Red Sox mourn passing of former club president Lucchino

April 2nd, 2024

OAKLAND -- Larry Lucchino, a fierce and highly accomplished executive who helped change the culture of the Red Sox when he joined forces with the team’s new ownership group in 2002, passed away on Tuesday at the age of 78.

Serving as Red Sox president/CEO from 2002-15, Lucchino was a key decision-maker in all aspects of the organization. Boston won the World Series three times during Lucchino’s time in that role. The club previously weathered a championship drought that lasted 86 years.

Lucchino already had a decorated career in baseball before he joined the Red Sox as part of the ownership group led by John Henry. As president of the Orioles from 1988-93, Lucchino was instrumental in the building of Camden Yards, which is considered the gold standard for the flood of new baseball parks that were constructed in the ensuing years. As president/CEO of the Padres from 1995-01, Lucchino helped to lay the groundwork for Petco Park, which opened in ’04.

"Larry Lucchino was one of the most accomplished executives that our industry has ever had," MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred said. "He was deeply driven, he understood baseball’s place in our communities, and he had a keen eye for executive talent. Larry’s vision for Camden Yards played a vital role in advancing fan-friendly ballparks across the game. He followed up by overseeing the construction of Petco Park, which remains a jewel of the San Diego community.

“Then Larry teamed with John Henry and Tom Werner to produce the most successful era in Red Sox history, which included historic World Series Championships on the field and a renewed commitment to Fenway Park. On behalf of Major League Baseball, I send my condolences to Larry's family, his Red Sox colleagues and his many friends throughout our National Pastime."

When Henry’s group gained ownership of the Red Sox, it was widely assumed Fenway Park would be replaced by a more modern facility. Instead, Lucchino brought in renowned architect Janet Marie Smith -- who had helped design Camden Yards -- and the Red Sox initiated a massive renovation of Fenway Park that totaled nearly $300 million and spread improvements to the ballpark over a decade.

The most notable addition? The Monster Seats, which opened in 2003 and remain some of the most desired seats at Fenway.

“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 Henry, Boston’s principal owner. “Yet, perhaps his most enduring legacy lies in the remarkable people he helped assemble at the Red Sox, all of whom are a testament to his training, wisdom, and mentorship.

“Many of them continue to shape the organization today, carrying forward the same vigor, vitality, and cherished sayings that were hallmarks of Larry’s personality. Larry was a formidable opponent in any arena, and while he battled hard, he always maintained the utmost respect for a worthy adversary and found genuine joy in sparring with people. I was lucky enough to have had him in my corner for 14 years and to have called him a close friend for even longer. He was truly irreplaceable and will be missed by all of us at the Red Sox.”

Lucchino also had one of the most famous quotes in Red Sox history, which helped add more fuel to an already storied rivalry with the Yankees.

In December 2002, the Red Sox were determined to sign Cuban defector Jose Contreras. The club put a lot of resources in to closing the deal and felt good about its chances until the Yankees swooped in at the 11th hour, inking the righty to a four-year, $32 million contract.

Lucchino’s reaction to the New York Times -- “The evil empire extends its tentacles, even into Latin America” -- was brief but memorable.

Late Yankees owner George Steinbrenner didn’t get the Star Wars reference, and therefore didn’t take kindly to the remark.

The next two seasons, the Red Sox and Yankees tangled in a pair of instant-classic American League Championship Series that went seven games apiece, with New York winning the first one and the Red Sox making history by coming back from an 0-3 series deficit in ’04.

Hall of Famer David Ortiz, who was at the centerpiece of that rivalry, appreciated Lucchino’s impact on the organization while noting the arc of their relationship.

“Larry Lucchino was someone who really cared about the Red Sox doing well. When I first joined the organization, he was just the business guy who dealt with the agent,” Ortiz said. “As a player, it was sometimes hard to understand where he was coming from, but he made everything about winning and the organization doing well. Once we got to know each other better, we became really good friends. I loved Larry. He supported me and always gave me really good advice.

“Our relationship kept getting better and better. It is so sad to see him go, and I send my condolences to his family and all who loved him. He knew how to put the pieces together. When you talked to Larry and understood what the Red Sox meant to him, you got the memo: Win.”

When Ortiz was released by the Twins after the ’02 season, Pedro Martinez immediately made a call to Lucchino, asking for the Red Sox to sign the slugger, who, at that time, was a platoon player.

“My heart goes out to the Lucchino family,” Martinez said. “They lost not only a great man, but a visionary with the biggest heart, even though he tried to cover it playing shy and trying to hide away from people’s eyes. … But not me; he didn’t fool me. We just lost a dear friend and we’re all sad about it. I will miss you my dear friend. R.I.P. Larry.”

If anyone could relate to Lucchino’s unyielding passion and desire to win, it was Dustin Pedroia, who carried a slight physique but a large chip on his shoulder that keyed the 2007 and ’13 championships in Boston.

“Larry was a winner,” said Pedroia. “Didn’t matter if it was a contract negotiation, saving Fenway, asking players what we need to compete. Larry was going to work until the job was finished. He had a presence and an attitude that wouldn’t be denied. He was a tone setter for our organization.”

Lucchino, who endured multiple bouts with cancer, also strengthened the team’s relationship with the Jimmy Fund. He also was instrumental in the creation of the Red Sox Foundation, the team’s charitable arm.

“When John and I joined forces with Larry in 2001, we dreamed not only of breaking an 86-year curse and winning multiple championships, but also about how a baseball team could transform and uplift a region,” said Red Sox chairman Tom Werner. “Larry was more decorated in sports than any of us, coming to the group with a Super Bowl ring, a World Series ring, and even a Final Four watch from his days playing basketball at Princeton. He added to that impressive collection with us in Boston because he was the kind of man who would find a path to success no matter the obstacles. He was bold and had the audacity to dare, challenge, and even taunt our rivals in ways that made the game of baseball better.”

“In a sport defined by statistics and standings, he was accomplished in every way, and while his career is a masterclass in leadership and innovation, he will be equally remembered for his unwavering commitment to community engagement and his hands-on role with the Red Sox Foundation and The Jimmy Fund. We are devastated by the loss of a great man, a great leader, and a great friend.”

Lucchino was inducted into the Red Sox Hall of Fame in 2016.

“Larry was a visionary,” said Red Sox manager Alex Cora. “He saw things before they happened, taking the fan experience to the next level in every city he worked. And he won. He was a relentless winner. Larry led a great life and impacted so many of us. I’m thankful to have had him as a part of my life.”

“I will always appreciate Larry for what he did for me,” said Rangers manager Bruce Bochy, who was in that role for the Padres when Lucchino was there. “The start of my journey as a manager began with him. When you got to know Larry, you found out how competitive he was, but just as important was how much he cared about the fan experience at the ballpark. His innovation started in Baltimore and helped bring baseball back in San Diego. He carried that to Boston with the things that were done at Fenway. Larry will be missed.”

In August 2015, the Red Sox announced Lucchino would be moving into an emeritus role with the club. Sam Kennedy, a Lucchino protégé dating back to their years together with the Padres, took over as president/CEO and remains in that role currently. In recent years, Lucchino served as chairman and owner of the Triple-A Worcester Red Sox. When the team was sold in December, Lucchino stayed on as chairman.

When he got to the Red Sox, Lucchino was determined to bring Kennedy over from San Diego, and another Brookline (Mass.) High School graduate named Theo Epstein, who started his time in Boston as assistant general manager.

After the ’02 season, the Red Sox searched for a general manager and came close to convincing Billy Beane to come on board.

Eventually, Beane, citing the need to stay close to his daughter on the West Coast, declined.

Lucchino had a frequent saying to everyone who knew him: “Be bold.”

And Lucchino was bold, making the 28-year-old Epstein the youngest general manager in baseball history at the time.

“Larry leaves behind a giant baseball legacy full of historic accomplishments with three different organizations,” said Epstein. “For me and for so many of my best friends in baseball, Larry gave us our start, believing in us and setting an enduring example with his work ethic, vision, competitiveness and fearlessness. He made a profound impact on many in baseball -- and on the game itself -- and will be missed.”

“There are so many of us who were given our start in baseball by Larry,” said Kennedy. “He loved a good slogan and his campaign to ‘free the Brookline two’ liberated Theo and I from the San Diego Padres, allowing us to work for our hometown team and changing the trajectory of our lives forever. He instilled in us, and so many others, a work ethic, passion, competitive fire that we will carry forever.

“His legacy is one that all of us who were taught by him feel a deep responsibility to uphold. When those he mentored moved on from the Red Sox, he would always say, ‘We’ll leave a light on for you.’ The lights will always be on for you at Fenway Park, Larry. May you rest in peace.”

Lucchino is survived by his brother, the Honorable Frank J. Lucchino (Bobbie); a nephew, F.J. Lucchino (Jane) and a niece, Jennifer Lucchino (Freddie Croce), of Pittsburgh; as well as a younger nephew, David L. Lucchino (Carrie Beth); who lives in Boston. He also is survived by seven grand-nieces and grand-nephews.