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The Buck Stops Here

Steve Buckley:  "I screwed that up... I screwed that up. No call was made by Nomar."

Sean McAdam:  "It's rare that a player himself contacts the official scorer... they say something to Kevin Shea who goes to Charlie or Joe G. and say 'hey Nomar had a question about that.'"

Steve Buckley:  That's the way it was posed to me (direct call), but I'll take blame... but I do have other instances (of his requesting scorecard change), but I'll move on... 

Lucchino on Nomargate, Stars, GM, Grady, Manny

9.19.02:  Larry Lucchino (LL) from Thursday's 'Executive Report' on WEEI's Dennis and Callahan Show with John Dennis (JD) and Gerry Callahan (GC):

LL:  Morning Gentlemen. 

GC:  What do you think you can get for Nomar?  (haa, haa, haa)

JD:  You came here after stints in both San Diego and Baltimore and I'm sure with your eyes wide open, even with the knowledge and the reputation of Boston, the fans, the media, the passion, the whole thing, were your eyes wide enough open to grasp what it is you're seeing in the last week or so around this ballclub?

LL:  To answer generally, I expected it would be an intense place when it came to baseball, that was one of the great things about Boston and I expected there would be extensive media coverage.  But I think I underestimated the amount of the coverage, the extensive nature of the newspapers coverage for example all over New England, the popularity, and perhaps a little bit of the intensity of talk radio as well.  There's just more of it and it's more intense than even I anticipated.  Even Baltimore had a fair bit of this, but nothing in comparison to Boston.

JD:  Is the price a player, a manager, an owner pays in this environment worth the passion of the fans?

LL:  Oh absolutely.  You spend a lot of your time in some markets trying to gin up this passion, trying to gin up this interest, trying to develop ways to get the media to cover your team, so it's worth it absolutely and it's a reflection of the history of the place too. This doesn't spring up overnight because of one particular popular talk show host or one particular controversial columnist, it springs up as a result of generations and generations (the Sons of the Guys Who Booed Ted Williams, my two cents, I love that line) of interest in the team and the fact that the team is part of the central fabric of the community.

GC:  Hey Larry I know this is a delicate topic at this point, but it's THE topic at least this week, in Mike Silverman's story today he says "a baseball source, and I know you love these anonymous sources, says "a couple of times this summer, the Red Sox have raised Nomar Garciaparra's name in trade talks, with other teams."

LL:  Yeah, that was news to me Gerry, I read that column this morning and I stopped and I said 'now I suppose that could happen without me knowing about it' um but I sure didn't know about it and I don't believe that it has happened... unless it happened in the context of someone saying... throwing out 'what ifs' or possibilities or 'oh you'd give us your five top prospects and your next born son' ...'if we did what... gave you Nomar? You want to talk about Nomar, let's talk about it.'  I suppose it could come up in that context but I can tell you that I don't remember ever being in a meeting where someone initiated or even responded to the notion of trading Nomar.

GC:  Do you believe in theory that there is such a thing as an untradable player? Is there any player that you would say 'he's completely off the table, I would never even consider trading him?'

LL:  I don't think I'd ever say that.  Although there are some players who come close to that there may be times when you wouldn't want to trade him or you wouldn't think a trade would be appropriate. But by and large (Duke creepin' in?!?) Randy Johnson at one point was an extraordinary pitcher, they made an exceptional trade for him, and Seattle has gone on to great success as a result. So there are times when emotionally you may feel that way, but rationally, as a baseball executive, you've got to keep your eyes and ears open. But even having said that as a theoretical matter, I really don't uhh... I can honestly report that there's been no discussion about trading Nomar Garciaparra. And the controversy around him for the last couple of days, I really think has been over the top. 

GC:  Well what if you get a call? What if there's a nice offer?  What if there's something that will improve, in your mind, improve the Red Sox ballclub on the field for next season? Would you pull the trigger on a trade for Nomar Garciaparra?

LL:  You have to consider it with everybody. It's more personality trait, there are probably some people who would not feel this way, but I'm the kind of person who would say 'well I'm gonna listen' if people want to talk about some bizarre out-of-this-world kind of transaction, we'll at least listen, we'll at least consider it... I'm sure you'll appreciate this... there's so much talking that goes on in baseball, there's so much war gaming and possibilities, we spend much of our time listening to crazy, off-the-wall possibilities, but we have other needs for next year and we're focusing on them and we are not focusing on some bizarre, remote, crazy possibility that someone might offer us half the earth for Nomar.

JD:  I'm sure this will be a question better answered after you sit down and have a handful of meetings with the rest of the owners, with Grady, with Mike Port, with whatever you do in the off-season to prepare, but just on a general basis, are you more inclined to blow it up or tweak it?

LL:  Oh boy, the balance is critical in that regard, you've always got to build for the next year under the current system that we have in baseball with an eye towards the long-term future. So if the suggestion is that we 'blow it up' and ignore the core players we have who are in their prime, I think that's misplaced.  I don't think that's uh... with Nomar, and Pedro, and Manny, and Shea, and there's so just many, and Jason, so many players you can name, Tim Wakefield - really pitching in his prime right now. I just don't see, (and) Derek Lowe, I don't see the rationality to blowing it up, but you still have to build with an eye towards two years from now.

JD:  Anybody who is even slightly attuned with what's happening at Fenway Park and this baseball team would have hard time disagreeing with the fact that you have three special players on this team, and I mean special players on this team, in Nomar, Pedro, and Manny. I'm wondering if their presence on this team jives with your financial plan for the immediate, intermediate, and long-term goals of this club Larry?

LL: Yes (without hesitation). (JD: They do?) Yes, we've planned to retain the players that we have, we've anticipated that. That doesn't mean that our payroll is going to grow exponentially every year, it just means that you try to build around your core players and supplement them, but what you want to avoid doing is paying gigantic $6-7-8 million contracts to players that don't contribute, which is exactly what happened to us this year, and blew our payroll all out of proportion.

GC:  So how can you improve the product on the field without jacking the payroll up, Larry?

LL:  You can sign some of the players that you have who are young players for extended periods, you can trade wisely, I mean we improved our bullpen by adding Alan Embree, and Alan Embree was a $500,00 player this year. There is some correlation, make no mistake, between high payroll and productivity, but it's not a one-to-one correlation, there are teams who are quite good who draft well, we have some young players who've come into their own, Shea Hillenbrand is a player that you can build around, he makes $220,000 a year. So you don't have to go out and sign the biggest name free agents in the free agent market every November and December, in order to improve your team, you can do it other ways.

JD:  So should we assume that the first thing on the top of Larry Lucchino's 'to-do' list is to chop the dead wood out of this roster?

LL:  We'll some of that's happening just by evolution. We've lost a couple of high priced players, during the course of this year, who are nonetheless on our payroll, I'm thinking of Darren Oliver. I'm thinking of Jose Offerman. There are some players whose contracts are over this year who are not likely to be signed at the elevated rates that they had coming into this year... if signed at all, so I think that evolution will result in a number of players changing teams, reducing the payroll, and of course that's offset by some degree for the escalation of contracts for some of the players that you mentioned (Nomar, Manny, Pedro).

JD:  Larry for all the wonderful things Nomar does as a baseball player, his production speaks for itself, just the fact that , as we said, he's a special ballplayer, would you like to see a guy like Nomar provide more quiet, in-house leadership? But it seems to me that there is something missing from this team, beyond numbers, beyond production, a presence in that locker room who pulls Manny aside when he takes a right-hand turn out of the batter's box and says 'Manny, that's not how we do it here in Red Sox land.'

LL:  First of all it assumes that Nomar doesn't do any of that. And he does some of that. Nomar is one of the leaders on this team.  Make no mistake about it.  He doesn't do it in the kind of traditional way, the kind of obvious way, the loud, and vocal, and visible way, but he is unquestionably a leader on this team. Would you like to have someone who does it in the more conventional way, the sort of firebrand in-your-face, kind of leader? I think that most of the teams that I've been associated with that have had some success, generally had someone like that among the every day players. It's not usually a pitcher although it can be, but that kind of leadership is helpful, it's helpful in any endeavor. So I do think that there is a need for some of that on this team, that's probably right, but I think there are people who can develop into that. It's important for 'Nomar to be Nomar,'  it's important for players not to try to assume a role that doesn't fit their personality. Because the season is so long, and the interaction so intimate that people can see through pretense or charade and the teammates certainly can. So I think it has to be someone who has those characteristics quite by nature, and I think we have some people like that, who can grow into that role (Mr. Nixon?).

GC:  Larry, if I were you, or any personnel/management guy, my worst fear would be watching my superstar walk away for nothing. If I'm Duquette and Clemens and Mo Vaughn walk away, I mean that just rankles me.  If I'm Billy Beane and Jason Giambi walks away, and I get nothing, I go to bed every night thinking 'boy I could have had three or four prospects, a pitcher, a short stop...'I coulda had stuff.'  Do you think about that? Do you try to gauge Nomar's sentiments here and say 'is there a chance that he will just do like A-Rod and say 'thank you but no thank you' and walk away and leave you with nothing. 

LL:  I think there's always a chance that free agents will exercise that right and pick a place that they would like to play or take an offer that absolutely blows them away, but my preference, and I think I speak for John, and Tom, and for the entire organization is that we'd love to have Nomar play for this team for the remainder of his career.  There's something special about career players, and they're rare these days. Guys who played from day-one to day-last with the same team and there's something special about the franchises that can do that. Cal Ripkens a most recent example for that and his status in Baltimore will always be exceptional in part for that reason.  So would we like to have Nomar play his entire career for the Red Sox?  Absolutely, unequivocally, yes.

GC:  So is there a timetable in your mind, would you want Nomar signed to an extension say this time next year, or you'd have a pursue a deal?

LL:  No there really isn't a specific timetable. Because he is signed for 2003. And he is signed for 2004 and we have wolfs a lot closer to the sled than that.  Things we have to deal with more immediately. We have some free agents who will be free to address the market in a couple of weeks. (GC: Who?) Alan Embree is an example of that. Cliff Floyd, we are absolutely going to try to do that (retain his services), it depends on the price of poker and what Cliff's other alternatives may be, what his interests are, but we think he is someone who would like to stay here, we'd love to have him (GC: and Embree?, you gotta keep Embree). You absolutely have to make an effort to keep Embree, once again, it takes two to tango, but certainly players of that stripe are hard to come by, when you have opportunity to, as the incumbent to reach out to them, I think you've got to.

JD:  Your off-season obviously is going to be filled with evaluating 'what you have,' 'what you need,' 'where you're going to go,' 'who you're going to keep,' 'who you're gonna let go.'  Does Grady Little's job performance come under that scrutiny as well?

LL:  Oh everybody is scrutinized including we scrutinize ourselves at the end of the year to see what kind of season we had, good or bad. But Grady's performance is not going to be scrutinized in any way that's any different than anyone else. Well sit down with him, get his ideas, and have already in part. What's gone wrong this year?  What's diagnosis and what's the prescription for next year? We'll sit down with Grady and everybody else, coaches, in fact we'll sit down with a few players, one by one. The inmates aren't running the asylum, but they should have a right to make their voices heard.

JD:  Larry on first blush, what does Larry Lucchino think went wrong with team?

LL:  Well, uh, let's see...that's a complicated question, but a few things come to mind:  the bullpen, strength of the bullpen. We blew a lot of games in late innings. We had numerous one-run problems. In this day and age, the strength of your bullpen, and I mean everybody in the bullpen, not just the closer, has got to be of high quality there's just a tremendous reliance on it and I think we were short in pitching depth both in the bullpen and in the starting rotation. That was a major problem. Next year we'll be better unquestionably and will have a considerably better performance in one-run games as the laws of probabilities for that happen for a second year... and we've got a different schedule next year, don't play the NL West quality teams we ran into this year, we play NL Central next yea and I think people have to recognize that baseball isn't the same as it was 30 years ago where everyone played exactly the same schedule. There are different qualities of schedule, and I think next year's schedule is beneficial to us in that regard. (GC: You've still got 19 with Tampa, don't you?) Yes as a matter of fact we still do have the unbalanced schedule.

I think Manny's injury hurt us, he's an extraordinary player, he's an exceptional player,  losing him for 5-6 weeks, given the exceptional start we were off to, I think that made a difference. I know everyone says injuries are part of the game, and they are, but losing the key player we had, at key time was also a factor. I think we had a couple of disappointing performances in a couple of positions, we thought Tony Clark might be the answer at first base. We thought Rich Garces might be the set-up man that we hoped he would be. We thought that Dustin Hermanson's health would be fine and he wouldn't be hurt on the second day of the season, so there's three major positions right there, where we didn't get what we anticipated. 

GC:  I'm holding out hope, I think Tony's gonna bust out these last two weeks, I really do...

LL:  Well I hope so, he's a good man.

GC:  Larry, when can we expect an announcement from you saying 'so-and-so... Mike Port... whomever, is your permanent general manager?

LL:  Oh we're going to, that's the first order of business in the off-season is to make a decision regarding the permanent GM and I think given the importance of that decision, it will fairly soon, but it won't happen until the off-season, we're not going to go into any of this right now. We're going to sit down and talk about the year we had.  Probably in October, November.

JD:  Finally question from me Larry, I think Tuesday was a Fenway Park feedback session with you and a bunch of people, can you give us the tone, or part of the content about what stuck out in that meeting?

LL:  Sure we had our Fenway feedback session with 20 fans from all over New England, people who had written to us with complaints. People who we just pulled out of line, it was sort of a random group and the tone was quite positive by and large, people were focused on the changes in atmosphere, the changes in the ballpark. Mike Port was there for part of it and Mike heard some specific suggestions from fans as well about how to make the team better for next year. But by and large, I was positively ... I was relieved... frankly, that the tone and the commentary was as positive as it was.  Yawkey Way got rave reviews from the fans and we took a little tally of people on the question of 'renovation vs. replacement' of Fenway... I think the vote was 11 for renovation and 9 for replacement.

JD:  Tying up an old piece of business, I read in the paper the next day after we chatted last week that you didn't think my reaction to Manny's lack of participation in the 9/11 ceremonies was anything but tardiness on his part?

LL:  No... I suggested that what I heard about was some tardiness and that, that whole issue I thought was blown out of proportion.

JD:  Umm hmm, OK ...did you see the tape?

LL:  I did not see the tape still, I just heard from other people, I've got a tape sitting on my desk but I still haven't seen it.

JD:  Larry thanks for the...  GC:  I think it's just 'Manny being Manny'... 

LL:  Now, now... umm... I will look at the tape because it sounds like John still got a 'bee in his bonnet' on this one...

JD:  No, you know what it was Larry?... it was just juxtaposed to watching six or seven hours of this nation pay tribute to 3,000 people, and seeing your entire team, save one, stand on the top (step) of the dugout, and it wasn't like he was down there reading comic books, or flippin' the bird, or pickin' his nose, but he was going about 'Manny's business' while 24 Red Sox players stood on the top (step) of the dugout... 

LL:  And then he proceeded to take his place on the top (step) of the dugout...

JD:  Well that was not shown on the two pieces of video that I saw... I only saw Manny walking up and down the...

LL:  Ok... But that's not what I was told by the folks who were there, so um, anyway I think it's an issue that has been blown out of proportion as I said a minute ago, and I don't think Manny's behavior justifies criticism on that front. 

JD:  Alright... LL:  OK...  JD:  Thanks Larry...

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