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Lucchino on D&C: Ortiz has right to question media

05.21.10 at 11:24 am ET
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Red Sox president/CEO Larry Lucchino joined the Dennis & Callahan show Friday morning, and much of the interview was spent discussing David Ortiz.

Asked if the media has been unfair to Ortiz this season, Lucchino said: “He may feel that way, but I think that’s human nature. He recognizes that he got off to a bad start. But I do think he feels — he said so, he said as much — that there was greater emphasis on his lack of productivity and not sufficient emphasis on other players perhaps, or the team’s success. … I think that there is a question of balance, a question of emphasis, that David had a right to raise being human like the rest of us. I’m so glad that’s in our rear-view mirror now.”

Lucchino also defended ownership’s support of the slugger during last year’s steroid controversy.

Following is a transcript. To listen to the interview, click on the Dennis & Callahan audio on demand page.

Are you worried about the sellout streak? Is it in jeopardy?

I don’t think so. There certainly are some times — we’re working harder than ever to sell the tickets. …

One of the biggest misconceptions is that the tickets are sold out before the the season. That’s just not so. We have a couple of hundred thousand tickets we still want to sell. So, we could have a bad streak or some bad weather, and that could jeopardize the sellout streak, sure. But we don’t really sell out games until the day of the game. There are a lot of tickets that get turned back in a few days before the game from Major League Baseball or the umpires or players or the house seats or whatever. You can get some very good seats on the day of game, at Gate E. There’s this misconception that there are no tickets to be purchased. That is wrong. There are plenty of tickets to be purchased. If you’re particularly flexible about the date and the game, our folks can help you. So, call 877-REDSOX-9.

If Larry Lucchino were commissioner for a day, what would be the one or two things you’d like to fix?

One of them would certainly be an easy one for me and that’s realignment and the schedule. The structure of the league — 16 [National League teams] and 14 [American League teams], some divisions with four, some divisions with five, some divisions with six. The length of the season, the grind of the season is enhanced because of the structural irregularities. The travel schedule is awful.

I think one of the things I would focus on would be coming up with a more orderly and predictable schedule that has more congruence, where the teams are essentially playing the same teams. That’s what baseball used to be when it was eight teams in each league and 154 games. You play 22 games against all seven teams in your league, and there was a nice, natural fairness inherent in that. We don’t have that now.

And, of course, the grind of the season is something that’s, if anyone was in New York — well, our players, let’s just deal with our players coming back from New York on Tuesday night. Because of travel problems, and equipment problems, and sitting on the runway for an hour and a half, they got in at about 5:30 in the morning. I don’t think people realize what an incredible grind that is, and how that plays with your body and your mind.

Are you not at all concerned with the length of games?

Absolutely. That would be on my short list, too. I think that’s a more soluble problem. I think that enforcing a consistent strike zone and coming up with a few minor changes — foot in the batter’s box, commercial breaks — there are a whole lot of things that we might be able to fine tune to make that problem improve.

And I assume you and the commissioner know the fans want that almost more than anything, correct?

I don’t know. I think the commissioner is committed to working on it. He has tried from time to time to get us focused on this thing. But it’s very hard to maintain the focus on it. And there are fans who simply enjoy a good baseball game, whether it’s two hours and 53 minutes, or three hours and five minutes, or three hours and 35 minutes. But I think by and large we are better off with slightly shorter games. But I don’t want teams to change their approach. We’re not going to change our approach to going deep in the strike zone, taking lots of pitches, putting an emphasis on walks, do the stuff that we do –

Tightening your batting gloves even though you didn’t swing the bat, spitting on your hands — it’s a simple solution.

I’m not sure how much you save from a tightening your batting gloves prohibition.

It’s a mentality. It’s at every level now, Little League on up. They think you’re supposed to step out between pitches.

We do have a rule now in the minor leagues. I don’t know how well it’s being enforced these days. One foot must stay in the batter’s box at all times. That seems to be a relatively simple improvement that could be enacted.

And the pitcher stays on the mound. Fair’s fair.

The game last night was such a gem in part because it had a nice, crisp pace. It was an old-style game — pitching, defense, three-run homers. I don’t know what the length of the game was.

2:32.

There you are, 2:32. When we opened Camden Yards, I remember that was on April 2nd, 1992, and the game was two hours and six minutes.

This idea that baseball is timeless so let’s just drag it out is hurting baseball.

I think that there will be some changes. The commissioner has got a new on-field committee that’s going to be focusing on this issue, among others. And I think you will see some attention devoted to it and I hope some change is brought about. Bu the strike zone is one way to do it — enforce the rulebook strike zone and you’ll get more strikes called.

I know this isn’t your domain: Is there any way David Ortiz plays this weekend — like, starts?

You’re right, it’s [Terry] Francona’s decision to make out the lineup card every day. I don’t know. Because he’s had such a hot bat — the numbers he has put up for the month of may are mind-boggling, he’s one of the most productive offensive players in the game in the month of May. When you’ve got a player that hot you might have to find the time to let him play.

On Sunday against [Roy] Halladay … [Kevin] Youkilis goes to third, Ortiz goes to first.

I think that’s probably right. I think we’re still trying to use him a lot, particularly against right-handed pitchers. And a tough right-handed pitcher like Halladay is someone that David would enjoy the challenge of.

I don’t know if you read this [Howard Bryant] story on ESPN.com about David Ortiz.

I have. … It was a long article. I read it as being more about the inevitable passage of time, and it’s interesting to watch a player through his early years to the apex of his career and then to watch him in his later years and see the different vagaries that he has to deal with.

I didn’t know the extent to which John Henry went in defending him against steroid allegations. … There’s an anonymous source in the Red Sox front office that says the people in the front office “embarrassed themselves in defending David.”

I think that’s ludicrous. I’d love to know who said that. By the way, it was a commonly held view that we should assist David in grappling with this accusation. I think what you saw was a slightly different way of handling that matter. The club was active in his defense, working with his agent and with David. You also saw something different with the player’s association. They were very active in his defense.

As it turns out, there were something like three dozen drug tests taken since 2004 by David. He passed them all. The ultimate result was the initial report should have been classified as inconclusive, not as a violation. So, there was much ambiguity and much rushing to judgment on that. And I think that the way the club and David and his agents handled it, [and] the player’s association, was a model for how you deal with accusations that prove to be unfounded.

So, given that, I would assume you would say the vast percentage of why the front office supported David in this matter was because you believed him and not because you just wanted to support him and not alienate him?

One was that we believed him. Two, we thought he was entitled to the benefit of the doubt, and there was plenty of doubt, as I said, regarding those tests — whether the list was 103 or the list was 84 or the list was 76, and whether David’s name was really ever on it, and if it was, was it a positive test, was it an inconclusive test. There were a variety of issues that arose during that. And I think that the defense by the player’s association, which you haven’t seen before or since, I think is an indication that there may have been a rush to judgment there.

So, you think he’s innocent?

I actually think that — well, I don’t want to start re-opening these old issues. I think that the fact that when the rules in baseball came into effect in 2004 and David passed two, three dozen tests after that, I think that speaks for itself.

Well, so did Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens, right?

Callahan, you’re a hanging judge. You just don’t appreciate each of these circumstances are different. They’re different people who were involved in different activities. Don’t link one with another. Give everybody at least a little bit of a chance to show that their circumstances may be different than somebody else.

And what if David were wearing New York pinstripes, would we be saying the same thing — give him the benefit of the doubt, different circumstances?

It was more than that, though, Gerry. We got into it. We got into the number of tests, and the results of the first test, and how many people were on the list. And there were plenty and plenty and plenty of uncertainties and doubts that came out during the course of the couple-of-week investigation that was done on the initial accusation. I’ll leave it to you to leap to conclusions about our reactions respective of a Yankee or a Blue Jay or somebody else. I’m talking about the David Ortiz ordeal.

Do you think the media has been unfair to David Ortiz? Because he seems to think so.

Are you really asking me if I think the media is ever unfair?

The question was do you think the media was unfair to David Ortiz this April? Because he does.

He may feel that way, but I think that’s human nature. He recognizes that he got off to a bad start. But I do think he feels — he said so, he said as much — that there was greater emphasis on his lack of productivity and not sufficient emphasis on other players perhaps, or the team’s success. There was one night when it kind of came into focus. We won a big game, I think it was [Jeremy] Hermida’s late-inning heroics that won us a game, and the focus was on David’s poor performance that night.

Yeah, I think that there is a question of balance, a question of emphasis, that David had a right to raise, being human like the rest of us. I’m so glad that’s in our rear-view mirror now, that what you have is one of the most productive offensive players in baseball in May, and let’s just hope it continues. David gets better, as we saw last year, as the weather gets warmer.

Given the ownership linkage between NESN and the Red Sox, do you think that NESN shouldn’€™t question removing Ortiz from the DH spot, compared to other media outlets like WEEI, the Globe, or the Herald?

I think Tom Werner addressed that in the Howard Bryant article and that is that there has to be some independence on the part of the commentators, the opinion givers, the analysts that we have on NESN. Part of their job is to comment objectively or bluntly and so, yes, I think there has to be some independence. I guess no to your question.

Was that poll question disrespectful or over the line?

Well, I think that was John Henry’€™s opinion. I tend to agree with John Henry as much as I can [laughs].

Do you think the media is unfair to the Red Sox?

I think we get great coverage, extensive coverage.

Fawning coverage?

Well, I don’€™t know about fawning coverage. I think we get balanced coverage, but that doesn’€™t mean there aren’€™t episodes or moments or incidents when the media is just flat wrong or focused on the wrong issue or unbalanced. I think that happens, too, but yes, we get extensive coverage and I think that’€™s appropriate because the public requires it. The public has a keen interest in matters related to the Red Sox and the media’€™s job is to meet that level of interest.

But you must be thrilled that your team stays in the headlines compared to other teams.

I think that’€™s true. Certainly, Baltimore was a place where we got extensive coverage. It can be a great baseball town. There was a high degree of coverage in Baltimore and Washington.

And there were no other major sports teams there, either.

Yeah, that’€™s true. Got a lot of coverage. But San Diego was a bit of a different matter. There was much less extensive coverage and there were fewer publications; less television coverage. Coming here from there I experienced a tremendous difference. A much greater part of one’€™s job out here is to deal with the media issues and the media requests and the media needs and the media coverage.

Are you comfortable or uncomfortable with the possibility of Major League Baseball being used as a pawn in Arizona politics?

Well I think I, once again, come down on the side of the commissioner’€™s approach, which is to try to avoid baseball teams being caught up in divisive political issues, if at all possible.

So, will you be attending the All-Star Game in Arizona?

I don’€™t generally these days go to the All-Star Games. I find that the hoopla is great and the game is fine, but I’€™ve been to a lot through my career and enjoy the break. I hope to be down in Chatham or Wellfleet or somewhere over those few days.

So you’€™re not going to make it to the game?

Probably not. I haven’€™t actually made plans a year and a half in advance, believe it or not.

So, when can we expect the owners to vote on a new ‘€œPope of baseball,’€ or are we going to have to wait for Bud Selig to retire? He’€™s getting up there in age.

Oh, yes, but he’€™s pretty young and vigorous. He exercises every day, and if you saw him operate six, seven days a week you would certainly mistake him for a much younger guy. I know his contract goes through the end of 2012, to be specific. He has said that he has other things he intends to do, but I think the circumstances that the game is in at that point will determine whether there is a cry on part of the owners to have him to continue to stay while he’€™s physically able to.

Is there a shortlist of potential protégés for Selig?

No, not really. I don’€™t think that it’€™s something that you want to be spending a lot of time on if you’€™re in the game, thinking about Bud’€™s successor. He’€™s a very active guy.

He’€™s what, 76?

I think he’€™s about 75, 76, something like that. But again, if you see the way he operates, he hasn’€™t lost anything off his fastball.

What’€™s the organization’€™s feeling on Daisuke Matsuzaka and how there’€™s still a language barrier?

Well, first of all, there isn’€™t an organizational position on Daisuke. Different people have different ideas these days, but it’€™s [Terry] Francona and [John] Farrell [that] have the responsibility for determining how to use him day to day and how to make on-field improvements to his performance.

With respect to the translating issue, yeah, you would think that by now as we’€™re in our fourth year of this contract that there would be an easier or more efficient kind of translation process that takes place. We see that in international affairs where translations often lead to misunderstandings. I would hope that it would have been better by now and that we would have learned enough Japanese and he might have learned enough English so that there would be even more direct communication, but there’€™s plenty of that, it’€™s just often when the media is involved. There’€™s an effort to use the translator to try to be more specific.

How about ‘€œget the ball,’€ ‘€œthrow the ball,’€ ‘€œand work fast’€ in Japanese?

Yeah [Meterparel], I think that you should take that on.

On a scale of 1 to 10, with 1 being the least and 10 being the most, how surprised would you be if the Red Sox were sold in the next several years?

Oh my gracious. I’€™d be at about a 9. I’€™m never at a 10 on anything.

So it’€™s not going to be sold, 9?

Right. I think that we are here. John Henry is deeply committed; he’€™s building a great new house here. I can say that Tom [Werner] is happy here. He’€™s here for much of the season ‘€” almost straight through in the summertime. And I, of course, am the working stiff who’€™s here year round. [My] kids are in school here, I love Boston, I love New England. I’€™m a Northeastern [United States] guy to begin with. My frolic and detour in San Diego was pleasant, but it felt like a place that I look back on that was a little different than who I am.

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