Larry Lucchino, force behind retro ballpark revolution and drought-busting Red Sox, dies at 78

Pawtucket and Worcester Red Sox Chairman and Co-owner Larry Lucchino on the final Red Sox “Truck Day” at McCoy Stadium February 3, 2020. File photo by Steve Klamkin WPRO News

BOSTON (AP) — Larry Lucchino, the force behind baseball’s retro ballpark revolution and the transformation of the Boston Red Sox from cursed losers to World Series champions, has died. He was 78.

Lucchino had suffered from cancer. The Triple-A Worcester Red Sox, his last project in a career that also included three major league baseball franchises and one in the NFL, confirmed his death on Tuesday.

“To us, Larry was an exceptional person who combined a Hall of Fame life as a Major League Baseball executive with his passion for helping those people most in need,” Lucchino’s family said in a statement. “He brought the same passion, tenacity, and probing intelligence to all his endeavors, and his achievements speak for themselves.”

A Pittsburgh native who played on the Princeton basketball team — captained by future U.S. Senator and New York Knick Bill Bradley — that reached the 1965 NCAA Final Four, Lucchino went on to Yale Law School and landed a job with Washington lawyer Edward Bennett Williams. Lucchino soon found himself working on Williams’ sports teams, the Washington NFL franchise and the Baltimore Orioles.

Lucchino rose to president of the Orioles, and it was in his tenure that the team replaced Memorial Stadium with a downtown, old-style ballpark that ended the move toward cavernous, cookie-cutter stadiums surrounded by parking lots. Camden Yards became a trend-setter, and Lucchino himself would follow up with a new ballpark for the San Diego Padres, whom he served as president and CEO.

Lucchino’s next stop was in Boston, joining with new owners John Henry and Tom Werner in 2002. Their decision to update Fenway Park rather than replace it — bucking another trend — preserved one of baseball’s jewels, which will open its 113th season on April 9.

But an even bigger overhaul was taking place in the Red Sox front office, and on the field. With 28-year-old Theo Epstein — who started with the Orioles as an intern and followed Lucchino to the Padres — as general manager, the Red ended an 86-year championship drought, and then won another World Series three seasons later.

Pawtucket Red Sox Chairman Larry Lucchino talks with reporters in Worcester August 17, 2018 after announcing the team signed a letter of intent with the city to move there from Pawtucket in time for the 2021 season. Photo by Steve Klamkin WPRO News