Larry Lucchino, who helped end the Red Sox’ title drought and spurred the retro baseball revolution, dies at 78

BOSTON – Larry Lucchino, the driving force behind baseball’s retro baseball revolution and the transformation of the Boston Red Sox from sore losers to World Series champions, has died. He was 78.

Lucchino had suffered from cancer. The Triple-A Worcester Red Sox, his final venture in a career that included three Major League Baseball franchises and one in the NFL, confirmed his death Tuesday.

“Larry Lucchino was one of the most accomplished executives our industry has ever had,” said Baseball Commissioner Rob Manfred. “He was deeply motivated, he understood the importance of baseball in our communities and he had a keen sense of leadership talent.”

The Pittsburgh native played on the Princeton basketball team, captained by future U.S. Senator and Basketball Hall of Famer Bill Bradley, which reached the 1965 NCAA Final Four. He then attended Yale Law School and served on the House Judiciary Committee, which investigated the Watergate scandal. He got a job with Washington lawyer Edward Bennett Williams and was soon working on Williams’ sports teams, the Washington NFL franchise and the Baltimore Orioles.

Lucchino rose to president of the Orioles, and during his tenure the team replaced Memorial Stadium with an old-fashioned downtown ballpark, ending the trend toward cavernous stadiums surrounded by parking lots. Camden Yards became a trendsetter, and Lucchino himself followed suit with a new ballpark for the San Diego Padres, where he served as president and CEO.

“We didn’t know we would spark a revolution in stadium architecture,” Lucchino told The Associated Press in 2021 as the WooSox prepared to open their new home, Polar Park. “We just wanted to build a nice little ballpark.”

As Padres owner John Moores’ right-hand man, Lucchino led the push for Petco Park – another downtown ballpark – and enabled the Padres to move out of aging Qualcomm Stadium, which they shared with the NFL’s Chargers. The Padres ended a 14-year playoff drought by winning the NL West in 1996 and then won the NL pennant in 1998.

Lucchino’s next stop was Boston, where in 2002 he helped put together the new ownership group led by John Henry and Tom Werner. Their decision to modernize Fenway Park rather than replace it — bucking another trend — preserved one of baseball’s jewels, which opens for its 113th season on April 9.

But an even bigger transformation was taking place in the Red Sox front office and on the field. After hiring 28-year-old Theo Epstein as general manager — who started as an intern with the Orioles and followed Lucchino to the Padres — the Red Sox ended an 86-year championship drought and then won three more World Series through 2018.

“Larry’s career has been a playbook of triumphs, marked by transformative moments that changed the design of the ballpark, enhanced the fan experience and created the ideal conditions for championships wherever his path took him, especially in Boston,” Henry said . “But perhaps his most lasting legacy lies in the remarkable people he assembled at the Red Sox, all of whom are a testament to his education, wisdom and mentorship.”

The lawyer Lucchino was known for his forceful, often controversial approach, which seemed antagonistic but aimed at refining arguments and eliminating the slightest imperfections from plans. It also inspired the loyalty of his following, including WooSox president Charles Steinberg, who also worked with Lucchino in Baltimore, San Diego, Boston and Worcester, and current Red Sox president and CEO Sam Kennedy, who followed Lucchino from San Diego to Boston along with Epstein, his high school friend.

“There are so many of us that Larry helped get us into baseball,” Kennedy said. “He instilled in us and so many others a work ethic, passion and competitive spirit that we will carry with us forever. His legacy is something that all of us who learned from him feel a deep responsibility to preserve.”

Lucchino was considered unique in his ownership of five World Series rings – after collecting another with the Orioles in 1983 – a Super Bowl ring from Washington in 1983 and a Final Four watch. He was also actively involved in the international expansion of Major League Baseball, making trips to China and Japan and being an early supporter of the World Baseball Classic.

Lucchino, a survivor of three previous bouts with cancer, also served as chairman of the Jimmy Fund, the charitable arm of the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute.

“To us, Larry was an extraordinary human being who combined a Hall of Fame life as a Major League Baseball manager with his passion for helping those in need,” Lucchino’s family said in a statement. “He brought the same passion, tenacity and probing intelligence to all his endeavors, and his successes speak for themselves.”

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