Peter Schmuck: Larry Lucchino looms large in the history of Oriole Park -
Peter Schmuck

Peter Schmuck: Larry Lucchino looms large in the history of Oriole Park

Syndication USA TODAY

It is a sad coincidence that two of the men who had such a huge impact on baseball in Baltimore should pass away within days of each other. Little more than a week after former owner Peter Angelos died at age of 94, former club president Larry Lucchino left us on Tuesday at 78.

The Angelos legacy has been well chronicled over the month since it was announced that his family had agreed to sell the franchise to Baltimore-born billionaire David Rubinstein. Lucchino’s baseball legacy may not be quite as familiar to a couple of new generations of Orioles fans, but he was instrumental in the conceptualization and birth of Oriole Park at Camden Yards.

It was under Lucchino’s watch as right-hand man to Washington-based former owner Edward Bennett Williams and during the short-lived ownership of Eli Jacobs that the Orioles convinced the State of Maryland to build a new ballpark in the Inner Harbor area to replace aging Memorial Stadium.

If that was all there was to it, Lucchino’s impact might not warrant a burst of orange-and-black nostalgia about the late 1980s and early ‘90s. Major League Baseball had just entered a new era of stadium construction and there were team officials and owners all over the country clamoring for modern new ballparks.

What separated Lucchino from them, of course, was the vision to create – along with architect Janet Marie Smith – a truly new concept in ballpark design. Oriole Park became the nouveau traditional model for a string of stadium projects, which is why the team loves to trumpet it as “the ballpark that forever changed baseball.”

Lucchino also had a major role in engineering the sale of the Orioles to Jacobs after the death of Williams and received a significant minority ownership stake in that deal that paid off handsomely when Angelos bought the club out of bankruptcy for a record $173 million.

Lucchino would move on from the Orioles after Angelos took control of the franchise and build on his reputation as a stadium visionary with the conceptualization of Petco Park, which is beautifully blended into the historic Gaslamp District in San Diego.

He also oversaw construction of the Red Sox’ spring training facility in Fort Myers, Florida, and a new Triple-A ballpark in Worcester, Massachusetts.

Oh yeah, and he was Red Sox president when the club finally reversed the “Curse of the Bambino” in 2004 and went on to win three World Series championships during his 15-year tenure.

His contribution to the sport as a baseball executive with three big league teams and chairman of the Worcester Red Sox was encapsulated in a tribute from Baseball Commissioner Rob Manfred.

“Larry Lucchino was one of the most accomplished executives that our industry has ever had. He was deeply driven, he understood baseball’s place in our communities, and he had a keen eye for executive talent. Larry’s vision for Camden Yards played a vital role in advancing fan-friendly ballparks across the game. He followed up by overseeing the construction of Petco Park, which remains a jewel of the San Diego community. Then Larry teamed with John Henry and Tom Werner to produce the most successful era in Red Sox history, which included historic World Series Championships on the field and a renewed commitment to Fenway Park.”

Though Lucchino wasn’t always warm and fuzzy with the media, he could be engaging and, on occasion, very quotable. He is remembered for famously labeling the New York Yankees “the Evil Empire” at the height of the always heated Yankees/Red Sox rivalry.

He was a fighter. He won a battle with non-Hodgkins Lymphoma in 1985 and was active in cancer-related charities throughout his later years, most notably as chairman of the Jimmy Fund, which benefits the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in Boston.

It’s hard to imagine him not being enshrined at the Baseball Hall of Fame. Should be there already.


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