlike past Red Sox teams, has the right kind of chemistry.

It was a strange set of circumstances surrounding Epstein’s hiring. The Red Sox already had hired Mr. Moneyball, Oakland GM Billy Beane, who changed his mind after getting the job, and then they interviewed Mike Flanagan before hiring Epstein, a move that was perceived by some to be the height of arrogance by Lucchino.

What it was, though, was Lucchino’s instinct that this kid they had been grooming for the front office since he was an intern with the Orioles in 1993 had the right stuff. Lucchino saw someone who had legendary instincts — EBW.

“I know there was a fair bit of skepticism, but I had a good teacher,” Lucchino said. “Edward Bennett Williams [when he owned the Washington Redskins] took a young guy who wasn’t quite thought of when he was hired as a general manager type, but that changed over time. His name was Bobby Beathard. I do feel a sense of pride and satisfaction over the good work [Epstein] has done and the team he assembled, and how he has handled the job with grace and pressure.”

Lucchino was part of the John Henry-Tom Werner ownership group that was part of the still suspect deal nearly two years ago in which major league baseball bought the Montreal Expos from Jeffrey Loria for $120million, and then Loria turned around and bought the Florida Marlins from Henry for $158million (with Loria receiving a $38million loan from baseball to make up the difference). That allowed Henry to turn around and, along with Lucchino and Werner (the California TV mogul who used to own the San Diego Padres), buy the Red Sox, Fenway Park and the New England Sports Network for $700million.

When Lucchino came to Boston, the Red Sox were in a shambles, both on the field and off. The clubhouse was considered among the most poisonous in baseball, and the franchise was perceived as one of the most arrogant institutions in New England. But Lucchino said the attitude of the Red Sox organization, simply by changing the vocabulary of those who represent the team, changed from saying no to yes.

Ultimately, though, they wanted the Red Sox to be competitive on the field and in the postseason, and, in their second year of ownership, have achieved that. But they also want to be the ones to erase the Curse of the Bambino and give Red Sox fans their first World Series championship since 1918.

“I’d like to tell you that we had a very astute business plan, but I can’t say that,” Lucchino said. “We wanted to be competitive annually, but we wanted more than that. Our goals were higher. John Henry, Tom Werner and I have 40 years together in baseball. We’re not in it to just be OK. We are in it to win, and our commitment to winning is felt throughout the organization. It starts at the top.”

That sounds a little bit like Lucchino’s nemesis across the field. Lucchino and Yankees owner George Steinbrenner have engaged in a feud that heated up during this past offseason, fueled by Lucchino calling the Yankees the “Evil Empire.” It got so bad that Cadillac Bud Selig had to step in and tell both of them to zip it.

Boss Steinbrenner spoke about his commitment to winning recently when he said, “Winning is second to breathing.” I asked Lucchino if his commitment was just as physiologically impossible.

“I hope that I have a little perspective on the difference between the two,” Lucchino said. “But let’s cut a little slack for the guy.”

Pity for the Boss — the ultimate insult.

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