It always amazed me that Larry Lucchino did not return to the District when baseball was restored to the city.
His involvement seemed inevitable once the campaign to relocate the Montreal Expos to the District began to gain momentum in the late 1990s. When a franchise landed here and a ballpark needed to be built, Larry Lucchino would be part of it.
This is where Lucchino grew up professionally, first as a lawyer with the prominent firm of Williams & Connolly, then as an executive with the Washington Redskins and Baltimore Orioles under the guidance of his mentor, Edward Bennett Williams.
Lucchino is part of the ownership group that gained control of the Boston Red Sox in 2002. Under the new leadership, the Red Sox finally “reversed the curse” by winning the 2004 World Series - the club’s first championship since 1918.
The timing, it seemed, was perfect for Lucchino to come back as the conquering hero. This would be his final act in baseball - putting the game back in play in the District.
But Lucchino instead watched the relocation process as an interested, distant observer - as a Bostonian. He had what his mentor, EBW, once believed was a dream job - running the Red Sox.
“I knew how much Ed revered the Red Sox, going back to his childhood days in Hartford,” said Lucchino, who Tuesday returns to the District for Boston’s first visit to Nationals Park. “I never thought I would wind up there, but I love Boston. It is a great city, a real American city. … It is one of the best places in the nation for a baseball executive to work. They love their Red Sox, they love Fenway Park and they love their history and heritage.”
Lucchino, 63, grew up in Pittsburgh and went to Princeton, where he played basketball with Bill Bradley on the Final Four team of 1965. He attended law school at Yale, then came to the District to work with Congress during Watergate. He was hired by Williams & Connolly, where he became close to Williams, perhaps the most famous trial lawyer of his time.
Williams brought him to the Redskins as the team’s general counsel, then to the Orioles after Williams purchased that franchise. Lucchino eventually became team president, setting the stage for his greatest sports legacy: overseeing the planning and construction of Camden Yards. Nobody was more responsible for the decisions that led to the ballpark that changed the business of baseball.
Lucchino, in a partnership with current St. Louis Cardinals owner William DeWitt, was about to buy the Orioles from their bankrupt owner, Eli Jacobs, in 1993 when Baltimore lawyer Peter Angelos came in with a bid and forced the sale to bankruptcy court. Angelos got the club, and Lucchino opted not to stay.
He flirted with putting together a group to buy his hometown team, the Pittsburgh Pirates, in 1994. But he instead joined John Moores in the purchase of the San Diego Padres. There, Lucchino again oversaw the development of a new stadium, Petco Park. He also helped reverse the club’s fortunes on the field; in 1998, the Padres made the World Series for the second time in club history.
As momentum slowly built to move the Expos to the District, many expected Lucchino to take part. He did, in fact, help - just not in the way anyone expected. When the Red Sox were put up for sale, Lucchino and Tom Werner, the former Padres owner, joined Florida Marlins owner John Henry to form the ownership group that ultimately won a bitterly contested bidding process in 2002.
In the remarkable and historic three-way deal, Expos owner Jeffrey Loria acquired the Marlins and Major League Baseball took over the Expos, setting in motion the process that eventually led to the relocation of the club in 2005 and its sale to the Lerner family and Stan Kasten a year later.
“If I had been a free agent during that period, it would have been a different matter,” Lucchino said. “I would have attempted to be more actively involved in it. But I had my hands full, so there really was no break that allowed for that. …
“I certainly followed it closely and was eager to see how it would turn out. When Ed Williams and I were involved with the Orioles, we tried to make the Orioles and Baltimore and the ballpark as comfortable as possible for Washingtonians and make the Orioles more of a regional team. But we always understood that, sooner or later, there would likely be a team in Washington.”
Lucchino, Henry and Werner have taken a popular franchise and turned it into a financial juggernaut and model organization, revitalizing Fenway Park in the process.
“This is our eighth year, but our group will forever be known as the new ownership because one family [the Yawkeys] had it for 68 years,” he said. “Given the traditional nature of Boston, we will probably be known as the new ownership group for the next 20 years.”
In the District, though, he is no newcomer.
“It does feel like I am coming home,” he said. “Baltimore-Washington still feels very much like home.”