Larry Lucchino Leaving the Red Sox Is a Way Bigger Deal Than Don Orsillo’s Departure
With all due respect to Don Orsillo, he’s not the most important person who left his position with the Red Sox this season. That honor belongs to outgoing president and CEO Larry Lucchino, who ran the franchise during its most successful period in nearly a century.
But yet, there was nary an uproar when Lucchino’s departure was announced in early August. The only departing gift he received was an awkward bear hug from David Ortiz. Orsillo’s farewell tour lasted for the final six weeks of the season, culminating in a salute from Red Sox players and coaches at the conclusion of Sunday’s season finale in Cleveland—and perhaps the best damn sign-off you’ll ever hear.
Sox give Don a tip of the cap goodbye. “Orsillo rounding third and heading home” is an all time sign off. pic.twitter.com/Z760jGyaXB
— Feitelberg (@FeitsBarstool) October 4, 2015
Of course, an affable play-by-play man is probably always going to be more beloved than an Ivy League-educated CEO with an often gruff managerial style. But Orsillo shouldn’t be more revered than Lucchino. The fact that he is illustrates the deep disdain many Red Sox fans seem to have for the organization, which is perhaps the most pressing issue facing the team this offseason.
The circumstances surrounding Lucchino’s and Orsillo’s exits may be more similar than what appears on the surface. The Boston Globe’s Dan Shaughnessy says Lucchino was nudged out, and Steve Buckley of the Boston Herald agrees. Unlike Orsillo, Lucchino acted as if his departure was a mutual decision, but their situations are different. For starters, Lucchino has an ownership stake in the team, and was named president and CEO emeritus on his way out. He probably has a significant financial interest in putting up a front. Orsillo does not.
Lucchino was viewed as the face of this ownership group, whose seeming penchant for backstabbing fan favorites has alienated a large percentage of Red Sox Nation. When boy wonder general manager Theo Epstein resigned from his position on Halloween night 10 years ago and left Fenway Park in a gorilla suit, Lucchino was blamed for driving his former protege out. Lucchino was not universally given credit, however, for the Josh Beckett and Mike Lowell trade, which occurred later that offseason while Epstein was gone and helped propel the Red Sox to their 2007 World Series win. (Epstein returned in January 2006.)
Following the disastrous collapse of September 2011, principal owner John Henry went on the radio and proclaimed, “Larry Lucchino runs the Red Sox.” It was about as close as you can get to throwing someone under the bus without literally doing it.
By all accounts, Lucchino didn’t mind playing the bagman—and boy, he did that quite often in his final years at the top of the organization. He was front and center when the Red Sox ousted Terry Francona, hired Bobby Valentine, and lowballed Jon Lester. When the Sox did win the World Series in 2013, conventional wisdom said it was because Lucchino’s influence over GM Ben Cherington had decreased. (But that’s not true, considering Lucchino largely initiated the blockbuster salary dump with the Dodgers in late 2012 that cleared the way for 2013.)
Though the Red Sox won three championships, made the playoff seven times, and dramatically upgraded Fenway Park with Lucchino at the helm, he’s considered to be the Darth Vader of baseball executives in many corners of New England. The Red Sox have an image problem, and Lucchino is the piñata. Orsillo’s dismissal was the boiling point that convinced disgruntled fans to swing the bat.
Throughout Orsillo’s final telecast Sunday, NESN replayed many of his most memorable calls. The highlight reel probably wouldn’t have been nearly as long if the Red Sox weren’t as good for the majority of Orsillo’s stint behind the mic.
Despite three last-place finishes in four years, this has still been the most successful era in Red Sox history. Orsillo was a narrator; Lucchino was an architect. One of them was an infinitely more important figure than the other, but the reaction to each man’s exit doesn’t reflect that. That’s because Lucchino is considered the establishment, and a lot of fans want to rage against the machine.
Lucchino made his mistakes, but his hits had a far more indelible impact on the Red Sox than any of Orsillo’s home run calls or giggle-fests with Jerry Remy. But perspective and outrage seldom co-exist.
If they did, some of the goodwill Orsillo received on his way out the door would’ve been saved for Lucchino.