First it was Tito, Theo, and the Trio. There was a lot of arguing and pushback in the Red Sox front office for eight years while the ball club averaged 93 wins per season, made the playoffs five times, and won two World Series.
Then it was just the Trio, and some company men. There was less dissent at the top. The Sox won another World Series but are headed toward their third last-place finish in four seasons.
Now it’ll just be John Henry and Tom Werner, running things their way, surrounded by loyal, hard-working subordinates eager to please the bosses.
Larry Lucchino was a boss. He had credentials, winning a World Series with the Orioles, taking the Padres to the World Series, and building a couple of spectacular ballparks. According to Henry, Lucchino was the man who “runs the Red Sox.’’ Most of the time, Lucchino ran it quite well, but he’s had less input in recent seasons and now the Sox will move forward without him at the top of the masthead. He will step down as club president and CEO at the end of this season. Werner told the Herald he’s hopeful Lucchino will “continue to be an integral part of upper management.’’
Not likely. Corporations always say those things when executives step down. In my opinion, Lucchino is being nudged more than he is leaving of his own volition.
It’ll be interesting to see how future seasons are affected by Lucchino’s departure. This much is certain: Despite Henry’s claim in early June that “the general manager is going to be the general manager of this club for a very long time,’’ Henry now will have to be the one to fire Ben Cherington. Larry won’t be around to wear the black hat and take the bullets.
Likewise, Sox chairman Werner is finally going to start getting credit when folks mention the governance of the Red Sox. And blame. Lots of blame for Tom now. Larry is the piñata no more.
At this hour, while Sam Kennedy is replacing Lucchino as club “president,” there is no plan to name a new Sox “CEO.’’ This means that instead of reporting to Lucchino, baseball ops evidently will report directly to Henry and Werner. Swell. But with Lucchino gone, the potential for more chaos — at a time when the Sox can ill afford more chaos — appears to be infinite. Werner’s tenure running the San Diego Padres in the 1990s was a disaster.
Kennedy is a fine man, just as Cherington and John Farrell are fine men, but he’s not Larry Lucchino. He’s not a fellow “owner” (Lucchino has an equity share in the Sox ownership group). He hasn’t been working in Major League Baseball front offices since 1979. And he’s less likely to tell Henry and Werner something they don’t want to hear. Without hard-charging Lucchino stalking the halls of Fenway, there will be less accountability and lively debate in the front office. Which, of course, is part of what’s wrong with the Red Sox today.
The beginning of the end for Larry can be traced to the final days of the 2009 season when architect Janet Marie Smith — senior vice president of Sox planning and development — was relieved of her position with zero warning. Smith was a Lucchino hire. With Lucchino, she’d built Camden Yards — a jewel of a ballpark which changed the way every post-1992 big league park was built. From 2002-09, Smith rebuilt Fenway with Henry’s dollars. Reports that Henry had Smith dismissed in 2009 have never been disputed.
Lucchino continued to run the business side of the Sox seamlessly, but gradually became less of a voice regarding baseball operations. His final two big moves — hiring Bobby Valentine to manage in the wake of the Francona fiasco, and lowballing free-agent-to-be Jon Lester in the spring of 2014 — both failed.
The death of longtime Boston mayor Thomas Menino was another setback for Lucchino. Menino loved the politically savvy Lucchino and gave the Sox just about everything they wanted in the 21st century. Hizzoner’s passing meant less City Hall clout for Larry.
Lucchino’s style made plenty of enemies, but he was good for the Red Sox. He was good for Henry and Werner. The trio worked magically together for many years. But now John and Tom are out there on their own. In a twist on the old Nixonian epitaph, Sox fans and media won’t have Lucchino to kick around anymore.
The Red Sox are going to miss him.
John and Tom are going to miss him.