Larry Lucchino, the former president of the Baltimore Orioles who was instrumental in the design and creation of Camden Yards, died Tuesday. He was 78.

Lucchino served as the Orioles’ president from 1988 to 1993, and his presence atop the organization helped to steer Baltimore away from the concrete bowl stadiums that were fashionable at the time. He hired Janet Marie Smith to be the Orioles’ vice president of planning and development, and together they led a collaborative effort with the Maryland Stadium Authority, HOK Sports (now Populous), contractors and state to create a gem of a ballpark in downtown.

“There were a lot of people who played a role, but Larry was the leader,” said Smith, who’s now the executive chair of Canopy Team and the executive vice president of planning and development for the Los Angeles Dodgers. Smith said Lucchino’s focus went beyond the structure of the ballpark and focused on fan experience and community relations.

“It’s not just an era of ballparks, it’s a whole era of how the game is thought of and how it’s grown, can be attributed to his constant challenging everyone around him to think beyond what they did yesterday and beyond what others in the industry were doing,” Smith continued. “He was consistently reminding us, ‘We’re all fans. Look in the mirror. What would you want? How would we want to be treated?’”

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After opening in 1992, Camden Yards was immediately hailed for its intimate retro design, which included an asymmetrical outfield, architectural nods to some of the most celebrated ballparks in the game’s history, and the eight-story brick B&O Warehouse looming beyond the right-field fence. Many of the baseball stadiums teams have opened since them have taken cues from Oriole Park.

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Lucchino’s legacy is strong in Baltimore, but it extends far beyond the reaches of Camden Yards. After leaving the Orioles, he served as the president and CEO of the San Diego Padres (where he helped plan Petco Park), then took over the Boston Red Sox in 2002.

With Boston, Lucchino was pivotal again in a stadium plan. He’s credited with preserving Fenway Park and the Fens — the area around the stadium. In a 2022 story from The Athletic, Lucchino justified his belief for saving Fenway Park this way: “You preserve the Mona Lisa!”

He also oversaw the relocation of the Pawtucket Red Sox, a minor league affiliate, to Worcester, Massachusetts.

On the field, Lucchino’s pick for general manager, Theo Epstein, guided the Red Sox to a World Series championship in 2004, breaking an 86-year drought known as the “Curse of the Bambino” after the team’s sale of star Babe Ruth to the New York Yankees after the 1919 season. The Red Sox added two more titles during Lucchino’s tenure, in 2007 and 2013. He stepped down as the team’s president by the end of 2015.

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Born in 1945, Lucchino grew up in Pittsburgh playing basketball and baseball. He always looked at the loss of Forbes Field in his hometown as a tragedy — a unique neighborhood park replaced by a concrete bowl. That belief steered him on his path of redefining what makes a ballpark great.

He went on to play college basketball at Princeton with future U.S. senator and New York Knick Bill Bradley and was part of the Tigers team that reached the 1965 NCAA Final Four.

After graduating from Yale Law School, he was hired in 1974 by the law firm Williams and Connolly, whose founder, Edward Bennett Williams, bought the Orioles in 1979. Williams initially brought Lucchino over as the team’s general counsel.

Lucchino used that basketball pedigree well during pickup games with the local media during spring training. “His competitive nature was never more evident” in those settings, said Rick Vaughn, the public relations manager for the Orioles at the time. “He wasn’t the youngest or the tallest, but you definitely wanted to be on his team, or any other of Larry’s teams for that matter.”

Lucchino was the first team president Vaughn ever worked for, “and I just assumed everyone in that role had that kind of drive and passion,” Vaughn said. “No one else I worked for or with ever came close. It wasn’t until later, after I left the Orioles, that I realized how lucky I was to work for someone who cared so much. Camden Yards is evidence enough of his desire to be the best.”

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In a statement, MLB commissioner Rob Manfred recognized Lucchino for his role in driving baseball forward. Petco Park, Manfred said, “remains a jewel of the San Diego community.”

Lucchino is a member of the Red Sox and Padres halls of fame.

“Larry Lucchino was one of the most accomplished executives that our industry has ever had,” Manfred said. “He was deeply driven, he understood baseball’s place in our communities, and he had a keen eye for executive talent. Larry’s vision for Camden Yards played a vital role in advancing fan-friendly ballparks across the game.”

Lucchino felt strongly that a stadium should represent the city. At Camden Yards, the brick of the B&O Warehouse and green paint used around the ballpark give a strong representation of Baltimore.

“It’s Baltimore,” said Vaughn two years ago. “If you were dropped from the sky and you were touched down on second base and you were blindfolded, and you took that blindfold off, you would say, ‘Yep, this is Baltimore.’ It’s as close to perfection as I think you can get, and 30 years later, I think the proof is in the pudding.”

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Lucchino also wanted an old-fashioned stadium with modern amenities. He and Smith drew inspiration from Forbes Field; Brooklyn, New York’s Ebbets Field; Detroit’s Tiger Stadium; and Chicago’s old Comiskey Park.

After a meeting with then-Major League Baseball commissioner Peter Ueberroth in the late 1980s — during which Ueberroth painted an image that baseball stadiums should have a standardized shape and size — Lucchino walked into a meeting with Orioles and MSA officials carrying a brochure advertising the Yugo, a one-size-fits-all economy car.

He tossed the brochure into the table.

“We don’t drive Yugos,” Lucchino said. “We’re not looking to play in one.”

Instead, he oversaw the construction of a game-changing stadium that ushered in a new era of ballparks that each have their own unique quirks.

“Baltimore would literally not be the same without him,” Smith said. “That’s not an exaggeration.”

Andy Kostka is an Orioles beat writer for The Baltimore Banner. He previously covered the Orioles for The Baltimore Sun. Kostka graduated from the University of Maryland and grew up in Rockville.

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