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Executive excellence

Lucchino worthy of Fuchs Award

LARRY LUCCHINO Outspoken and respected LARRY LUCCHINO
Outspoken and respected
By Nick Cafardo
Globe Staff / January 20, 2011

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You know the best thing you can say about Larry Lucchino in his role as CEO of the Red Sox? He sticks up for his organization.

Whether it’s challenging agents like Scott Boras, or defending the team’s name nationally, or fighting to make Fenway Park a better place for fans to watch a ballgame, that’s what he does.

He fights.

He did it as a top trial lawyer in Edward Bennett Williams’s law firm and when he helped get Camden Yards built in Baltimore and Petco Park built in San Diego.

Which makes him a perfect recipient for the Judge Emil Fuchs Award that will be presented tonight at the 72d Boston Baseball Writers Association dinner at the Westin Copley Plaza hotel. The most prestigious award given by the Boston writers, it goes to a person who has given long and meritorious service to baseball.

Lucchino will be in the company of Hank Aaron, Carl Yastrzemski, Jim Rice, Bud Selig and many other greats who have received the award.

Lucchino, in his 32d year in baseball, may not be the baseball development guy, but he pulled the final trigger on the Mike Lowell-Josh Beckett deal when Theo Epstein temporarily left the Sox after the 2005 season. In retrospect, Epstein probably left because of Lucchino’s control over the baseball operations, which as CEO of the team was one of his responsibilities.

While that aspect of his role has diminished as part of Epstein’s agreement to return, big-money decisions such as Adrian Gonzalez and Carl Crawford certainly fall into his area of concern; he represents owners John Henry and Tom Werner and protects their pocketbooks as much as he can. He remains a force in the hierarchy, and not much gets done without his input and/or stamp.

If it weren’t for Lucchino, we wouldn’t be describing the Yankees as the “Evil Empire.’’ He was smart enough to ramp up the rhetoric on the rivalry and cast the Sox as the underdogs, and it worked.

He has been at the forefront of expanding the Red Sox Nation brand, and we go back to the work he has done in making Fenway Park — which turns 100 in 2012 — a national treasure. Some would point out that Lucchino wasn’t able to get a new stadium built for the Sox, but he has taken baseball’s old lady and turned her into an attraction that still packs them in.

Did he mess up the Mark Teixeira negotiations by speaking his mind? Maybe. But Lucchino has his boundaries for what feels right and what feels wrong. He loves to win. He also knows the feeling of losing, because in his first year as Orioles president, the team had a 21-game losing streak to start the season.

He has been there and done everything in baseball, which is why his name gets mentioned as a possible successor to Selig once the commissioner’s term expires in 2012. Will he get it? Maybe not. He has been rumored to be going many other places through the years, but he likes being in Boston.

He is respected by many of the bigwigs in baseball, including Selig, who has remained close to Lucchino through the years. Those who don’t think Lucchino could be the next commissioner feel that way because his direct and outspoken nature has ruffled a feather or two at times. But that is Lucchino, and for that he has never made any apologies.

It wasn’t that the Sox were nothing when Lucchino joined the new ownership group in 2002, because saying that would be disrespectful to John Harrington, who did many good things for Boston baseball. But Lucchino has directed the franchise to its highest level, surrounding himself with top people in their fields.

“I have represented a lot of owners and executives in all sports,’’ said lawyer Harry Manion, a longtime friend, “but I’ve never met anyone as brilliant as Larry.

“He was a great trial lawyer in Edward Bennett Williams’s firm, don’t forget. He was Williams’s No. 1 protegé.

“He brings the same skill set he had as a trial lawyer to the management and operation of a professional sports franchise. He’s the most brilliantly analytical guy I’ve ever known.

“He doesn’t do anything by the seat of his pants or from his gut. He has exquisite judgment. He will take an issue and leave no stone unturned.’’

Manion said the other thing Lucchino does so well is hire the best and brightest people he can find.

“He brought in Theo, Mike Dee, Sam Kennedy, and brought Jeremy Kapstein with him from San Diego,’’ said Manion. “Larry recognizes talented people. He loves great ideas.’’

Kapstein is a former president/CEO of the Padres. When Lucchino was hired by Henry and Werner in Boston, he asked Kapstein to come with him, and he became senior adviser for special projects.

“In the 31 years I’ve known him, he has not lost one ounce of drive, determination, competitiveness, skill, or vision to achieve the most positive results,’’ said Kapstein. “He has the ability to bring people together to achieve those results and his results speak for themselves.

“He’s one of the giants in baseball, a pioneer in stadium development. He’s also a very generous man with a compassionate nature, very loyal to his friends. I knew both his parents, who were wonderful people, and you can see where Larry gets it.’’

Manion remembers the first time Henry met Lucchino.

“You could tell after that meeting that John saw the same things in Larry that I had for many years,’’ he said. “You could tell then it would be a perfect fit for the new ownership.’’

And that it has been.

When we listen to his words tonight, they will be direct, they will be thought out, they will be honest.

He may even tweak the Evil Empire.

Nick Cafardo can be reached at cafardo@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @nickcafardo.

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