Forum: The tough love of Larry Lucchino

Relentless. Demanding. Indefatigable.

But incredibly successful and, oh, even caring.

Talk to those who have worked with and for Larry Lucchino, who we recognize as a Champion of Sports Business, and those are the most common attributes you’ll hear.

They are not pejoratives but facts, which resulted in hardened life lessons that made those people better.

It’s a consistent theme I’ve heard since I began following Lucchino more than 25 years ago, when I was in Washington, D.C., and his story was well known — from his start at Williams & Connolly, and then as president of the Baltimore Orioles until 1993.

Lon Babby, who started with Lucchino as a young lawyer at Williams & Connolly in the late ’70s, recalled his colleague fondly when we caught up last week.

“He started as a real lawyer and let’s just say he was a terrific lawyer,” he told me.

The legal work they did for Edward Bennett Williams related to his ownership of the Washington Redskins and Baltimore Orioles soon led to a new career for both in sports business. But Lucchino didn’t change his approach despite changing his career focus.

“One thing you learned from Ed Williams was hard work and preparation,” said Babby, who went on to be a successful sports agent and later the president of the Phoenix Suns. “There was nothing we weren’t prepared for, and Larry learned that from Ed and carried it forward. Larry demanded that from everyone who worked with him. He was extremely demanding and never stopped working. He had a good sense of humor, but he could be very challenging and hard to work for.”

Babby paused a bit, before adding, “It’s interesting, he would hold you to a higher standard than you may have held for yourself, and that was difficult for a lot of people, while it also brought out the best in others. But it was the same high standard that he held for himself.”

Lucchino has always seemed true to himself, doing it his way, even if his way was different.

“He’s just incredibly unique,” said Red Sox CEO Sam Kennedy. “He’s driven to succeed. He doesn’t ever seem happy or content or relaxed or satisfied. He was constantly pushing people, junior and senior.”

That unrelenting high standard has been another consistent theme I’ve heard over the years from people who worked for “LL,” as he’s referred to.

They call Lucchino one of the most important and influential leaders they have ever worked for because of his exacting management style. But even as one of the most difficult and critical bosses they have ever had, he also made them better, which led to their professional success. Properties and teams can easily get complacent. But nothing was ever good enough for Lucchino, and these young executives found themselves not competing against their rivals, but internally, against themselves and their personal best. That helps explain Lucchino’s consistent success with the Red Sox.

No, Lucchino was never quick to praise. But those who worked for him didn’t expect it. Instead, they found themselves motivated by never, ever letting him down. The long hours of work were the result of never wanting to disappoint Lucchino. He engendered loyalty, because even his toughest critics will say that under that tough, gruff exterior and fists pounding on the conference room table, his soft side was endearing and he took care of those closest to him. I’ve been told time and again of how he would show genuine concern for even the most junior members of an organization, listening to their thoughts and always pushing for their success. That explains why I’ve seen decades-long devotion to and protectiveness of Lucchino.

Ultimately, Lucchino personified tough love, and pushed his staff extremely hard to be better at everything they did. He won’t win most-popular awards, and you knew it was going to be a slugfest if you were in the room with him. But he is fiercely loyal to those he trusts, and has a positive, profound and enduring impact on so many people he has crossed paths win. “Larry is always someone’s lawyer. You want to make him your lawyer,” said his longtime aide Charles Steinberg.

I kept coming back to one story that a sports business executive told me once they heard we were honoring Lucchino. This executive is in their early 40s and shared the tremendous influence Lucchino had on their career, despite his demanding, exacting ways: “Larry taught me never settle for status quo. It goes back to one of his favorite quotes: ‘Somos todos vendedores’ — which means ‘we are all sellers.’ That became my professional and personal foundation. In everything I do, internally and externally, I’m ‘selling’ — whether it’s to motivate team members to get the job done, to close a deal, to get that upgrade with Delta, to get my kids to unload the dishwasher. I’m constantly selling and it’s all because of LL.”

The tough love of Larry Lucchino resonates to this day.

Abraham Madkour can be reached at

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