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Lucky Strikes Back, But Will Won't Quit

1.6.03 8:35am EDT:  Larry Lucchino (LL) on with on with Dennis (JD) & Callahan (GC) on The Dennis & Callahan Show on WEEI:

- LL: By the way I live in Boston, this suggestion in the football writer's column that I live in Cal. is among a variety of inaccurate things he said (GC: We thought you were getting up at 5am to talk to us all year).

RE: Washington. D.C. team claim, that's unfair, nonsense, and McDonough called our PR dept last week as a source had indicated that. They tracked me down on vacation, said to him completely false, have no connection to Washington D.C., have no interest in going to Washington D.C., really where I want to be. Like the job, city, Red Sox. He didn't even mention the denial did he?

- Gordon Edes wrote a much more even handed piece the next day (GC: Oh we don't have time to get to that :-) from a baseball reporter not an out of date football reporter.

- RE: Commissioner/Boston vote/pocket. "Callahan I've been in baseball 24 years, 15 of those at CEO level, earned my share of criticism and critics along the way but McDonough is one that I just inherited. He's had his knives sharpened since his pals didn't prevail in the auction. This guy has more personal axes to grind than your local hardware store and I think you've got to keep that in mind when you read this. Not going to talk about that (broadcasting entity question) but I think there are personal, family issues that relate to this. Anyway I must say I developed a new favorite newspaper Callahan.

JD: He called you "invisible" LL:" What?!?! JD: You can be called a lot of things but I don't think invisible director of baseball applies....
JD: Invisible? I'm sort of sick of seeing you actually :lol GC: He also calls you a chameleon, they're not invisible but they do change colors.

LL: What he's referring to is when I was with the Pads I had a small market perspective and when I'm w/ the Red Sox I have a certain large market perspective, and I wouldn't call that chameleon-like, I'd call that a sense of fiduciary responsibility.

GC: What's your reaction to those who say you were a strong advocate of a system that doesn't work so well for the team which you now own?

JH/TW and I all recognize that we had a certain fundamental obligation to the Red Sox, while we were in different places when this process began, we certainly made known our interest in protecting the Red Sox situation during the course of this and we tried to balance that with some sense of change that was necessary for the good of the game. So every club has a kind of two-headedness to it that has to think about the good of the game but it's also fundamentally, has to think about the good of the franchise.

We're in the same position, and quite frankly all three of us started from a small market perspective before we came to the Red Sox, but we made known during the course of that process our interests, concerns, matters and we did the best we could.

JanfromWellesley: Ask Larry about Jonathan Haymen's piece in Newsday (12/31) "Yanks invent new ways of thumbing their nose"... he writes "the Red Sox are the world champions of whining, not that the Yankees are above visiting a winery either, it was they after all who once whined about the unfairness of the CBA, but they soon realized that this toothless CBA will not hurt them as intended but helped separate them from the pack."

Larry is the new CBA backfiring on you and the Red Sox?

LL: Much too soon to know. Does it go far enough in dealing with the inequality of the NY market, curbing some of the excesses? No not really, much too early for definitive comments.

One thing I would say about this general issue of challenging New York, or challenging the CBA, or challenging George Steinbrenner, the suggestion by the Globe writer that "I should be smart enough not to challenge the Yankees".. I mean what are we supposed to do cower, and run and hide and be afraid?!? C'mon guys, that's paragraph one of my job description.

GC: Do you think that somehow you elicited a different reaction/strategy from the Yankees that you would have had you not fired a shot across the bow of George Steinbrenner? LL: Absolutely not. GC: Is it your fault that they signed Contreras? LL: Absolutely not, the notion that we're somehow rivals of the Yankees, and that somehow we're in competition over Contreras, all of that was well-known, well-established, there was a lot of positioning going on for months. But the whole notion that somehow... there's something a little crazy, I leave for a little holiday vacation and I come back and I find this football writer in Boston siding with George Steinbrenner against the Red Sox, I find that a little hard, and then I realize the sort of personal issues and history of supporting other entities in the acquisition process, I realize he's got his own personal agenda.

JD: When you look at what the Yankees are doing, payroll $165M+, %80M in pitching staff, does piper at some point have to be paid? Does luxury tax hurt enough to curb this wild spending enthusiasm?

LL: Well as I said earlier, it's too soon to know, but it doesn't seem to be, remember one of the last issues that we fought for was a payroll tax level that was realistic and a payroll tax that was high enough to curb excessive behavior. We had to compromise. We'll see if the compromise is proving to be at the right levels, doesn't appear. We have a system in place that works well for 28 of 29 teams, it's the outsized NY market, I refer to it as the 'Empire' but I've been joking and playing around with the 'Evil Empire' and those comments all season, so the idea that somehow this would trigger this response is a little mystifying to me.

JD: I'm sure the company line for "do you do your business based on what Yankees do?" would be no, but is Colon or Vazquez not more coveted based on what the Yankees have done this far in the off-season.

LL: I think there's no question that improving the starting pitching through the Montreal route or some other route is an enormously high priority and it's made even higher by the activities of the Yankees. And I would say John, on the first issue, we do do our business with an eye on the Yankees. Make no mistake, they are the big enchilada, they're the largest sports market in the nation, they have the history of success that they've had, they're in our division, there's an incredibly hot, intense rivalry that's gone on, preceded me and will follow me here with the Red Sox. So we do keep an eye on the Yankees activities and maneuverings and they do have an impact on ours.
GC: Should we expect another starting pitcher in this rotation, perhaps a guy we've heard of, maybe a guy who makes a lot of money and has a lot of cache, would you be disappointed if there weren't a guy like that added to this rotation?

LL: I would say yes, I'd be a little disappointed if we couldn't strengthen the starting rotation because Theo Epstein and the people working with him in baseball operations have done such a good job I believe in strengthening the bullpen, which was the area most in need of an immediate infusion of talent. That was the major problem last year, I remember some post mortems we did about what went right and what went wrong, but you can always use more starting pitching. Our rotation is pretty solid right now but I know Theo is determined to find another starting pitcher, the problem is availability, there aren't top of the line starting pitchers all over the place and that's why there's such focus on Montreal and the possibilities there, but Theo's going to try but having Casey Fossum and Wakefield, two guys that weren't in the starting rotation all of last year come up to be in the starting rotation next year, that strikes me as pretty good assistance.

GC: While I know there was a lot of competition for Contreras, do you know who was competing for Roger Clemens and why the Yankees felt compelled to give him $10M bucks?

LL: I don't know that. The agents were calling teams trying to generate some competition. We did kick it around a little bit internally, at least Theo and some of the baseball scouts did and did mention it to John and me in one conversation, but I don't know if there was a lot of bidding, the system requires us to conduct an auction in the blind.

JD: While you were away on vaca one of the hot topics is a school of thought, looking down the Red Sox financial road, they cannot afford to keep Pedro, Nomar, and Derek Lowe together. One of those people, perhaps Nomar, who has most value, might be let go, bring in young talent, save the payroll, save the day.

LL: I'm so exasperated about these rumors that we're going to trade Nomar Garciaparra, there's been no talk about that, there's been a lot of speculation that somehow our payroll will be so small that we can't afford Nomar in 2004, that is just not our plan, that's not our expectation, now we're going to sit down and negotiate contracts here so everything has a reasonable price to it, but our goal, our hope is that Nomar Garciaparra plays shortstop for the Red Sox for a long time to come, preferably for his whole career. I'm a big believer in the importance of the franchise of having franchise players who spend their whole career there but you know it takes two to tango, we've got to agree on numbers, we've got to go through negotiations and all that, but our payroll this year is going to be in the, let's see 9-figure range, that's over $100M, that's a sizable number, so this notion that somehow we are headed to some trivial payroll that will prevent us keeping the quality players that we have I think is just unfounded.

GC: Is the problem with Shea Hillenbrand is that he doesn't have patience at the plate? I know you've got a GM for this but he's apparently on the market and other than the fact that he's very tradable b/c he doesn't make a lot of money, a lot of fans want to know trade a guy like this?

LL: Well I like him a lot, just personally, I like his style of play and I think he was a clutch performer at times for us last year, but there is a definite philosophy, point-of-view with the Red Sox that Theo has articulated it over and over and it does have a lot to do with plate discipline and offensive walks and some of those characteristics that you guys know about so that is an issue. And we know that Hillenbrand has considerable trade value these days, he had a good year, he was an All-Star selection, and he is someone of value. You cannot pick someone's pocket today, you cannot get the kind of starting pitching or the kind of help we would like to see in other areas if we're not willing to offer someone of some talent in return. The idea of picking someone blind, that just doesn't work, so we've got to trade someone of value. We're happy to have Hillenbrand here, he's one of my favorite players, but the fact is we have to do what's best for the franchise, if he's back playing third base or he's back playing first base, I won't be at all disappointed.

On Steingrabber:

GC: Larry you addressed Will McDonough's charges, but he's pretty much echoing the same thing that Steinbrenner said a few days ago, you're a chameleon, you'll bail out on John Henry, you've done it before... LL: Oh that's nonsense... GC: You can at least say, the 'Evil Empire' you said it tongue in cheek and with a smile, but he was pretty serious in lashing back at you...

LL: Yeah, there is a history there, speaking of histories, McDonough has a history here with respect to this sale process and the fact that his boys didn't succeed even though he predicted that they would, Steinbrenner and I have a history too, we've battled on issues, economic issues in baseball and political issues in the American League, but I must tell you the Commissioner gave me a call over the weekend, and said that he had talked to the Yankees and now to me now with the Red Sox and thought that it was time for the kind of public, personal attacks to stop. I said 'actually it only came from New York Commissioner in terms of petty, personal punches, but if you want us to cease and desist, we'll cease and desist, just make sure the Yankees c&d.

GC: That's it? I mean this guy ripped you, didn't leave a spec of meat on your bones, oh man...

LL: I know you'd love to see a catfight or a public brawl over this but Steinbrenner has a history and reputation and track record, and so do I, we'll just let it stay at that.

GC: You haven't seen Howie Spira fishing through your trash or anything?

LL: I would... oh no :lol never mind no comment, that did result in a, oh nevermind there I go talking about suspensions.

GC: He might have some spies out there Larry?

LL: Well, listen I've kept an eye over my shoulder since I got into baseball. When you're in a public position like this you're going to make some critics, going to have some enemies, that just comes with the territory, but if I can't take a few punches here and there then I'm in the wrong job.


GC: Hey you know what I just realized, at the same time that you were working with Hillary Clinton, your buddy Hillary, and William Weld to impeach Richard Nixon, George Steinbrenner was giving him an illegal campaign donation (LL: Yeah :lol I know that), you think it could go back to that time?

LL: It's even more incestuous, my old law firm represented Steinbrenner.

GC: Did you pork him on the bill? JD: Yeah, those $200 phone calls just to say 'yeah we've got the documentation.'

LL: I hope so.

Will Isn't McDonough Yet:

JD: Good morning Willie... (WM: reading the paper trying to stay out of trouble)... whew, man oh man... Larry says you have a personal agenda against him (WM: What was it? -- my sidebar: give me a friggin' break that he wasn't hanging on every word just moments ago) that your guys didn't get the Red Sox ownership as you predicted they would in the paper?

WM: Well I didn't predict they would. I just said they were the better group. I think everybody who's seen what's happened since would agree with that, as did everybody else in Boston by the way.

GC: I had a problem with Larry and his people of course until he came over and started appearing on my show, you know how it is Will, we all root for ourselves.

WM: That's why I figure... good things are going to come of this... Larry's back in town. I'm sure he flew all night to get in here so he could say he was in Boston, which he did. And number two, now he'll push Theo to get a big trade and make a splash.

GC: Tell us when you first had a problem with Larry, was it before...

WM: I don't have any problem with Larry... GC: Well when you first learned of his ulterior motives, was it before he got the team, or was it something that you learned when Steinbrenner made his attack on Larry a week or two ago?

WM: Oh no... I met Larry about 30 years ago when he worked for Edward Bennett Williams, EBW famous lawyer, owned Red Skins for time, sold to Jack Kent Cooke, Larry was a young lawyer in his office and EBW would never come to the league meetings but would send Larry to do the business side. He referred to himself then as the guy who carried the bag, he walked around all day carrying an attaché case. So if the Red Skins wanted to do any league business, Larry would sit in on the meetings and if they were doing football business, at the time I believe Bobby Bethard, would sit in on the football. And then what happened is EBW sold the Red Skins to JKC and bought the Orioles in baseball, and he shipped Larry over there, to keep an eye on the Orioles, and then when the Orioles were sold to Angelos, he moved Larry out of there, and Larry moved to San Diego, and of course we all know he was there until a year ago August. I have no problem with Larry, I never had any problem with Larry. My column yesterday was, you know, all of us, John played sports, you grew up with it Gerry... you never want to aggravate your adversary, and I thought it was one of the dumbest things I've ever seen when on two occasions he went after George Steinbrenner.

JD: Well he just said on this program Will, the first paragraph of his job description is to take on the Yankees head on.

WM: ...verbally?

JD: Well he didn't say verbally, literally, or figuratively... WM: Imagine writing someone a contract for a million and a half bucks a year and say well the first thing you gotta do is take on the Yankees?

GC: But he said the 'Evil Empire' thing, he's been saying that for years... tongue in cheek...

WM: Have you heard him say it before about a month ago? GC: uhh no WM: He's been on your show how long? GC: I don't think he's ever said it no, to us. WM: That's right.... Gerry, why isn't Philadelphia Phillies 'Evil Empire'? They've spent more money than anybody...

GC: Well they're not in the same division...

WM: I'm tellin' you, the 'Evil Empire' thing is all supposed to be about hey we're all supposed to be in this thing together in baseball uh reduce the amount of money were spending here and George is the guy that goes overboard, and the Yankees will win the pennant on us this year because they outspent us. Well the very first time I ever met John Henry he told me 'there is no way we can compete with the Yankees... they take in $50 - $60 million more dollars a year, so we're going to have to rebuild this franchise through our farm system and try to compete that way, because we can't compete financially.' Everybody in baseball knows that, so why aggravate Steinbrenner, and get him to the point where I think now no matter what you do, as a Red Sox organization, if he's having a problem with Larry then he's going to try to top him, and that isn't going to do the Red Sox any good.

GC: Don't you think, and it's a charge I made for months, was that they were awarded this franchise essentially by Selig, so they are indebted to the Commissioner (WM: That's right) and thus they vote, not necessarily in the best interest of their team because they owe Bud their support.

WM: Well that's what happened. I mean, I remember walking by Larry's office, and you can ask him this one, at Fenway Park this year, and I said to him, how can you vote, for this Collective Bargaining Agreement when it hurts the Red Sox the way it does... and he just shrugged his shoulders and smiled. I was going in there to see John Henry, because he had said publicly two days before with the baseball writers here, that this CBA is terrible for us, it really punishes us, and yet the Red Sox went out and voted for it, now why would you do that? Because you owe Bud your vote.

JD: Will I'm wondering how strong the rumors are that his ultimate goal is to get involved with one of the groups trying to bring baseball back to Washington, D.C.?

WM: Well I had two different people, last week, call me, and you know both of them, but I won't say who their names are, one is very well politically connected in Washington and he told me that he had dinner the previous night with sombody from down there that's very well politically connected and said that he was aggressively trying to get himself involved with one of the ownership groups in Washington, D.C. People just assume or feel the Montreal Expos are going to end up in the D.C. area, either in the city itself or somewhere in Virginia. And it makes sense because Larry is you know like I pointed out to you that's where he started out in the sports business with Edward Bennett Williams law firm. Here's what I say, if I were John Henry, and I was paying a guy $1.5 million a year to run the baseball operation, I would want him to run the baseball operation. You don't need 20 guys in a room in a league meeting, if you know what you're doing, and you know something about baseball, to make a decision for you, correct? Now you guys have talked to Larry, you think he knows who the left fielders of the Milwaukee Brewers are?

GC: How do get to be a baseball guy, he said he's been on the baseball end of things for 25 years.

WM: He's a lawyer... Gerry. He's a lawyer. He's been on the legal end of things in baseball. You know, his claim to fame is he helped them get Camden Yards built, you know, he's not a baseball guy...

JD: You think Theo was a good hire, a bad hire, or the jury's still out?

WM: Oh I think Theo was a loyal hire, because if you're going to spend your time down in La Jolla, or down the Cape, or Europe... and not going to be here, you need someone whose loyal to you, whose endebted to you... (JD: He wanted to make it clear that he lives here though Will)... that's why he flew in last night to be here... this is gonna produce good things... or ruin his winter 'cause he'll have to stay here now.

GC: He also implied Will that there's a family matter here that perhaps you weren't happy with the way... he... treated... Sean?

WM: He didn't have anything to do with Sean. What does he have to do with Sean (JD: I don't know) That's right, he's in charge of baseball... I was understood that Tom Werner was the guy who took care of the television end of it.

JD: Do you believe that to be true? Don't you get the sense that Larry fingers are in all things good or bad? (GC: Yeah, they are)

WM: I don't know, but I do know that when the end of last year came that Tom Werner's the one who Sean had the conversation about with his future on TV. This is... Larry I guess, likes to paint enemies... like George Steinbrenner... I think the first thing George basically said was 'well who is he?' Isn't that what he said? You know Larry likes to... everybody's against him... or there's always some kind of an enemy... this isn't hard here... you know, you take in a lot of money with the Red Sox, you have the ability to spend money and build a farm system and run a team and you just have the unfortunate situation where you're going up against a guy in baseball who wants to win badly and has more money than you do, so you have to find a way to beat that guy. It isn't by aggrevating him, it isn't by insulting him and wanting to take him on. I would go the other way and placate him, let him think you're his buddy but at the same time you're trying to beat him. Now Larry has to understand when he gets this job that the Red Sox by far have the highest price ticket in Major League Baseball, by far. They have the highest concession prices in the year 2002, had the highest concession prices of any stadium or arena in the country according to Sports Business Daily, and now they just jacked the cable rates up on NESN, which they own, now probably have the highest cable rates of any people watching games on television in America, most of this stuff is on baseball anyhow so... you should give people back what they're paying for, and that's the best team in baseball.

GC: How long do you think H/W/L or at least Henry and Werner will be around?

WM: Well I think the key for them is three years, because as we've read, and heard, many of their chief investors, like the NY Times which is the Boston Globe, and a guy named Philip Morse out of Maine, and Tom Werner... three or four biggest investors all have what they call a three year put, at the end of three years if they're not satisfied, they can walk away and get their money back immediately. Well if you put those three together, that's up in the $150 million range, and that's what the team is going to have to pay them, right away, or in a reasonable period of time, so I think at the end of three years here you'll see whether they're going to be in it for the long run or whether they just decided 'well, we took our shot, we thought we could make it work,' the number one thing Larry has got to do here, is what he was brought in to do, and that will make him a success here, and that is get a new stadium (JD: That's not going to happen) Well that's what he was brought in here to do. That's his calling card in baseball is supposedly had a lot to do with Camden Yards, and he had a lot to do with the new stadium that's being built in San Diego, and that's his expertise, and that's what his mission is here.

JD: Do you think their entire acquisition and everything they projected was based on that and they didn't have a plan B in mind if indeed they found the political landscape, i.e., Menino, Finneran, City Hall, State House unwilling to accept that, they had no plan B in your mind?

WM: Well John my own personal speculation is that they were sold a bill of goods, that the Red Sox are so popular in New England, Boston area, if you come in here and you purchase this club, you won't have any trouble finding investors, and it really won't be your money you're putting up, it will be somebody else's money, and once they got in here and had the team they found out it wasn't true, and I think they had to put a lot more money of their own in, these various investors that they figured at the beginning and then all of a sudden it looked like something that might be a reasonable investment to something that's really very risky investment.

GC: And they thought they had the political connections to get a stadium built, or at least...

WM: Well they thought the popularity of the Red Sox would help get a stadium built and for them, it's really bad luck, you couldn't pick a worse time in the history of Massachusetts, I think we have the greatest amount of debt we've ever had, at this point in time, and nobody's going to give them any money right now to help them build a stadium, and when you look at it in retrospect, how lucky Bob Kraft, the Patriots were, that right now if they were trying to do it and get the infrastructure out of the state house that would never happen.

JD: So Will, do you want to do 'The Larry Lucchino Show?"

WM: I'd love to, but I think he's overmatched. You better go hold Larry's hand now.

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