FORT MYERS, Fla. — Red Sox ownership completed its three-day media blitz at JetBlue Park Friday with Larry Lucchino playing the role of closer.
Asked about his Yankee enemies, Larry said, “I can’t say I wish them well.’’ He also playfully suggested that 79-year-old Bud Selig is not really going to retire, admitted baseball needs to speed up its games, and expressed delight with Jon Lester’s willingness to take a hometown discount.
It was the complete opposite of Lucchino’s introductory press conference last year when Larry morphed into Jack Nicholson playing Colonel Nathan Jessup on the witness stand in “A Few Good Men.’’
No one could handle the truth.
Remember last year? On Valentine’s Day, 2013, Lucchino faced the firing squad that assembled in Fort Myers to demand an explanation for the Red Sox’ worst season in 47 years. That was the day Larry admitted that the Sox’ phony sellout streak would officially end early in the 2013 season. Never smiling, snapping off a couple of terse “no comments,” Lucchino said, “we sense the frustration fans feel . . . maybe to everybody we have something to prove . . . We’re just scrappy underdogs trying to win for our franchise and fans.’’
We all know what happened. The Sox won beyond everyone’s imagination. They recaptured the hearts and minds of a century-old fan base and turned the sports world on its earflap. They went from worst to first, winning the World Series, triggering a winter-long party with the Sox’ first championship clincher at Fenway in 95 years.
So it was with some satisfaction that the 68-year-old Lucchino set up for the cameras Friday afternoon at JetBlue. The “man who runs the Red Sox” was relaxed, happy, and still jabbing his nemesis in New York.
“It’s camp Good Vibrations so far,’’ said Lucchino. “There’s a very good vibe emanating from the place and we hope it continues throughout the season . . . It’s amazing how winning affects everybody’s disposition.’’
Regarding the Sox’ stunning surge to the championship, Lucchino said, “I didn’t plan for it. We always kept open the possibility. We were scrappy underdogs. Underdogs have a chance to win and to prevail. But so many things came together beautifully last year . . .’’
Lucchino said all the right things about the dicey David Ortiz negotiations, but did not go so far as to say he could not someday envision Ortiz playing for another team. The Sox CEO is a hard-charging boss, not given to sappy statements that will be used against him at the negotiating table.
Ortiz with another team?
“I can envision anything,’’ said Lucchino. “Yes, my mind is facile enough to envision something like that, but do I anticipate it happening, no.’’
This is why you should be thankful for Larry. He’s been a handy target through the years. He’s Steinbrenner-esque in his quest to get things done his way and he was the point person for all the animosity that came the Sox’ way after the collapse of 2011. He grew to hate his onetime protégé (Theo Epstein) with the power of 1,000 suns and he took the rap when the Man Who Invented the Wrap turned out to be ill-equipped to manage a major league baseball team in 2012.
But he is not a fool. He’s not going to get trapped into saying, “I can’t envision Big Papi in another uniform.’’ He’s too smart. Without Lucchino, the vaunted Sox ownership group could have splintered and drowned long ago.
Lucchino’s joust with the Yankees is lifelong. He labeled the Pinstripes “The Evil Empire,’’ and George Steinbrenner was happy to return fire. When Henry bought the Red Sox, Steinbrenner told Henry that Lucchino and Tom Werner were “treacherous, phony backstabbers.”
So it was with no small glee that Lucchino talked about the Yankees Friday.
“We’re very different animals. I’m proud of that difference. I always cringe when people lump us together, other baseball teams sometimes do that. They are still, this year at least, relying heavily on their inimitable old-fashioned Yankee style of high-priced, long-term free agents. I can’t say I wish them well, but I think we have taken a different approach . . . If you compare what we did last year in the offseason to what they’ve done this year, there’s quite a difference.’’
Take that, Steinbrenners!
Lucchino made no attempt to apologize for the Sox letting Jacoby Ellsbury sign with the Yankees, but seemed hopeful that something can be worked out with Boston’s ace, Jon Lester.
“One of the highlights of the offseason were the comments of Jon Lester saying he wanted to stay here. He was so forthright and blunt about it. No game-playing. It was nice to hear it when you’re in our position so we will explore that matter as well, during spring training.’’
He deflected questions about his candidacy for commissioner, saying he loves his job in Boston and acknowledging that he wouldn’t get the support of every big league team.
“Some would say that based on my personality I’m a polarizing figure,’’ acknowledged Lucchino. “I’ve been in the game a long time and made a lot of friends that I value and a number of enemies along the way . . .’’
Self-awareness is a good thing in the front office. Every organization could use more of it.