Perhaps the reference isn’t entirely apt considering the recent struggles of the Boston Red Sox, a franchise where nobody is rushing to defend the current quality of the product. But outgoing CEO and President Larry Lucchino would still be within his rights to summon the words of former Boston manager Joe Morgan upon being fired by the team way back in 1991.
“These guys aren’t as good as everybody thinks they are.’’
Lucchino has been a lot of things during his tenure in Boston. Stubborn. Loyal. Intimidating. Conflictive. Visionary. Champion. He rubbed a lot of people the wrong way, but the results are indisputable.
“Larry Lucchino runs the Red Sox,’’ principal team owner John Henry said in 2011.
And he ran them well, helping to deliver a trio of World Series championships to a title-thirsting city. Fenway Park remains one of the jewels of the American League having been spared from the wrecking ball for which it was destined in the late-90’s. Oh, nobody is going to confuse still-cramped Fenway with perhaps Lucchino’s grandest achievement, Camden Yards in Baltimore, but the renovation was a daunting task that few thought possible. Lucchino and architect Janet Marie Smith proved otherwise.
The news over the weekend that Lucchino, 69, will be stepping down from his roles at the end of the season didn’t exactly come as a surprise. This is a move that had been rumored in various media outlets over the past year. The Boston Globe’s Dan Shaughnessy noted a “power struggle’’ earlier this year, which makes one wonder if Lucchino’s retirement of sorts was really his idea, especially with wunderkind and company man Sam Kennedy waiting in the wings to assume the president role.
Kennedy will not, however, take the title of CEO, nor will he oversee baseball operations. The 42-year-old Brookline native is good for the Red Sox brand, but freely admits he’s not fit for determining team personnel.
“I don’t see the role of the president as someone who is going to get into the nitty-gritty of baseball operations,’’ he told WEEI.com.
The Red Sox have yet to announce who Lucchino’s other responsibilities will fall to.
This should frighten you.
There was some gleeful reaction on Saturday night making the social media rounds when news of Lucchino’s departure broke, a sure sign that his brash approach turned off a lot of Red Sox fans. But Lucchino was also Boston’s Col. Jessep, a piñata in regards to public perception who got the job done and, for the most part, kept the dirty work behind the scenes.
You needed him on that wall. Now, his absence could be eminently telling.
With no intermediary in place, general manager Ben Cherington and the baseball operations folks will report directly to Henry and chairman Tom Werner, who figures to assume more of the power he reportedly craves in the Red Sox hierarchy. Suspicious Red Sox fans may eventually wonder if the primary focus is on the TV product over the delivery of a contending team that New England can embrace again.
It’s not like Lucchino didn’t have his blunders (hiring manager Bobby Valentine, low-balling pitcher Jon Lester, his icy relationship with former general manager Theo Epstein, allowing Dr. Charles Steinberg to play his tape of Neil Diamond’s greatest hits while brainstorming ideas back in 2002), but it’s important to note that two of the Red Sox’ most-misguided free-agent blunders over the past five years are both assumed to be thanks to, in large part, Werner’s influence. As former Boston manager Terry Francona wrote in his recent book, Werner, who you might remember, drove the San Diego Padres into oblivion under his ownership, asked the former Red Sox manager to “win in a more exciting fashion.’’ According to the book, the result was the team signing Carl Crawford to a seven-year, $142-million deal. Pablo Sandoval and his Panda aura ooze being a Werner call, a way to sell the peripheral fan in the wake of a last-place finish and sell some hats to boot.
That guy has more power when Lucchino exits.
Lucchino seemed to be able to corral any such nonsense during his time with the franchise. He was able to broker the historic trade with the Dodgers, sending Crawford, Adrian Gonzalez, and Josh Beckett to the West Coast. He was able to keep control of a ship that might have veered drastically off course at more than one point during his leadership.
With Lucchino’s exit looming, the Red Sox are on pace to finish their third season out of the last four in last place. It appears to be a team in chaos from a decision-making standpoint. Now they’re losing the guy who made the majority of the most important ones during the franchise’s glory years. That’s not easy to replace without bringing aboard an established front office leader like Dave Dombroski or Billy Beane.
Maybe that is indeed the plan, then. Hopefully that is the plan.
“I believe the end of this year is a good time for this change,’’ Lucchino said in a statement released Sunday afternoon. “Sam will do a terrific job. He is able, well-prepared, and fiercely dedicated to the Red Sox and to Boston.
“I have been blessed to have outstanding partners, and I plan to continue working with John, Tom, Mike [Gordon], Sam, and all of our partners in meeting the challenges that lie ahead for the Red Sox. I am also deeply proud of our extraordinary front office. They work together harmoniously and effectively, and each member has my gratitude, admiration, and respect.’’
Larry Lucchino no longer runs the Red Sox.
The big mystery might be figuring out who, exactly, does these days.
Photos: The Green Monster Through the Years