By Kevin Flanagan
BSD Senior Staff Writer
“Larry Lucchino runs the Red Sox.”
– Red Sox principle owner John Henry, October 14, 2011 on 98.5 The Sports Hub
Of course, that is no longer the case. Lucchino was pushed out the door last season, an act that the Red Sox brass tried to explain away as voluntary, instead of the firing that it really was.
And while Larry’s heavy hand is no longer on the wheel steering the team into oblivion, that does not mean that his ghost is not interfering with its navigation.
When the bottom was falling out on the team the Boston Herald declared, “The Best Red Sox Team Ever,” during the second half of that doomed 2011 season, chaos reigned on Yawkey Way. Everyone remembers the “chicken and beer” incident involving the pitching staff, and the disconnect that was building between the manager and his players.
While the situation in the clubhouse was bordering on anarchy, the divide in the front office was becoming untenable. Before the dust had even begun to settle, John Henry had to make a choice. Stick with Larry, who had helped mold his coming of age general manager Theo Epstein, or turn the reins over to the Young Turk
Henry chose Lucchino. He chose wrong.
Shortly after Epstein bolted for Chicago to run the Cubs, Lucchino installed Ben Cherington as his new general manager, seemingly in title only. Cherington, who could do voiceovers for his predecessor, had been with the organization dating back to the John Harrington days. Supposedly equipped to carry on the success the club had enjoyed in its heyday of ’03 through ’08, Cherington proved to be nothing more than Larry’s mouthpiece.
This was evident from the start when Cherington had developed a list to replace Terry Francona – whom Lucchino made sure was covered with mud as he departed from the club – and Larry disregarded his selections and went off the board and chose, instead, a psychopath to manage the team; the inventor of the wrap sandwich himself, Bobby Valentine.
That experiment, of course, was an utter failure. The only positive development of that lost season was an ownership brokered deal with the Los Angeles Dodgers, that sent three high-priced headaches out of town – Adrian Gonzales, Carl Crawford, and Josh Beckett.
The credit that Lucchino took for the fluke of a World Series Championship that would follow in 2013 – when he and Cherington threw some stuff against the wall that actually stuck; Mike Napoli and Shane Victorino, in particular – was classic Larry. His chest puffing in spring training in ’14 was the stuff of legends. It was the last time Larry would have a reason to brag about anything he had done for the Red Sox.
Of course, that team was largely constructed by Epstein, as is the current crop of young talent that is now looked at as the future stars of the team; Mookie Betts, Blake Swihart, and Xander Bogaerts. As it turns out, the Lucchino/Cherington legacy is much darker.
Beginning with doing practically nothing to improve a team that captured lightning in a bottle in ’13, the results, of course, was their second last-place finish in three years. Their big catch that off season was signing the most hated player in baseball – catcher A.J. Pierzynski. That spring the dynamic duo succeeded in pissing off free agent to be pitcher Jon Lester so much, he cut off negotiations with the team for an extension after saying he would accept a “hometown discount” to stay with the club.
When the team was circling the drain before the 4th of July in ’14, they conducted a fire sale at the deadline; trading Lester to the Oakland A’s for Yeonis Cespedes, who they turned into Rick Porcello, and subsequently signed him to an awful extension before he had pitched a single game for the club. They also dealt John Lackey to the St. Louis Cardinals for a minor-league player who has three years and $33 million left on his contract in Allen Craig, and an up and down starter in Joe Kelly.
They then did what bad management teams do best and panicked after the ’14 season, overpaying for the overweight Pablo Sandoval and the under performing Hanley Ramirez. And lets not forget the $72 million they handed to Rusney Castillo, the 28 year old Cuban that still can’t earn a position with the big club.
So five years after choosing Lucchino over Epstein, John Henry finds himself in the midst of a nightmare. His team saddled with a handful of overpriced/under performing contracts that he will have to eat to get rid of (How do you think the team would look if they gave Sandoval and Ramirez’ money to Lester and still signed David Price?), while Epstein’s Cubs are the chalk pick to win the World Series this season.
New team president Dave Dombrowski is a good baseball man, and no doubt he will start to turn things around for the Sox this season. However, for those looking for the Red Sox to become sudden contenders for a title, think again. There is a lot of garbage that needs to be disposed of before the Olde Towne Team will smell like a winner once more.
Thankfully, however, Larry Lucchino no longer runs the Red Sox.