Larry Lucchino, the Orioles' president and CEO for the past five seasons, ended months of speculation about his future with the club yesterday, turning down an offer from new managing general partner Peter Angelos to remain with the club as vice chairman in charge of baseball operations.
Lucchino, who has been an Orioles executive since 1979, chose to pursue other opportunities, but he has agreed to serve on the club's board of directors until he decides where his career will take him.
"I have decided that it is time for me to make a change," Lucchino said during an afternoon news conference at Camden Yards. "I am exploring some exciting opportunities. At this point in time, I should devote my energies to understanding those options and making my best judgment as to which one I shall pursue. So, with a mixture of nostalgia and enthusiasm, it is now time for me to enter the next phase of my life."
The announcement did not come as a complete surprise. Rumors of Lucchino's impending departure began circulating soon after the Orioles were purchased at auction by the Angelos ownership group Aug. 2. But that speculation was based on the notion that Angelos would install new leadership.
Instead, Angelos made a serious play to keep Lucchino in the front office, offering him what Lucchino described as "a very attractive salary" to be the No. 2 man on the baseball operations side of the front office. Lucchino said he agonized over the offer for nearly a week before deciding that he wouldn't be happy with a reduced role in the organization.
Technically, he was second in command under former owner Eli S. Jacobs, but he was the last word on all but the most expensive front-office transactions. Angelos has given every indication that he will be far more hands-on, which would have left Lucchino with far less authority.
"Make no mistake, I was not going to carry on as president and CEO," Lucchino said. "Peter acquired the right to do that when he purchased the club, and that's the way it should be. How
happy would I have been in light of the various opportunities that I have?"
Angelos and Lucchino met several times to discuss the future makeup of the front office. They apparently built a friendly rapport, but could not find enough common ground to continue their relationship.
"The reorganization of the front office was something that he had to accept as being necessary -- intellectually and otherwise," Angelos said. "Considering the success the Orioles have enjoyed in the past, he might not have felt that was necessary. I don't argue with that, but those who acquired the club have a responsibility to assess the organization and move forward."
Lucchino did not dispute that. He admitted that he would have found it painful to remain in the front office while the organization was being restructured, especially after a five-year tenure during which the franchise evolved into one of the most successful in baseball.
"There was a sense that this was the time to move on," Lucchino said. "We have accomplished many things. It's time for Peter Angelos and his group to run this team as they would like and to succeed on their own. That, in combination with the opportunities I had, made this the right time."
Lucchino, 48, doesn't have to do anything. He owned a 9 percent share in the team when it was sold to the Angelos group for $173 million, so he is in a position to take a long vacation, but he is believed to be examining several opportunities to remain in baseball management.
The presidency of the Florida Marlins organization has been vacant since the death of Carl Barger last December and Lucchino has been in contact with Marlins owner H. Wayne Huizenga. There also has been speculation that he is being courted by the New York Mets and San Diego Padres.
If he is interested, he also would be a strong candidate for one of the league presidencies and has been mentioned as a long-shot candidate for commissioner of baseball.
He wouldn't get specific, but Lucchino did say that his first choice would be to remain in baseball and that his dream job would be one in which he were involved in the building of a franchise from the bottom up. If that's the case, Florida seems like the most logical destination.
Lucchino joined the Orioles as vice president/general counsel when they were acquired by Edward Bennett Williams in 1979 and ascended to the role of club president and CEO after Williams' death in 1988.
He remained in that position after the club was acquired by Jacobs and presided over an organizational renaissance that began with the "Why Not?" season of 1989, carried through the construction of Oriole Park at Camden Yards and culminated with a third straight single-season attendance record.
Lucchino said the renaissance dates back much further -- to the beginning of the Williams era.
"It's a great sports town to begin with," he said. "I think it is the coalescence of a lot of things. The 1979 season lit a spark. The Edward Bennett Williams philosophy contributed to it. The situation with the Colts contributed to it. I also think our decision to regionalize the team has been a big part of the success.
"It's easy to talk about success in terms of marketing and attendance, but we've also been in three pennant races in the last five years, starting with that magical ride in '89. I take a great deal of pride in that."
There is little question that Lucchino considers the construction of the ballpark to be the cornerstone of his tenure, even though he has spent much of the past two years giving most of the credit to Jacobs.
Williams was the driving force behind the deal that led to the construction of a downtown ballpark and Jacobs gets credit for insisting on its traditional design, but it was Lucchino (and architect Janet Marie Smith) who saw the project through.
His experience in that area might be one of the reasons that he is being courted by the Marlins. The club plays at Joe Robbie Stadium, but a new baseball-only facility could be in the works soon and Lucchino would be an obvious choice to oversee the project.
"I approached [Camden Yards] as a once-in-a-lifetime thing," he said. "Would I like to do something like that again? Yes."
There also were some disappointments along the way. The relationship between Lucchino and Jacobs became strained. The club slipped back considerably after the surprising 1989 season and the two biggest player personnel transactions made during Lucchino's club presidency backfired badly. In an interview earlier this year, he cited the Glenn Davis deal and the Mickey Tettleton trade as two of the low points in an otherwise enjoyable five-year run.
During yesterday's news conference, he was asked again about his biggest disappointments.
"Does Fred McGriff count?" he joked.
He was referring to the Orioles' unsuccessful attempt to acquire the power-hitting first baseman at midseason.
"I wish we had won it all," Lucchino said. "That is a regret. That will be a goal if I ever am successful somewhere else."
Lucchino didn't clear out of the front office immediately. He will remain in his office for at least part of next week and could act in an advisory capacity as a member of the board of directors indefinitely.
"It will be interesting," Lucchino said. "I've always wondered what it would be like to be a free agent in November."