Lucchino: Red Sox's goal to win with 'frequency'
Club president/CEO talks repeating, ticket sales, Fenway and more with MLB.com
Larry Lucchino is entering his 13th season as the president/CEO of the Boston Red Sox. During that time, Boston has claimed three World Series titles. In his three-plus decades in professional sports, Lucchino has been a part of five championship teams.
Even at the age of 68, Lucchino hasn't slowed down in the least, and his passion for winning is as strong as ever. In an interview with MLB.com, Lucchino gave a state of the union, of sorts, regarding the Red Sox.
MLB.com: You've been fortunate enough to be part of a lot of championship teams during your career, but not a repeat champion. How much would it mean to be a part of that?
Lucchino: Listen, last year was special, and I've been lucky to be part of some championship teams before. And 2013 was special in so many different ways, whether it was worst to first, or the element of surprise that hit the media and the fan base, or the "Boston Strong" dimension of it, which was profoundly important to us.
But that was then, this is now. And we are still hungry. Make no mistake, the players, the front office, John [Henry], Tom [Werner] and ownership, we got into this to win, and win with some frequency. We are hungry to do it, but we recognize how hard it will be when 29 teams are aiming to knock your head off.
MLB.com: One thing that might help your team this year is the youth. How energizing is it to have some of the young players you have who should play significant roles this year?
Lucchino: You know, one of the great joys you can derive from baseball is watching young players mature and develop and contribute over time. Roland Hemond, an old GM from when I was with the Orioles, used to talk about how much he enjoyed that element of the game. I think everyone does. We're going to have that in spades with some of the players who should be important to us in the Majors this year.
And then there is wave after wave of Minor League players down in the system. I think we are lucky to be loaded, and that's not just a personal observation. Baseball America, ESPN, all of them put our farm system in the top five of baseball. I think that's going to be an extra dimension to the experience, not just this year but in the next couple of years.
MLB.com: Ticket sales were a big topic last year. After selling out every game from May 15, 2003, through the end of the 2012 season, your record-setting streak ended early in 2013. What are your projections for this year?
Lucchino: As you might expect, we're way ahead of where we were last year. I think we're almost 11 and a half percent ahead of last year, in terms of tickets sold. There is a definite excitement about winning. But there is also an excitement about this team, the players, the manager, the coaches. I think there's a confidence in the baseball-operations department. All of those things have come together. Most importantly, people enjoyed this team, respected this team last year. The aftermath of that will continue to help this year.
MLB.com: Do you think you might start another streak of sellouts this year?
Lucchino: Will we ever repeat the streak of 10 years of consecutive sellouts? I doubt it. I think the ticket market has changed, the presence of secondary ticket opportunities mitigates the need to buy early, to some degree. So that record may stand for a long, long time. We just want to sell enough tickets to have the financial wherewithal to be able to field the team we want and have the franchise we want.
Whether it's a complete sellout or 36,406, it almost doesn't matter going forward, as long as we generate the kind of revenues that are required to maintain one of the top payrolls in baseball, and to maintain the kind of financial stability that lets us bring in young players and provide the kind of fan experience you want.
MLB.com: Just observing your organization on a daily basis over the years, it feels like there has never been more cohesion from ownership to the front office to the manager to the coaching staff and down to the players than you have right now. Do you agree with that assessment?
Lucchino: Absolutely. That's something we've talked about in the office. That type of cohesiveness feels awfully good, and we've seen it in the clubhouse, we certainly feel it at the ownership levels. I think [manager] John Farrell and [general manager] Ben Cherington are prime examples of it, the way they've integrated themselves into the entire organization and brought a sense of team to their working relationship and to the entire organization.
We're really very pleased at the level of moral and mutual respect there is in the organization. This is a very exciting time to be a Red Sox fan for that reason, and because of the state of the farm system. The future is bright. We're not going to win every year, but we are going to a field a team that's worthy of the fans' support and has a chance in October. That is our annual goal -- October baseball.
MLB.com: As far as Fenway Park goes, you put a ton of renovations into the park for your first decade of ownership. What might fans or players see coming into the park this year that is different?
Lucchino: We've completed our 10-year renovation plan that required a private investment of $285 million or $290 million. We have the new seating sections and the new structure of the ballpark and all that. But what you'll see now are some extra amenities and comforts on the right-field roof. You'll see it in the third-base deck. There will be some improvements for the players themselves. We try to do that every year, if we can, particularly on the home side. I think they'll be pleased at the kind of ballpark they see on a daily basis.
MLB.com: In your time with the Orioles and Padres, you were a part of getting state-of-the-art ballparks built in Baltimore and San Diego. Are you ever envious of those types of places now?
Lucchino: The answer is no. When John Henry, Tom Werner and I came here, our group was the only group of the six [bidders] who wanted to serve and protect and enhance Fenway Park. The others all wanted the shiny new ballpark in place of Fenway. We think we made the right decision. We think the attendance the last 12 years validates that. We think the team's performance over the last 12 years validates that. We're proud of Fenway, the preservation and protection of Fenway Park. I think it's one of the rocks on which we've built the franchise.
MLB.com: You've been running baseball teams for going on three decades now. How much longer do you see yourself doing this?
Lucchino: I'm not ready to buy a bunch of books and go sit on a beach somewhere. All I want to do is go to some tense ballgames and enjoy the thrill of competition and winning and the satisfaction that comes from doing that in Boston. I love the situation I'm in right now. I love working with my partners. I love the relationship the Red Sox have with its city and its region. I love the centrality of baseball. I love Boston as a town and New England as a region. This is my home and where I want to be.
MLB.com: The Red Sox are expected to visit President Obama at the White House at the beginning of April. How special is that aspect of being a champion?
Lucchino: That's the cherry on top of the whole offseason experience. It's set for very early in April, and that's a good day for it. I know our players will get a big thrill out of it. We generally take some time to go to a military hospital or two while we are there. We're looking forward to it.
MLB.com: This is the fifth ring you've won as a professional sports executive. But you aren't the kind of guy who sits at your house and stares at your rings, are you?
Lucchino: No, no, they are very satisfying. But I stopped wearing the '07 ring a couple of years ago, because it seemed like it was getting old and stale. It was time for another one. But mostly I just keep them in a display box in my house, and it's often in a safe. Just on occasions, I'll look at them every once in a while for a little inspiration, but that's about it.
MLB.com: When the Red Sox won in '04, it seemed like there was almost too much hype around the team. It just seemed like there was a circus atmosphere. As an organization, did you learn from that?
Lucchino: That was such a special time and so worthy of savoring as a celebration after 86 years, but I think we learned something from our previous experiences. We do not want to be in a "stuck in last year kind of mode." We've tried to turn the page as Spring Training begins. I think part of the hunger and part of the desire to win again is to be a little careful with excessive celebrations of last year, as joyful and thrilling as it was.
MLB.com: I know you leave most of the contract stuff to Ben and his group, but when it comes to players like David Ortiz and Jon Lester, assuming there is some talk on extensions for those guys this spring, does ownership get more involved?
Lucchino: Yes, we do. We always have. We always have a seat at the table when it comes to particularly important contracts and long-term commitments, etc., be it financial or in terms of years. That's another thing we are kind of pleased with. There's kind of a process in place that allows for collaboration and contributions that will end up with a pretty solid portfolio of contracts.
MLB.com: One of your favorite sayings when you refer to what you want out of a team is "deep depth." Where did you come up with that?
Lucchino: Sure, that's one of my favorite phrases in baseball, because it's so darn important. I got it originally from Earl Weaver, who was the manager of the Orioles when I got into baseball. He talked about that, and the redundancy was great, because it made the point so vividly. We have tried to keep that going. Also in the '80s, Birdie Tebbetts, a great baseball man, used to talk to me about how to win and he said, "Larry, you don't win with the stars. You win with the 'Joe's,' the 22nd, 23rd, 24th and 25th guy on the roster. Those guys will have to make contributions for you to win."
That kind of depth is essential. It's been a part of my baseball philosophy for a long time, but we went back to it last year, in a good way. We do know there are three elements, at least, in baseball that are very, very hard to control. One is health, the second is chemistry, and the third is randomness. There's a big field with a small field, so a lot of random occurrences take place. You've got to have the depth to allow yourself to react and adjust to the changes that those three factors throw at you every year.
MLB.com: What has Farrell brought to this team since he returned to the Red Sox as the manager?
Lucchino: He's just the right guy for this team. There's no doubt that because of his experience, his presence and his exceptional working relationship with Ben Cherington, that's another important element of a strong front office. The manager and the general manager have got to be working hand in glove. And they put together a tremendous coaching staff last year that gets too little credit for all that was accomplished.
Even if the voting came out differently, John was the Manager of the Year, no doubt. People need to remember, we tried to get him in 2012, but we couldn't get Toronto to play ball with us. It was only when we tried to go back again in 2013 and gave them a solid Major League player [Mike Aviles], they were willing to acquiesce.
MLB.com: Going into this season, is there one question mark that might keep you up at night as you look at this team?
Lucchino: Most years, it's the same factor, and that's pitching. At the risk of sounding terribly repetitive, the depth of your pitching staff is what will be the largest strength or determinant. In 2004, we had a pitching staff where nobody missed a turn in the rotation. That was stunning. And last year, we had the kind of depth in the bullpen that we could react to the health problems that developed, so quality pitching depth, pitching youth, those things are the things I worry about. But I worry a lot. That's on my job description.