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Tuesday, April 16, 2024
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Larry Lucchino, One of Baseball’s Most Influential Executives, Dies at 78

  • The former Red Sox president and CEO helped lead the resurgence of that franchise.
  • Lucchino also had an outsized impact on Baltimore and San Diego.
USA TODAY

Larry Lucchino, a veteran baseball team executive who put his stamp on three of the sport’s iconic facilities, helped break the Red Sox’ famed, 86-year title drought and coined the term “Evil Empire” regarding the rival Yankees, has died at the age of 78.

Lucchino is most known for his 14-season run as president and CEO of the Red Sox between 2002 and ’15, during which the team won three World Series, ended the so-called “Curse of the Bambino,” and conducted more than $300 million in renovations for Fenway Park, in turn preserving the iconic ballpark for future generations. Before the ’02 arrival of Fenway Sports Group, of which Lucchino was a part, Fenway Park had been eyed for potential demolition.

But Lucchino’s legacy goes far beyond just Boston. He also helmed the Padres as president and CEO from 1995 to 2001, during which time Petco Park was funded and designed in advance of the ballpark’s ’04 opening, and also led the Orioles as president from 1988 to ’93, when Oriole Park at Camden Yards was designed and built. As a result, Lucchino has few equals in helping lead the sport’s stadium renaissance that saw a re-embrace of baseball-specific facilities with strong nods to history and asymmetrical dimensions. 

“Larry’s career unfolded like a playbook of triumphs, marked by transformative moments that reshaped ballpark design, enhanced the fan experience, and engineered the ideal conditions for championships wherever his path led him, and especially in Boston,” said Red Sox principal owner John Henry. 

A straight-talking, no-nonsense executive, Lucchino also helped give rise to a major resurgence in the Yankees–Red Sox rivalry in the early 2000s when he said of New York’s ’02 signing of Cuban pitcher José Contreras, “The evil empire extends its tentacles even into Latin America.” That nickname for the Yankees remains to this day. 

Lucchino is also the only known person to have earned World Series rings, a Super Bowl ring (won through his tenure on the Washington board in the early 1980s), and a Final Four watch having played on Princeton’s ’64–65 basketball team led by Bill Bradley. 

Big Impact

Among the other touchstones of Lucchino’s career in baseball:

  • His last major chapter was as chairman of the Worcester Red Sox, commonly known as the WooSox and Boston’s top minor league affiliate. There, Lucchino led the development of the $159 million Polar Park, one of the top facilities in all of Minor League Baseball. Diamond Baseball Holdings purchased the franchise in December.
  • Lucchino’s facility prowess also extended to JetBlue Park at Fenway South, the Red Sox’ spring training complex in Fort Myers, Fla., that features the same dimensions as Fenway Park and a replica of the Boston facility’s famed Green Monster. 
  • During Lucchino’s Boston run, the Red Sox sold out 820 straight games, by far the longest such streak in MLB history. 
  • Lucchino boasts an extensive sports industry executive tree of those he either hired or mentored, including current Red Sox president and CEO Sam Kennedy, noted stadium architect Janet Marie Smith, and pickleball executive Mike Dee.
  • Originally a lawyer by trade, Lucchino worked for the House Judiciary Committee during that panel’s investigation of the Watergate scandal, and he later joined the firm founded by Edward Bennett Williams, president and part-owner of Washington and later owner of Baltimore. 

This is the second major death among major baseball executives in the last two weeks following the recent passing of former Orioles owner Peter Angelos.

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