Earlier in the week, the Red Sox announced four inductees into the team Hall of Fame in 2016. Ira Flagstead played in the 1920’s, and while he was a fine player, none of us are old enough to have fond memories of Flagstead on the diamond. The Red Sox of the class has left a big impression on all of us, though. All week, the various writers on this site have covered the careers of Tim Wakefield and Jason Varitek wonderfully. I’m not going re-hash those, so just click these links. Who I’m going to look at is the final Red Sox Hall of Fame inductee. The complicated member of this class. Oh yeah, this is a Larry Lucchino tribute.
Before we get into the former CEO’s time with Boston’s organization, it’s worth looking at where he came from before he joined the team. You see, Lucchino was already an established baseball executive, having been involved with both the Orioles and Padres prior to the turn of the century. He didn’t just work for them, either. He was a big part of great periods of both teams’ histories, winning a World Series in Baltimore in 1983 and reaching the Series with San Diego in 1998. After those successful runs, he joined the Red Sox organization in 2002 along with the rest of the new ownership group that would eventually be known as the Fenway Sports Group.
Since joining the Red Sox, Lucchino has crafted an undeniably complicated legacy. In fact, for a guy who has presided the greatest stretch in franchise history, there is a large chunk of the fan base that associates the former executive with negative feelings. To be fair to them, it’s not entirely unwarranted. Lucchino was, fair or not, the "face" of the ownership group. While we all know John Henry and Tom Werner, it was Lucchino who received most of the blame for the higher-ups’ failures. For example, many think of him when they think of the "Brick Culture" this organization has built, monetizing anything and everything in sight. From bricks to Wally to increased ticket prices, they made money off everything. Of course, that’s their job as the ownership group, since they entered their positions almost entirely for the purpose of increasing their individual worths. With that being said, it was understandably off-putting as a fan, especially when the team was suffering through down-years. Lucchino caught a good chunk of the blame for this culture, and it’s going to be part of his legacy around these parts.
Even worse than the constant monetizing was his involvement in the baseball decisions. During his tenure, the Red Sox were lucky to employ two very good general managers in Theo Epstein and Ben Cherington, but Lucchino couldn't help but inject himself into some of the decision making. Of course, the most egregious examples of this were the hiring of Bobby Valentine in 2012 and the embarrassing low-ball offer to Jon Lester the year before he left in free agency. In this writer’s opinion, the worst thing Lucchino was ever a part of was the despicable exit the organization gave Terry Francona after the 2011 season. Nobody deserved that kind of treatment, especially not a legendary manager who led the team to two World Series. In fact, the way the organization leaked negative information about so many of the people who left for greener pastures is a stain on Lucchino’s time here.
So, sure, there were a lot of reasons we’re going to look back at his time here with a negative spin. Painting it as if he wasn’t a hugely important member of the organization in a good way would be disingenuous, though. For one thing, Lucchino was able to do what he’s done at every stop and massively improve the ballpark. We take it for granted now, but the ways in which the ownership group — and Lucchino was a massive part of this — was able to improve Fenway was nothing short of remarkable.
There’s also the matter of him being involved with the baseball side of things. I already discussed that as a negative, and it certainly is, but it wasn’t solely a negative partnership. Every team in sports has involvement from their ownership, and Lucchino was a nice bridge connecting Epstein and Cherington to Henry and Werner. It’s something of a thankless job — and Lucchino overstepped his bounds on more than one occasion — but it’s an important one for any organization.
Then, of course, there are the World Series that were won under Lucchino’s watch. Was he the most important person involved with any of those wins? Of course not. However, to build the sustainably and consistently good team the Red Sox had over the 2000’s, you need competence at every level and that includes ownership. Boston wouldn’t have had the success they had without this ownership group, and he was the face of that group.
It’s a little unfair for Lucchino to be inducted to the team Hall of Fame at the same time as Wakefield and Varitek, both of whom will be largely and unconditionally loved in this area for the rest of time. Lucchino has a mixed bag for his legacy, and many will look at him through a negative lens. He certainly doesn’t deserve the adulation reserved for Wake and Tek, either. With that being said, he is a deserving inductee to the team Hall of Fame, as the positives of his tenure outweigh the negatives. He saved Fenway Park, he made the Red Sox a premier organization in the sport, and he was a huge part of three World Series championships. Lucchino is a flawed member of Red Sox history, but he is one of the most important and infuential in the most successful and celebration-worthy period in franchise history.