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RIP to Larry Lucchino, One of the Most Successful, Fascinating, and Polarizing Figures in Red Sox History

Source - Larry Lucchino, the former president and CEO of the Boston Red Sox, has died at the age of 78.

Lucchino served in that president and CEO role with the Red Sox from 2002-15, joining the organization alongside Tom Werner as part of John Henry's ownership group. The group delivered World Series titles in 2004 (ending an 86-year championship drought), 2007 and 2013.

In 2015, Lucchino joined a group that bought the Worcester Red Sox, becoming the chairman and principal owner of the team. ...

Prior to joining the Red Sox, Lucchino was the president of the Baltimore Orioles from 1988-93 and was the president and CEO of the San Diego Padres from 1995-2001. Lucchino met intern Theo Epstein while with the Orioles and hired him in San Diego before hiring Epstein as the Red Sox' general manager in 2002. ...

Lucchino played in the Final Four with Princeton in 1967.

This is sad for reasons that go beyond a bright, compelling and at times controversial high profile public figure dying at the tender age of 78. That is obvious on its face. This is also sad because remembering the life and career of Larry Lucchino is a reminder of just how important the Red Sox were on his watch. At a time when the team he used to preside over has become the only thing that is worse than being hated. They're irrelevant:

Lucchino was more than an Ivy League intellectual, he was a scrapper. The kind of intellectual who doesn't back down from an argument. His weekly interviews with "Dennis & Callahan" on WEEI were appointment radio back in a time when there was such a thing as appointment sports radio. Largely due to the fact he enjoyed arguing with them in the most caustic, sarcastic, amusing way. 

He was, after all, the author of the phrase that defined the Yankees in an age when they were still making the Red Sox their bitch on a regular basis:

And if it came across as just Sore Loserness, it's because it was. Lucchino resented the Evil Empire's success as much as we all did. There was no professional courtesy or tipping your cap when it came to him. Which made him one of us. And when his team handed the Yankees the most humiliating defeat in their century of existence two years later, it made it all the sweeter that he had been such a Masshole about the Steinbrenner's ability to outspend the rest of the civilized world to buy championships. 

And yet, like I've said, Lucchino was polarizing. On the one hand, he was integral when it came to making Theo Epstein the youngest GM in human history (I forget if he actually was, but let's just roll with it). But then ended up in a power struggle with the architect of the team who ended an 86-year World Series drought (don't call it a curse). Resulting in dozens of hit pieces in the local papers by writers who were willing to carry water for him (looking at you, Dan Shaugnessy) condescendingly referring to Epstein as "Young Theo" and eventually leading to Epstein leaving the team. According to an urban legend, on a Halloween where he snuck out of the building and down the street in a gorilla costume. 

Epstein eventually won that particular Game of Thrones and returned. But while he was gone, Lucchino orchestrated the controversial Hanley Ramirez-for-Josh Beckett and Mike Lowell trade. Which did nothing less than create the best single season team of our lifetimes. One that won 96 games, led the AL East box-to-wire and swept the World Series, as Beckett went 20-7. For his part Lowell, who felt like a throw in and a salary dump by the Marlins, led the Sox with 120 RBIs and won the World Series MVP. 

When he wasn't successfully pulling off ballsy trades that are to his eternal credit, Lucchino at times was guilty of some of the most egregiously bad decisions. For instance, hiring Bobby Valentine out of a broadcast booth in a move that alienated players and fans in equal measure. 

And he was the author of some of the most clumsy, ham-fisted PR blunders of all time. I can't say for certain that he was the source on the infamous Boston Globe character assassination of Terry Francona after he left on the best possible terms in 2011. But it certainly felt like a Lucchino operation. It painted a universally respected manager as a philandering, untrustworthy pillhead. And was as unnecessary as it was damaging to the team. We all just liked Francona more after that. And it was the beginning stages of Massholes resenting the creeps who own this team that has only gotten worse with each passing year. 

One thing I can lay on Lucchino's lap is the goofy, letter he sent to season ticket holders in the middle of that disastrous Bobby V season. Which was more laughably awkward than straight up evil like the hit piece on Francona. We know he was responsible for it because he actually signed his name to it. Coming on the heels of the Chicken-and-Beer Sox who essentially quit on Francona at the end of the previous season and with them showing zero interest in playing for Valetine, this was the most tone deaf thing he could've said:

CBS Boston - "We have watched the team coalesce into a close group," wrote Lucchino. "Personalities are enhancing the chemistry, such as the cheerful Cody Ross, the friendly Mike Aviles, and the inspiring story of Daniel Nava.  Jarrod Saltalamacchia has shown power, in the clutch, worthy of an All-Star.  And as the talented Will Middlebrooks forced his way into the lineup, we bade farewell, with gratitude, to Kevin Youkilis, who helped us win two World Championships."

"The one constant off the field is that we have had a veritable All-Star Team on the disabled list," he continued. "As we begin the second half, we look forward to the return of the "varsity," including Jacoby Ellsbury, Carl Crawford, Andrew Bailey, and the ever-dirty Dustin Pedroia."

But the letter was not complete without a plea to fans to show up early and enjoy all that Fenway Park has to offer.

"Meanwhile, as you come to Fenway Park throughout this season, we hope you will come early—the secret to fully enjoying a sports venue.  Now 'A Living Museum,' Fenway Park probably leads the league in bronze plaques and commemorative displays along the concourses.  Enjoy them at your leisure early, well before the escalation of excitement as game time approaches."

Reading that at the time felt like the same feeling I get when two pieces of styrofoam get rubbed together. Just full-body cringe going up and down my spine. And it doesn't read any better now. But that is what you got with Lucchino. An incredibly bright, erudite guy who made incredible decisions that laid the foundation for the best era of Red Sox baseball since the early 1900s. But at the same time, he was ownership's enforcer. The Capo you send out to push a button on a guy they saw as a problem. Someone they could let off the leash when they needed him, and then take shelter behind him like a meat shield. And he always seemed to really enjoy the fights. The one thing no one will ever accuse Larry Lucchino of is being boring. And in an era where more and more executives across professional sports are tedious, colorless drones who never say or do a memorable thing, that is something to celebrate. 

Requiscat in Pace to a truly unique man. Without whom this never would've happened:

Ron Vesely. Getty Images.