Red Sox Confidential
It’s also expensive, from buying the club to fielding a team that can compete with the Yankees. So it’s understandable that marketing the Sox and finding new revenue streams consumed Lucchino and his business-side minions in the early years. I remember seeing a high-definition telecast of a Sox game for the first time on NESN and remarking to a marketing executive that the picture was so clear you could make out individual blades of grass on the field. “Yup,” the exec responded, smiling broadly, “and we can put a corporate logo on every one.”
The grass was always a big deal with the press. I once got a call from a Globe reporter who wanted to do a lawn and garden feature and needed some secrets from groundskeeper Dave Mellor on how he keeps Fenway’s grass looking so green. The reporter happened to catch me as I was meeting with team executives in a suite overlooking the park one day in early April. I could see Mellor and his crew on the field — currently brown like spring grass everywhere in New England — working to ready Fenway for Opening Day. Someone was spraying a liquid, transforming the dingy grass into a healthy-looking green. Paint, I thought to myself. That’s the secret.
SOME OF THE EARLY FUN and thrilling discovery from that first year came to a screeching halt with the sudden and disastrous end to the 2003 season, when the Sox lost yet again to the Yankees in agonizing fashion. After that, 4 Yawkey Way — the team’s corporate offices — became more serious, and Rasky Baerlein’s role in working with the club grew more solidified.
Each day, I took part in a “media” meeting in Lucchino’s office. We’d review the morning’s news coverage and plan press strategies. I looked forward to these meetings and enjoyed the back-and-forth with Lucchino and his team. I found Lucchino nothing like his reputation as a hard-edged, demanding, volatile taskmaster. That’s certainly been the picture painted of him lately, with many observers speculating that he drove Theo Epstein from the club. Lucchino did sometimes come across as tough, but for the most part he would invite criticism (he once whacked me with a rolled-up newspaper when, after he asked for a constructive critique on how he’d done with a speech, I sucked up and complimented him), seek input, and gather all available information before making decisions. He could be impatient and railed against the slowness of progress or the inability to complete certain tasks on time. But it didn’t appear to me that people were afraid to speak their minds. No one cowered in his presence.
Actually, I saw evidence of an outsize temper only twice. The first time was when we were driving to an appointment with Mayor Menino and Lucchino was certain I had taken a wrong turn and he was going to arrive late (I hadn’t and he didn’t). The second time was in August 2005, just after the Sox had backed out of a trade with the Colorado Rockies, a move that made the club look bad to many observers. My understanding was that it was Epstein himself who’d wanted to back out of the deal, but that he and Lucchino had cooked up a face-saving cover story that involved upper management supposedly overruling the trade. Soon after, I was in Lucchino’s suite overlooking the park during a rare weekday afternoon game, watching Epstein being interviewed on TV about the deal. Epstein put the blame for its collapse squarely on Lucchino’s shoulders, which sent the CEO into red-faced paroxysms. Lucchino apparently wasn’t expecting to be so directly and completely thrown under the bus. The issue would soon rise again, just after the season ended, and become the centerpiece of Epstein’s decision to abruptly quit the team on Halloween of 2005 (the famous gorilla-suit escape). When Epstein agreed to come back three months later, one of his conditions was that Lucchino’s daily media meetings be shut down. Epstein had always had a standing invitation to attend those meetings but never came, apparently believing we were spending our time devising ways to bolster Lucchino’s image and undercut his. Clearly, factions were forming on Yawkey Way, roughly around one group that felt Lucchino had amassed too much power and was butting into everything, particularly baseball operations, and another that believed Epstein was more lucky than talented and owed his entire baseball existence to Lucchino. The conflict led to some tense moments and intensified the club’s already ingrained obsession with unauthorized leaks to the press.