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Transcript of Larry Lucchino on D&C: ‘You guys might want to live in September 2011 forever, but we don’t’

10.28.11 at 3:48 pm ET
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Red Sox president/CEO Larry Lucchino joined the Dennis & Callahan show Friday morning to defend his boss, John Henry, talk about the Theo Epstein/Ben Cherington situations, and update the masses on the Red Sox’ managerial search.

Lucchino also discussed how the team is dealing with misbehavior by the pitchers in the clubhouse. Josh Beckett has been identified as one of the key participants, but he has yet to step forward and address the issue like some of his teammates. Lucchino said he has spoke with the veteran right-hander.

“I think he is on the same page, just less willing to deal with the media right now,” Lucchino said. “He craves his privacy I think a little more. But he was a highly motivated guy when I spoke to him. I think he feels like we as a team have something to prove, they as a pitching staff have something to prove. And I think you will see a highly motivated Josh Beckett. I know you will next year.

Asked if Beckett apologized, Lucchino said: “I didn’t ask for an apology. But we spoke about what the circumstances were. I should let Josh speak for himself when he decides to do that. Let’s just say he appreciated that there were some things going on in the clubhouse, but he felt that they were dramatically blown out of proportion by the media.”

Pushed on the matter, Lucchino said he was tired of rehashing the September collapse.

“I don’t want to play the blame game,” he said. “I don’t want to go back. You guys might want to live in September 2011 forever, but we don’t. We want to move forward. I probably made a mistake simply by indulging you guys in the conversation about that. It’s time to move forward. It’s not time to dwell on who drank a beer or had a piece of fried chicken. If you believe that that was the cause of the collapse in September, I think you’re mistaken.”

Following is a transcript of the conversation. To hear the interview, go to the Dennis & Callahan audio on demand page.

Does the [lateness of World Series Game 6 Thursday night] concern Major League Baseball?

It is unfortunate. You guys are calling it a classic. Your good friend Tim McCarver is calling it a classic. It was a remarkable game. But even I, as a baseball executive, had trouble staying up through it all. I was nodding off and missing things here and there. It is unfortunate that it went on so long. Of course, I think the Rangers used eight pitchers. The Cardinals used seven or eight pitchers. It was a long game.

Do we wish that more young people in particular saw that game? You bet. It is the best way to develop the future of the game.

Why not a 7:05 start? Why not some sort of internal initiative to make the games a little faster?

I’ll say this to you: The networks have an interest and have certain contractual rights. I don’t know what they all are. But they’re interested in the most eyeballs watching baseball. That’s in their interest, too, as you guys well know. They make a calculation that more people, believe it or not, will watch the game later in the evening than will watch it from 7-8.

The problem with that, of course, is that children somehow get lost in that shuffle there. But in terms of eyeballs, they’re trying to maximize the number of people out there. And they’re judgment is there are more people who will watch it [later], even though it seems counterintuitive.

People at the end of the game on the East Coast can’t stay up for it. You can watch the entire thing, record it, if you’re in Los Angeles.

That certainly deals with the East-West issue. But there’s a question of just people whose television habits really begin after dinner, whose television habits begin at 8 o’clock, no matter if their on the East Coast. So, I don’t know the answer as to when that calculation was made. I suspect it was made the last time there was a TV contract, which was about three years ago. You’re probably right. Patterns have changed since the TiVo world, since the DVR has entered our life on a daily basis.

We bitch about it all the time, but we can’t do much about it. You can. You’re in line to be the next commissioner. We all know that. Bud Selig is almost done. Talk about nodding off, do you think he saw anything past the fourth inning last night?

Yes, I do. I know, Callahan, you don’t have a keen appreciation for the contributions that the commissioner has made to baseball. You don’t have a keen appreciation for a lot of the contributions that are made by people.

How do you not watch every night and say they can make this better. ‘€¦ Baseball refuses to tweak it to make it better.

You do have a point regarding the conservative nature of baseball governance. It’s always been that way, but it’s been better recently. There have been changes, progressive moves made in recent years. I’m talking about the wild card, I’m talking about interleague play, I’m talking about the possibility of realignment going forward next year. I think you might see wild card teams playing a win-or-g-home kind of playing game in baseball. I think there have been some changes.

Now, with respect to television, I can’t do anything about it. I can raise my voice at a meeting, but there are people who are designated to work for the commissioner on television, people who are far more knowledgeable than I am regarding network matters.

We know you’ll have your chance sooner or later. But, simple change that would make the game better in so many ways: 154 games. You even call the bluff of the traditionalists, because that’s what it used to be. So, why not go to 154 games?

That topic of the schedule is being debated right now, so I think I should stay away from it. I will tell you that the commissioner is a traditionalist. The commissioner has raised that issue from time to time. If it were a perfect world, I suspect you would find him supportive of that notion. But there are other considerations that have to be factored in.

Can you tell us why the compensation with the Cubs is taking so long?

I think the process has been decided upon because the parties have different views of what is significant compensation. That’s the operative standard, in our view. That was made clear in the first conversation with the principal owner of the Cubs. People have different views of what exactly that phrase means. That’s one thing.

So, it stands to reason that the commissioner’s going to jump in here?

I don’t know. I think that’s a possibility. But we now have general managers in place on each team who have some job security, some comfort going forward, and are more able to make this decision than the individuals who were participating before. I think that we now will give Theo and Ben a chance to work it out as best they can. But now there’s at least a mechanism.

The importance of making the decision to proceed even though the issue of significant compensation had not been resolved, I think was evident last week. We were able to start a new chapter. I think Ben Cherington introduced himself beautifully the other day. You see the kind of general manager who is going to be leading the baseball operations of the Red Sox going forward. And we were able to make some progress and stop dwelling on the past and playing the blame game and doing all the nonsensical things that the media was leading us into. We were able to move forward. I think bifurcating those things was a good thing.

Did he just say it was the media’s fault? I think he did. You said the media was leading you into these awful things?

Yeah, Callahan, I think for example it led you into a pathetically petulant and misleading article about John Henry.

What was misleading?

His role in the organization. You don’t even understand it. And how about the motivation as to why you wrote it? I think you took a situation — first of all, John can defend himself, and will. But you were — let’s use the word angry — because of an appearance on another station where John went to defend himself and his wife from some nasty personal accusations. That was the motivation for an article that doesn’t appreciate the role that John Henry plays in the governance of the Red Sox. The whole fundamental premise of the article was flawed.

We asked you when you were here and he was looking to you to answer, who made the call on Carl Crawford? I’m still not sure about this, because  John Henry didn’t tell us, he wasn’t honest with us and said he had nothing to do with it.

Oh, come on. I gave the answer to that question.

Then who’s telling the truth?

Callahan, there you go again. We’re both telling the truth. There’s a reconciliation there that’s obvious. And if you don’t see it, then I’m sorry. I talked about a collective decision. That means that various people participated in the decision. It was not one person. the suggestion was that somehow Theo had screwed up and made this bad call. First of all, I’m not sure it’s going to prove to be a bad call over time. And secondly, several people participated in that decision, in that judgment. No one said there was unanimity, but we said that there was a collective participation in that decision.

You don’t think it’s a mistake for the principal owner to say, “It wasn’t my idea. Wasn’t my idea.” For a guy that’s going to be here for six more seasons.

I think that you’re making a bigger issue of that than that actually is. I don’t think it’s going to impair Carl Crawford’s performance going forward. No, I don’t.

Ben Cherington said at his press conference that he will visit Carl Crawford and make sure he puts him in a position to do as much as he can for him to make him comfortable and get the kind of production out of Crawford you expect for that kind of money. Is that standard operating procedure for a general manager to visit an underperforming guy in his hometown to sort of give him a pep talk or whatever the M.O. will be when he gets there?

It’s not uncommon. In fact, Ben’s going to visit several people. He’s going to introduce himself in a more personal way to various players. He’s talked to many players already. I know he’s going to jump on an airplane and visit several. Because we did have a colossal collapse at the end of the year that we’ve got to discuss and analyze and examine. And I think that one way to do that is to talk to the players themselves. Another way to introduce yourself as general manager is to talk to them. So, the short answer to your question is it happens every year. There are players that come up to Boston, there are players that you talk to on the phone, there are players that you may go to visit if you’re in the area, the trainers go to visit them. It’s not uncommon to deal with your players in the offseason.

Is it on the radar that there will be a face-to-face with the likes of Josh Beckett and Jon Lester, whether it’s from ownership or Ben, to look them in the eye, talk to them man to man, ask them what their mindset is for next year, their commitment is to next year and what their role will be as leadership next year?

There already have been conversations with them. Now, you say face-to-face, we’re hopeful that we can bring a few players together. We have player roundtables during the season. We are contemplating having one in the offseason. And they may be participants in that. But we have had dialogues and conversations with these guys.

We heard from Lester, we heard from [Clay] Buchholz. They were very contrite and felt bad about their role in the whole thing. Is Beckett contrite? You said you talked to him; he hasn’t gone public with this. We’re guessing he’s probably on the same page, or no?

I think he is on the same page, just less willing to deal with the media right now. He craves his privacy I think a little more. But he was a highly motivated guy when I spoke to him. I think he feels like we as a team have something to prove, they as a pitching staff have something to prove. And I think you will see a highly motivated Josh Beckett. I know you will next year.

Did he say he was sorry for what happened and how it happened? Did he apologize?

I didn’t ask for an apology. But we spoke about what the circumstances were. I should let Josh speak for himself when he decides to do that. Let’s just say he appreciated that there were some things going on in the clubhouse, but he felt that they were dramatically blown out of proportion by the media.

In what way? What was blown out of proportion?

I’m not getting into it, Callahan. I’m not going to speak for Josh.

I’m just asking. It sounds like you agree with him.

I don’t want to play the blame game. I don’t want to go back. You guys might want to live in September 2011 forever, but we don’t. We want to move forward. I probably made a mistake simply by indulging you guys in the conversation about that. It’s time to move forward. It’s not time to dwell on who drank a beer or had a piece of fried chicken. If you believe that that was the cause of the collapse in September, I think you’re mistaken.

I think it was related. You saw what happened with the starting pitching.

I think the depth of the starting pitching and the burned-out bullpen I think were two of the major factors. Those are much more substantive and much more significant — perhaps a little less useful to talk radio, but much more central factors.

But the starting pitchers couldn’t get you into the sixth. And the starting pitchers’ physical condition was an issue that when you were here with Henry, you discussed that. That was a problem. You don’t think it’s related?

Is it an issue? I’m talking about central issues. If you get to the issue of stamina and conditioning, that’s different than a piece of fried chicken once a month.

I think it’s pretty closely related.

Well, you may think that. But I’m telling you, if you guys want me to participate on these calls, I appreciate the invitation, but I’m not going to keep dwelling on the aftermath of September 2011. If you don’t want to move forward, you need a new guest.

Larry, I say this all the time: John Dennis was the first guy who said it wasn’t the owners, over and over again.

And I appreciate that. John Dennis has been consistent in that approach, and we recognize the position he’s taken.

All right, let’s move forward. Manager search: How many names are on the list, how many guys will be brought in and interviewed, and how long will it take.

Let me take them in reverse order. It’s going to take a few weeks, certainly. We hired Terry Francona I think on December 2nd of that season, and we didn’t lose anything in the 2004 season. I think we feel like there is some time on that.

The number of names on the list — it’s an evolving list. There are probably about eight or nine names on it right now. It could change tomorrow, with a few more people being added. There’s plenty of due diligence that’s been going on for the last several days. Ben has gotten recommendations, people have thrown their hats in the ring. I’ve heard from baseball people that I know with their recommendations. The interview process is likely to start [soon]. Ben’s scheduling. I think his plan is to begin interviewing some people next week. But I wouldn’t read too much into who comes in first, because, as I said, we’re at eight or 10 names. We just want to get the interview process beginning. But you shouldn’t read too much into who comes in first.

Would it be fair to say there may be a couple of leaders in the clubhouse, so to speak, pending the interviews?

I don’t think so, because the effort has been to collect names and be sure that various people get a shot at it and we get a shot at them. There haven’t been a lot of internal discussions as to ranking these people yet.

Will you change for change’s sake? I’m thinking the new manager/new GM probably want a new team out there, and there’s a very limited number of things you can do. ‘€¦ But you’ve got to change something, don’t you?

I think there’s a flawed premise that somehow this team needs to be changed — you didn’t say radical change, but the suggestion was that there needs to be basic change. And I challenge that premise. There have to be improvements. Every year there have to be improvements. When you have a colossal collapse as we did, there have to be some changes made, you would expect. But there is the nucleus of a very good team in that clubhouse. There’s the nucleus of a very potent offense. There is a veteran presence. There are some young players in that organization who certainly have matured and got important experience last year. So, I challenge the notion that we need to throw the baby out with the bath water. I think there’s so much talent in that team, as evidenced by the fact that on September 1 we were 30 games over .500.

Earl Weaver used to say, ‘Don’t even talk to me about the postseason until we’re 20 games over .500.’ Well, we got to 30 games over .500. We did it with more than smoke and mirrors. There was some talent in that clubhouse, and there’s some returning talent. And I would add to that there’s some highly motivated talent on that club. These guys are not immune to the adverse effect the collapse had on them, on their pride and on their public image. So, I think you’re going to see a highly motivated, cohesive team next season. 2012, I have some real optimism for.

Is there any chance that you talk to your free agent guys — [Jonathan Papelbon] and [David] Ortiz — during the exclusive-rights period, or is that useless?

I think everybody’s different. I do think there are some players who would very much like to return, who would use every available minute to talk with their team. And there are others who are curious I would say about the free agent process and are out there trying to sense what the marketplace can be, and there’s not better way than to be in it. So, I think it’s different. And I think with our two guys, our two guys may reflect that difference.

Is it ironic or unsettling that two of those free agents, Papelbon and Ortiz, are part of the solution and not part of the problem of what went wrong last year?

I think we want to bring them both back. Ideally, it would be nice to have both players back. But as I say every year around this time, it takes two to tango. People have different ideas of what the market is dictating. They have a different idea of what their leverage may be. So, sometimes it takes time, and sometimes it doesn’t work. But you’re right, those two guys had very productive seasons and I feel very good about those guys being members of the Red Sox team in 2012 if it can be worked out reasonably and sensibly. They are in many ways and have been faces of the franchise and I would like very much to have them stay around. We would like very much for them to stay around.

Ben hinted during his press conference that he was going to be about finding high-value, lower-cost people to fill in the holes and expand the pitching depth and the right fielder and right-handed bat and all that. Is that an indication that you are less likely, less inclined to spend big money on somebody else’s free agent?

I think it’s an indication that we are skeptical about free agency given the recent experience we and so many other clubs have had. But we will never turn off that possibility. You’ve got to examine that every year. It’s just a major avenue that’s available to clubs to improve their team. But just as you do with the amateur draft, or you do with important trades, or you do with international signings, you don’t want to turn off any possibility. But do we approach this year’s free agent class with some skepticism? Speaking for myself, I would say yes.

When Theo Epstein was here, he said, or I believe you said, that he would trade Kevin Youkilis over his dead body. It would never happen.

I’m sorry, who said that?

I think Theo, you told us, would never trade Kevin Youkilis. Is that part of the modus operandi of one Ben Cherington?

Well, Ben is a different man with different priorities, different sacred cows. So, I don’t know what ben’s attitude would be on his list of untouchable players, if there are any such things as untouchable players. So, I’m afraid I can’t answer that question.

I don’t remember saying that he would — I know Theo had a very strong and positive opinion of Kevin Youkilis and his utility to this team, as others of us do. But there are very few players that you would say we would just never [trade]. We would just have to be blown away for another team to acquire some of those sacred cows.

Theo called your relationship complicated but productive.

I think the quote was ‘complicated, productive and rewarding.’ And I would say to that: Bingo, right on. He’s absolutely correct.

More complicated than productive?

No, I would say it was all of those things. Remember, we hired him at the Orioles when I was the CEO and he was a college intern. We worked there together for three years, and then we worked seven years in San Diego together — that’s 10 — and then 10 years here. That’s a lot of time, a lot of growth, a lot of different roles as Theo developed as a baseball executive. So, certainly, complications are inherent in that kind of growth process, I would say. But were we productive? Absolutely. Look at the track record. Look at what we did together here. And was it rewarding? You bet it was.

Is your role any different now?

Not really. I will be more active because we have a younger, newer general manager. But our role — and when I say our, I mean John, Tom [Werner] and myself — will always have a seat at the baseball table to hear recommendations and suggestions on major issues, major acquisitions, major policy questions. So, if anything, it will be different because I’m dealing with a different personality, and there isn’t a 20-year working relationship the way there was with Theo.

Was the Lackey signing collaborative?

Collaborative, yes, in the same sense in that various voices were heard on the subject. It was not one person, Theo didn’t walk in and say, ‘I want to sign this guy for $82 and-a-half million.’ He came in, he might say that, we’d debate it, we’d discuss it. Like all free agent signings, it was a collaborative process. Was it unanimous? I don’t remember.

Ticket prices — same, going up?

We’ll actually have an announcement on that coming up within the next week or two. There’s been no final decision. We had our first meeting really on it yesterday. So, we’ll have an announcement on that in short order.

Which station will you make that announcement on?

Well, we wouldn’t want to hurt your feelings, Gerry, so we might try to do all stations at the same time because I know how sensitive you are about us doing things with other stations.

All we were trying to do was get the story right. This is the only place you will hear the only story about drinking in the dugout [sarcasm]. Dino has debunked that over and over again. You don’t hear that too many places.

I do appreciate that there has been some balance on your station. I apologize if I went at you a little hard. I was quite offended by that article on John Henry. He’s my partner and my friend, and I wanted to say something about it.

Where is he? Is he going to kick in the door of our studio soon? I’m hoping.

He’s in Boston today. He’ll be here [at Fenway]. I’m sure you can invited him if you like.

We’ve never said anything about his wife. We’re not going to start now. I don’t know how else to smoke him out. Should I just invite him in?

Let me say one thing: He wasn’t at the press conference, neither was Tom. Some people have made an issue of that. There’s no issue there. Certain matters are delegable and are delegated to me. Had they been in town, I’m sure they would have been involved — they may have been involved. But there’s an issue of delegation and respective roles that we all have. I don’t think much should be read into that.

Read More: ben cherington, John Henry, Josh Beckett, Kevin Youkilis
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