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World Series-winning BoSox president Lucchino dead at 78

Larry Lucchino Larry Lucchino - The Canadian Press

BOSTON (AP) — Larry Lucchino, the hard-driving force behind baseball’s retro ballpark revolution and the transformation of the Boston Red Sox from cursed losers to World Series champions, has died. He was 78.

Lucchino, who was a three-time cancer survivor, died early Tuesday morning of congenital heart failure. His death was confirmed by his family and the Triple-A Worcester Red Sox, where he had most recently been the primary owner and chairman — the last project in a career that was also linked to three major league baseball franchises and one in the NFL.

“Larry Lucchino was one of the most accomplished executives that our industry has ever had," baseball 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.”

A Pittsburgh native who played on the 1965 NCAA Final Four Princeton basketball team captained by future U.S. senator and basketball Hall of Famer Bill Bradley, Lucchino went on to Yale Law School and worked on the House Judiciary Committee investigating the Watergate scandal. He landed a job with Washington lawyer Edward Bennett Williams and soon found himself working on Williams’ sports teams, the Baltimore Orioles and the Washington NFL franchise now known as the Commanders.

Lucchino rose to president of the Orioles, and it was in his tenure that the team replaced Memorial Stadium with a downtown, old-style ballpark that ended the move toward cavernous, cookie-cutter stadiums surrounded by parking lots. Camden Yards became a trend-setter, and Lucchino himself would follow up with a new ballpark for the San Diego Padres, whom he served as president and CEO.

“We didn’t know that we were going to ignite a revolution in ballpark 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 — allowing the team to leave aging Qualcomm Stadium, which they shared with the NFL’s Chargers. The Padres ended 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 in Boston, helping to assemble the new ownership group led by John Henry and Tom Werner that bought the franchise in 2002. Their decision to update Fenway Park rather than replace it — bucking another trend — preserved one of baseball’s jewels, which will open its 113th season on April 9.

But an even bigger overhaul was taking place in the Red Sox front office, and on the field. After hiring as general manager the 28-year-old Theo Epstein — who started with the Orioles as an intern and followed Lucchino to the Padres — the Red Sox ended an 86-year championship drought, vanquishing the archrival New York Yankees, whom he dubbed “the Evil Empire” along the way.

They won two more World Series in his tenure as president before an aborted attempt to retire in 2015.

“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,” Henry said. “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.”

The lawyerly Lucchino was known for an aggressive, often adversarial approach that came off as antagonistic but was designed to hone arguments and squeeze out a plan's tiniest imperfections. It also inspired a loyalty among his cadre of followers, including WooSox President Charles Steinberg, who also worked with Lucchino in Baltimore, San Diego, Boston and Worcester; architect Janet Marie Smith, who worked on Camden Yards, Petco Park and Fenway Park; 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 who were given our start in baseball by Larry,” Kennedy said. “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."

Lucchino was said to be unique in his possession of five World Series rings — having collected another with the Orioles in 1983 — a Super Bowl ring from Washington in '83 and a Final Four watch. He was also active in helping Major League Baseball spread internationally, taking trips to China and Japan and as an early supporter of the World Baseball Classic.

Lucchino was also a chairman of The Jimmy Fund, the charitable arm of the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute.

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