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Starr: I remember Larry Lucchino, the great baseball player

Larry Lucchino died Monday at age 78, and baseball immediately became less vibrant, passionate and excellent.

Every obituary and memoir will tell you of a resume that was almost unparalleled, especially in the baseball department. His terms as president of the Orioles and president and CEO of the Padres were crucial, highlighted by the construction of Camden Yards in Baltimore and Petco Park in San Diego.

Along with principal owner John Henry and chairman Tom Werner, Lucchino ushered in a new golden age of Boston baseball: the Sox reversed the “Curse of the Bambino” in 2004, one of seven postseason runs and the first of three championships (2007). , 2013). He then led the purchase of their Triple-A club, moving it from Pawtucket, Rhode Island to a beautiful, award-winning new home in Worcester, breathing new life into the “Heart of the Commonwealth.”

As Commissioner Rob Manfred summed it up, he was “one of the most accomplished leaders our industry has ever had.”

You will read again and again about this visionary, a champion of this game that may never be blessed again. Lucchino was passionate about bringing MLB to the world stage, helping to facilitate regular season games in Mexico (’96 Padres), Hawaii (’97 Padres) and Japan (’08 Sox). He had a nose for talent and, among other things, brought Theo Epstein to Boston as the youngest general manager in MLB history.

At a time when many teams were looking to build modern baseball stadiums, Lucchino, a history student at Princeton University, was a staunch supporter of retro designs. He made sure to incorporate traditional ballpark elements into each new venue and spearheaded the preservation of Fenway Park. When current ownership took over the Sox in 2002 and his longtime right-hand man, Dr. Charles Steinberg, asked if Boston was about to get a new baseball stadium, the new president replied, “They’re preserving the Mona Lisa!”

Between May 2003 and April 2013, the not-new-but-improved Fenway set a major league record with 820 consecutive sold-out home games.

About a decade later, Lucchino once again proved how much he valued Fenway when the Red Sox moved into their new spring training complex in Fort Myers. He was responsible for the design of JetBlue Park, including the near-exact replicas of the Green Monster and the manual scoreboard.

He is the only person in history with a Super Bowl ring (Washington Redskins), a World Series ring – let alone five – and an NCAA Final Four watch (he played college basketball at Princeton). He was also the first to call the Yankees an “evil empire.”

He was a force, a titan, argumentative, demanding, stubborn, someone who strived for and demanded excellence. He was also kind, a father figure to many, and extremely generous and philanthropic. He co-founded the Orioles Foundation, the Padres Foundation and the Red Sox Foundation and served as chairman of the Jimmy Fund from 2016 until his death. While he beat three different types of cancer between 1985 and 2019, he worked tirelessly in every way he could to make baseball better for the fans because, at heart, he was one of them.

Somehow, all of this is an understatement for a man who should have been inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame long ago.

That’s why I would like to tell you a little about Larry Lucchino, who I had the pleasure of getting to know.

We first met almost a decade ago, before I started working in sports. My family attended a Fenway concert as guests of a friend and when we arrived we were surprised to learn we were sitting in one of the suites. As we walked, I remember telling my dad that we would probably do that because no one important needed the space since the team wasn’t playing.

Of course it was Larry who opened the door.

For someone who grew up right next door and while he was transforming the Red Sox, he was a rock star in his own right.

“It’s you,” I said. Then, realizing I sounded very lame, I managed to add, “It’s an honor to meet you, Mr. Lucchino. I’m such a big fan.”

“Call me Larry,” he said with a smile. “So, do you like baseball?”

Suddenly I was chatting with the great Larry Lucchino about baseball, music and Mexican food.

Two years later we met again under even more unexpected circumstances. A friend who worked for the team offered to give me a ride home from dinner in Chestnut Hill, but said they had to make a quick stop to drop off a gift from the Sox for Derek Jeter, of all people. As we pulled into the driveway of this beautiful home, they insisted that I be the one to ring the doorbell.

Larry opened the door again.

“Hello,” he said, looking equal parts confused and amused by what, unbeknownst to me, was an ambush by our mutual friend.

“I’m so sorry to bother you so late,” I replied, deeply embarrassed at showing up on his doorstep unannounced. “We’re just here to deliver the Jeter gift.”

“You’ll probably appreciate my baseball room,” Larry said. He then gave me a quick tour of Disneyland, which is the equivalent for baseball fans. Then he told me to open one of the doors near the foyer and suddenly I was standing in front of his 2004, 2007 and 2013 World Series trophies.

He really enjoyed surprising baseball fans in this way. For the past few years, these trophies have sat in his suite at Polar Park and he enjoyed watching fans watch the fall.

Next week will mark seven years since I wrote my very first story about the Red Sox. Someone forwarded it to Larry and he responded with encouragement.

He was someone who still had newspapers delivered. More than once, after I started reporting for the Herald, he called to discuss something I had written or texted me to tell me it had been too long since I last wrote I once went to a WooSox game. I hope I properly expressed how much this all meant to me.

Larry Lucchino will live on in the historical details he carefully incorporated into his stages and in the countless lives he touched, including mine. Baseball won’t be the same without him, but it’s infinitely better because of him.

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