Through cancer and career, Fenway is Lucchino’s ‘Mona Lisa’

By Bill King
During his time as Red Sox president, Larry Lucchino oversaw numerous changes and updates to Fenway Park.Phoebe Sexton/Boston Red Sox

When Charles Steinberg was flying to Boston with Larry Lucchino as they embarked on the next chapter of their careers early in 2002, he asked whether Lucchino envisioned building a new ballpark, as the club’s previous steward had suggested.

 

“Have you learned nothing?” Lucchino replied. “You don’t destroy the Mona Lisa. You preserve the Mona Lisa. This is the ballpark that is the progenitor of this revolution.”

But it was more than that. Fenway played a deeply personal role in Lucchino’s life.

One week after turning 40, on a Friday the 13th in 1985, Lucchino learned he’d been diagnosed with non-Hodgkin lymphoma. The prognosis was bleak, requiring aggressive treatment and a trip to the Dana Farber Cancer Institute in Boston, where he would have to remain for at least a month.

It would leave him with a severely compromised immune system, confined to his room. Eventually he could have visitors, so long as they remained distant and wore masks and gowns — practices that weren’t nearly as familiar then as they are now.

To help him stay connected and sane, Edward Bennett Williams had a satellite dish installed at Dana Farber, enabling him to watch Orioles games.

When he finally was discharged after 38 days in seclusion, Lucchino craved one thing. It was a Saturday, and he knew the Red Sox were playing at home that afternoon.

Doctors told him it wasn’t safe for him to be in a crowd. So he phoned Red Sox President John Harrington to ask if there were a place he might watch in seclusion. Harrington offered a small, glass-enclosed broadcast booth that wasn’t being used.

On the first day of the rest of his life, Lucchino went to a game at Fenway Park.

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