- The Washington Times - Saturday, October 16, 2004

BOSTON. — Famed trial lawyer and Washington icon Edward Bennett Williams once told a young lawyer that he would trade his ownership of the Baltimore Orioles and his piece of the Washington Redskins for the franchise of his dreams — the Boston Red Sox.

“Ed, you can’t be serious,” the young lawyer said to the man who brought him into the sports business. Williams replied, “You don’t know how great it would be to own the Red Sox. I grew up there. I know what it means to people there.”

The late Williams, then, certainly would enjoy this: The young lawyer with whom he shared his dreams now runs the franchise that was close to EBW’s heart.

“There is a certain amount of poetry in that I ended up with the franchise that Williams thought was the most extraordinary of all,” said Larry Lucchino, president and chief executive officer of the Red Sox. “My career in sports is attributed to him.”

Williams certainly would approve of the job his protege has done running the most popular institution in all of New England, even with the Red Sox still down 2-0 to the New York Yankees in the American League Championship Series after Game 3 was rained out last night at Fenway Park. Since buying the team in 2002 with a group that included former Florida Marlins owner John Henry and former San Diego Padres owner Tom Werner, Lucchino has helped raise the passion and popularity of the Red Sox to an all-time high.

Next year, for the first time in franchise history, every game at Fenway Park has been sold out in advance.

“The team was sold to experienced baseball owners and executives who recognized what an extraordinary franchise it was and what an even more extraordinary franchise it could be,” said Lucchino, who has been general counsel for the Redskins and president of the Orioles.

The ownership group has transformed the heated rivalry between the Yankees and Red Sox into a blood feud unmatched in sports, even if sometimes that hasn’t been the intent (see the Pedro Martinez-Don Zimmer bout on the field at Fenway Park last year and the Alex Rodriguez trade war during the offseason).

Still, Lucchino has embraced the Yankees rivalry. He engaged in a war of words with Yankees owner George Steinbrenner that resulted in the now-famous reference of “Evil Empire.” Though the powers that be in baseball have frowned upon owners battling each other in the newspapers, Lucchino and his fellow owners have become, in the eyes of Red Sox fans, fellow Yankees haters.

“We thought we could deepen the passion that fans have for this team,” Lucchino said.

For years, the Red Sox organization didn’t have to do anything except field a team to sustain a certain level of popularity, because the franchise was so much a part of New England tradition. So they didn’t. They took the fans for granted and treated the concept of media and marketing with disdain.

But when Lucchino and Co. took over, they made every effort to overcome that. At the press conference introducing them, the new owners presented a mission statement to Red Sox fans. The five commitments included fielding a team worthy of their support; preserving all that is good about Fenway Park and taking it to new levels of hospitality; marketing the Red Sox throughout all of New England aggressively; and becoming active participants in the charitable and philanthropic activities in the community.

“The marriage of small market experience and large market opportunity has helped us,” said Lucchino, who brought his unique experience from Baltimore, where he was the guiding force behind Camden Yards, and San Diego, where he took a moribund franchise and rebuilt it into National League pennant winner, set attendance records and pushed through the financing and design for a new ballpark.

He has made some bold moves in Boston, too. He hired a 28-year-old unknown named Theo Epstein, an intern for the Orioles 11 years earlier who Lucchino mentored just as Williams did for him, to run the most treasured possession in New England. Epstein, in his two years as general manager, has put together a roster that has won 98 games each season. He acquired unheralded players like David Ortiz, who has become an MVP candidate, and beat out the Yankees in the trade war for pitcher Curt Schilling, though the Red Sox badly mishandled the attempt to trade Manny Ramirez for Rodriguez.

“Shortly after I hired Theo, I went to dinner here in Boston, and the restaurant owner wouldn’t take money for the check,” Lucchino said. “He said, ‘I want to buy dinner for the guy who was bold enough to hire a 28-year-old to run the Red Sox.’”

The owners have yet, however, to accomplish their final commitment to the fans, “to end the curse of the Bambino and win a world championship for Boston, New England and Red Sox Nation.”

“We won’t consider ourselves successful stewards of the franchise until we win a few world championships,” Lucchino said.

A few? Williams would roar over that one. Perhaps he would say, “Just win one, Larry. I know what it means to people there.”

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