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Larry Lucchino: Gone, But Not For Long

Peter May: Anyone who thinks Boston Red Sox President and CEO Larry Lucchino is leaving because he is 70 must also believe in the tooth fairy. Lucchino pictured here at Fenway Park in Boston, Thursday, Oct. 4, 2012. (Elise Amendola/AP)
Peter May: Anyone who thinks Boston Red Sox President and CEO Larry Lucchino is leaving because he is 70 must also believe in the tooth fairy. Lucchino pictured here at Fenway Park in Boston, Thursday, Oct. 4, 2012. (Elise Amendola/AP)
This article is more than 4 years old.

Just after the All-Star Game last month, Larry Lucchino, the president and CEO of the Boston Red Sox, made two utterly eye-popping remarks on the radio that showed why perhaps he shouldn’t wait until the end of the season to leave.

He told listeners of the "Dennis & Callahan" show that the Red Sox, then 6 1/2 games back of the first-place Yankees in the American League East, had been in a similar position 11 years ago.

“We were 6 or 6 1/2 back at the break in 2004,’’ Lucchino said. “I’m not predicting the same kind of miraculous season, but I am saying we have been in this position before.”

People like Larry Lucchino don’t step back. They find another road. He saw the handwriting on the wall. That’s all.

Wait, what? Hold on. There was no resemblance between 2004 and 2015 other than the fact that the Red Sox trailed the Yankees at the All-Star break. In 2004, the Red Sox were seven games behind the Yankees. The Red Sox were in second place in the American League East and had the third best record in the American League, behind only New York and Texas. They already had the one wild card spot all but secured. They were a really good team about to get even better.

In 2015, the Red Sox were in last place in the American League East at the All-Star break. (There were three teams between them and the Yankees.) They had the third-worst record in the American League, not the third best. They were a really underachieving team about to embark on a road trip of seven games, all of which they would lose.

The likelihood of a 2004 reprise was as ludicrous as it was implausible. The Red Sox boss then added later in the interview that he could understand how Hanley Ramirez might be struggling because “Hanley had never been a [designated hitter] before coming to the American League.” Huh? What do DH’s do? They hit. That’s all they do. Ramirez has been in the major leagues for 11 years and has nearly 1,500 hits. He knows how to hit.

The problem, as anyone paying casual attention to the train wreck of 2015 is aware, is that Ramirez can’t play the outfield.

Lucchino always reminded me of Rick Pitino in that both men said things so cavalierly — and rarely get second-guessed — as if to actually believe they are true. Pitino famously predicted Travis Knight would be a “great, great player in this league.” (He actually used the word great twice.) And he said it as if he believed it.

Where to begin with Lucchino? After the 2012 sell-off of Adrian Gonzalez, Carl Crawford and Josh Beckett, he said the Red Sox weren’t like the Yankees anymore in that they were not going to sign pricey free agents. Then they went out and dropped $200 million on pricey free agents Ramirez and Pablo Sandoval.

His latest may be his best, though. He was in the process of being increasingly marginalized in the Red Sox ownership group and his contract was up at the end of the year. So, ta-da, he’ll “step back” because he’s going to turn 70. It was his decision all along. Really.

And then he hopped onto his unicorn and went off in search of the — spoiler alert — tooth fairy and Easter bunny.

People like Larry Lucchino don’t step back. They find another road. He saw the handwriting on the wall. That’s all.

What’s Lucchino going to do, grow tomatoes?

And 70 is the new 50. Lou Lamoriello just left his management job at the New Jersey Devils to become the general manager of the Toronto Maple Leafs. Lamoriello will be 73 in October and, by all accounts, still has plenty to offer. Phil Jackson, fresh off a disastrous first year running the New York Knicks, turns 70 next month. Joe Torre became Major League Baseball’s executive vice president of baseball operations at the age of 70. He’s still there at age 75.

What’s Lucchino going to do, grow tomatoes? The man is a professional pot-stirrer. Those who know him call him relentless. He’s the one who called the Yankees the “Evil Empire.” He was set to join another train wreck, Boston 2024, before it collapsed under its own weight. He’s looking to build a minor-league baseball stadium in Providence.

But a couple of recent horrible decisions (hiring Bobby Valentine and low-balling Jon Lester) probably hastened his move to marginalia in the Red Sox ownership suite. His statements to "Dennis & Callahan" further illuminated this.

He may be taking a “step back” or “stepping aside” but he isn’t going to be sitting in a hammock with his AARP Magazine anytime soon.

Related:

Peter May Twitter Cognoscenti contributor
Peter May was a sports writer at the Boston Globe for nearly two decades. He now teaches journalism at Brandeis University and is an occasional contributor to the New York Times.

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