Larry Lucchino, Top Executive at Three M.L.B. Teams, Dies at 78


Larry Lucchino, who as a top executive with the Baltimore Orioles and San Diego Padres oversaw the design of modern stadiums that evoke their surroundings — Oriole Park at Camden Yards in Baltimore and Petco Park in San Diego — and who as president of the Boston Red Sox helped to preserve Fenway Park for generations, died on Tuesday at his home in Brookline, Mass. He was 78.

His family announced the death but did not give a cause. He had been treated for cancer three times.

Mr. Lucchino became president of the Red Sox in 2002 with the ascension of new ownership, led by John Henry, the team’s principal owner, and Tom Werner. In Mr. Lucchino’s 14 years with the team, the Red Sox won three World Series titles — the first of which, in 2004, broke an 86-year drought — and reached the postseason seven times. He oversaw improvements to Fenway Park that included installing seats above the Green Monster, the 37-foot-high left field wall, a well as expanding crowded concourses and creating new concession areas.

Rather than replacing it with a new stadium, Mr. Lucchino envisioned a renovation that would keep Fenway, which opened in 1912, viable for decades.

“Have you learned nothing?” Mr. Lucchino said to Charles Steinberg, another Red Sox executive, as quoted in a profile in The Sports Business Journal in 2021. “You can’t destroy the Mona Lisa. You preserve the Mona Lisa.”

Mr. Lucchino’s combative, competitive personality played into the rivalry between the Red Sox and the New York Yankees. In 2002, after the Yankees signed the Japanese slugger Hideki Matsui and the Cuban pitcher Jose Contreras within a few days, Mr. Lucchino told The New York Times, “The evil empire extends its tentacles even into Latin America.”

The name stuck — even as Boston’s success in the coming years exceeded that of the Yankees. A year later, Mr. Lucchino further described the Yankees-Red Sox dynamic:

“It’s white hot,” he told The Times. “It’s a rivalry on the field, it’s a rivalry in the press, it’s a rivalry in the front office, it’s a rivalry among the fan base.”

The feeling was mutual.

Interviewed by The New York Times in 2007, Hank Steinbrenner, a son of the Yankees’ principal owner at the time, George Steinbrenner, said of the Red Sox, “If it wasn’t for the rivalry with us, they’d be just another team.”

Lawrence Lucchino was born on Sept. 6, 1945, in Pittsburgh. His father, Dominic, was a bar owner who later worked for the Pennsylvania court system. His mother, Rose (Rizzo) Lucchino, was a secretary and an accounting clerk.

Mr. Lucchino played second base on his high school baseball team, which won a city championship in Pittsburgh. At Princeton, he was a guard on the basketball team — the star of which was Bill Bradley — that made it to the Final Four of the 1965 N.C.A.A. men’s tournament before losing in the semifinals to the University of Michigan. Mr. Lucchino earned a bachelor’s degree in history from Princeton in 1967.

He graduated from Yale Law School in 1971 and two years later joined the House Judiciary Committee as a staff lawyer and worked on the Watergate impeachment inquiry of President Richard M. Nixon. One of his colleagues was Hillary Clinton.

In 1974, Mr. Lucchino was hired by the powerful Washington law firm Williams & Connolly. Over the next 14 years, he became a partner at the firm as well as an executive of the Orioles and the Washington Redskins (now the Commanders) because Edward Bennett Williams, the celebrated trial lawyer who led the firm, owned interests in both teams.

“My career in baseball is a result of him, the opportunity he gave me, and the faith he had in me,” Mr. Lucchino told The Boston Globe in 2002.

After Mr. Williams’s death in 1988, Mr. Lucchino officially became the Orioles’ president. In that role, he oversaw development of Oriole Park at Camden Yards, which opened in 1992 with brick and steel aesthetics and asymmetrical field dimensions reminiscent of early-20th-century ballparks like Forbes Field, the home of the Pittsburgh Pirates, which he had gone to as a boy. The old B & O Railroad warehouse became a unique backdrop beyond right field.

Camden Yards is credited with inspiring other Major League Baseball teams to build idiosyncratic ballparks, often in downtown settings.

Mr. Lucchino worked on the Camden Yards, Petco and Fenway projects with Janet Marie Smith, who served as an Orioles and Red Sox executive and a consultant to the Padres. She described Mr. Lucchino as a strong-willed personality who cajoled architects and others to create the best results.

“He was always challenging everyone,” Ms. Smith said in a phone interview. “He’d say, ‘This is mediocre, we’re not settling for it.’” She added that he had disdained using the word “stadium” — which evoked the round, concrete facilities built in the 1960s and ’70s that housed baseball and football teams — “and he would fine you $1 if you said the ‘S-word.’”

Mr. Lucchino left the Orioles in late 1993, shortly after the team was purchased by Peter Angelos, who died last month. The next year, Mr. Lucchino was part of a group that unsuccessfully bid for his hometown Pirates. But in late December of 1994, he pivoted to become the president and a minority owner of the Padres. It was not a great time to buy a team: The players’ union was in the midst of a strike that had wiped out the postseason.

“The team was at the bottom of the hill,” Mr. Lucchino told The Sports Business Journal. “We had the worst attendance, the worst imagery, the worst revenue, the worst won-loss record. Probably the worst uniforms. It couldn’t have been any worse.”

The team improved on the field under his direction; it reached the World Series in 1998, but was swept by the Yankees. However, Mr. Lucchino was probably best known for his development work on Petco Park, which opened in 2004, three years after he left the team.

“He felt that Petco needed context, that it needed to be something about San Diego,” Ms. Smith said.

Petco’s features include a granite exterior; an old brick building that was incorporated into the interior of left field; a mini-park beyond the outfield with a small baseball diamond and a statue of the Hall of Famer Tony Gwynn; and spectacular views of San Diego Harbor from the upper deck.

Mr. Lucchino resigned from the Padres to join the Red Sox, where he helped to engineer a renaissance. One of his early hires, Theo Epstein, then 28, became the youngest general manager in baseball history and the architect of a roster overhaul that won the World Series in 2004 and 2007. (Mr. Epstein later moved to the Chicago Cubs organization, where he crafted their 2016 World Series-winning team.)

Mr. Lucchino is survived by his brother, Frank. His marriage to Stacey Johnson ended in divorce.

For his final baseball move, Mr. Lucchino went to the minor leagues. After leaving the Red Sox in 2015, he joined with other investors to buy the Pawtucket Red Sox in Rhode Island, the organization’s top minor league team. After the state’s failure to pass a stadium financing package, he moved the team to Worcester, Mass., where Polar Park opened in 2021.

Late last year, Mr. Lucchino sold the team — referred to as the WooSox — to Diamond Baseball Holdings, part of a private equity firm that owns 30 minor league teams in the United States and Canada.

“At 78, and after 44 years in baseball,” he said in a news release, “I believe it’s time to have a succession plan, one that assures a commitment to baseball and a commitment to Worcester.”

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