By Dan Kennedy • The press, politics, technology, culture and other passions

How Larry Lucchino saved The Boston Phoenix — and how the Phoenix saved Fenway Park

Larry Lucchino, right, celebrates the Red Sox’ 2013 World Series win. Photo (cc) 2013 by Alicia Porter.

Former Red Sox president Larry Lucchino, who died Tuesday at the age of 78, not only saved Fenway Park — he also saved The Boston Phoenix. His friend and former Red Sox executive Charles Steinberg recalled in an interview with WBUR Radio earlier this week that he once asked Lucchino whether he planned to replace the ancient ballpark. Lucchino’s response: “You don’t destroy the Mona Lisa! You preserve the Mona Lisa!”

In the years before the John Henry-Tom Werner group bought the Red Sox in 2001, the fate of Fenway Park was far from clear. The previous owner — a trust set up by the late Jean Yawkey and headed by Yawkey confidant John Harrington — wanted to build a new ballpark farther south on Brookline Avenue. And that would have required the razing of 126 Brookline Ave., an office building owned by Phoenix publisher Stephen Mindich. The building’s second and third floors were occupied by the Phoenix.

Mindich declared war on Harrington’s plans, and the Phoenix was mobilized on his behalf. My friend Seth Gitell and I as well as others, including future Wall Street Journal sports columnist Jason Gay, inveighed against the proposal, arguing that a new ballpark would be better suited to a different neighborhood, such as what is now the Seaport District but was then a barren landscape of parking lots.

One of the last stories we published before the Red Sox were sold came in December 2001. Written by Seth and me, it includes this:

But if the winner of this high-stakes sweepstakes has yet to be named, it’s already clear who the loser will be. Us. Us as in baseball fans. Us as in taxpaying citizens. Us as in ordinary people who occasionally enjoy the simple pleasure of attending a game at the ballpark or tuning in the Sox on TV without having to pay through the nose.

Well, we were certainly right about the cost of attending a game and of NESN cable fees.

There were all kinds of names being bandied about at that time, including cable magnate Charles Dolan as well as local favorites Joe O’Donnell and Steve Karp. Dolan was thought to favor keeping Fenway, telling The Boston Globe: “If they can’t watch the game here, they can watch it on TV.”

But the Henry group was coming together, and it was clear that then-Major League Baseball commissioner Bud Selig was hoping to steer the sale Henry’s way. That’s exactly what happened later that month, with Lucchino brought in as part of the ownership group and emerging as the main cheerleader for refurbishing Fenway Park rather than demolishing it. As the force behind Baltimore’s retro Camden Yards, the first of the new generation of classic ballparks, Lucchino was the ideal person to lead that effort.

The Phoenix was saved, at least for the time being; it shut down in 2013, falling victim to the economic forces that had been battering the newspaper business. Henry bought the Globe later that year and slowly transformed it into a growing and profitable paper. And the Red Sox, playing in the iconic ballpark that John Harrington wanted to tear down, won World Series in 2004, 2007, 2013 and 2018, although they are currently in the midst of an uncertain rebuilding process.

Larry Lucchino deserves credit for giving the Phoenix another dozen good years. And Stephen Mindich, who died in 2018, deserves some credit for saving Fenway Park in the years before Lucchino arrived on the scene.

Leave a comment | Read comments

Discover more from Media Nation

Subscribe to get the latest posts to your email.


The main event: A Kansas publisher and his newspaper file suit over illegal raid


An odd omission


  1. Eric Benjamin

    Eric Benjamin: as former Phoenix staffer and exec elsewhere in alt papers I would submit the falling of the Phoenix and sibs is largely attributable to two financial factors. Emigration of personals and sex ads to digital and discontinuation of tobacco cash cow ads. Big financial hits. Insurmountable.

    • Dan Kennedy

      Yes indeed. Also, the Phoenix was charging $1.50 an issue at one time and went free sometime around 2000. In retrospect, that turned out to be a bad move, and badly timed as well.

      • Fascinating and fairminded writeup with a nice nod to Stephen M.

        Cool and thanks.

        Readers should know (just as an fyi) that the paper was effectively free long long before 2000, indeed its first decade-plus, if not longer.

        Eric Benjamin should know (and probably does) that there were other, related sea changes over time. The decline in home audio (slow then fast) was a significant one; the Internet, of course, as he partly references; the ‘early’ aging of boomers (including marriage and children, naturally, and move to suburbs, less night-hopping and moviegoing) and, oddly and unremarked, their academic and other mentors getting even older; and more factors I am too elderly to think of at the moment.

        My wife and I do still have our pasteup rollers and exactos.

    • My illustrious college internship was laying out those Eros phone ads, in the Xacto blade and hot wax era 🤓

  2. This post somehow just popped up in my LinkedIn feed even though it is more than 10 days old …
    I think about the fight to save Fenway Park and my own role — lining up three of the five votes on the Boston City Council to publicly come out against the $1B eminent domain boondoggle, effectively stopping the megaplex, all the time. When I ever get around to writing my book, it will be an interesting chapter (and I have most of the docs, too).
    Saving Fenway Park was a no-brainer. But many who were involved had no idea what to do. Organizing them and me working, too, to take on Mayor Menino, his flaks and minions, tens of millions in giveaway state aid, etc., was worth it even though it “cost me” my “political career” LOL. Some of my insider friends never forgave me; many openly hated some of the members of the Fenway Action Coalition. I still have emails from Stephen Mindich about the project and his concerns about losing his building. Richard Ross, too (God rest his soul, he died on Flight 11), who became a close acquaintance even though we came from different worlds entirely (he is probably not too happy to see that his land turned into the mall it is now. Neighborhoods change though. At least they named a street after him).
    There was a lot of great coverage of that fight — including in the Boston Phoenix. The Herald (Macero, always fair), and the Tab, too, had good coverage (that paper, as a weekly, wove all the neighborhoods together without taking away the daily beats from the Globe or Herald).
    But some of the coverage was abhorrent.
    There was the one journalist — well, not really a journalist, a stenographer for the business classes, who was constantly hip-checking the ragtag activists with “scoops.” It was strange how they would just appear at the worst times and were used to try and divide us. One day, they just disappeared from the beat. Years later, I heard a rumor they were getting pillow talk from an insider. That happens sometimes.
    Taking cheap shots from the Boston Globe’s Brian Mooney was another low point in the media coverage. There was one column, right after FAC asked me help them, where he called me a “North End gadfly” — even though I never lived in that neighborhood. I asked the Globe for a correction, providing copies of the places I lived since 1986. But they refused to correct it. Opinions are OK; cheap shots, presuming because I have an Italian surname that I must be living with all the other garlic eaters, not so much.
    I found it amusing, too, that he called me a “political failure.” Whatever. I lost an at-large city council preliminary two years before by 200 votes while jumping into the race five days before they were going to cancel it. In every political race, there is only one winner and a lot of losers. The only failures are ones who don’t try. I was in good company by failing.
    “He now apparently sees himself as the savior of the neighborhoods,” Mooney wrote. “No doubt, the Red Sox are nervous.”
    They should have been but weren’t. We won … in the short term — all those millions of dollars spent not getting the megaplex built, not understanding there were five votes on the council that were never going to vote for eminent domain, etc., and the long term because the Red Sox (eventually) smartened up and realized what they had was really special. And, yeah, the pivotal role I played, as well as many people — Mindich, Ross, Peter Catalano, Helen Cox, Barbara Anderson, James, Jon, and so many others whose names we forget after a quarter of a century, saved the park and parts of the neighborhood, too. We took on a behemoth and won. Not long after that fight, I got a job as a reporter writing stories for $25 a piece. Decades later, after winning more than 40 online, print, and radio journalism awards, I’m at the end of my career. I’ll forget a lot of stories, like most journalists. But working to save Fenway Park is something I’ll never forget.

Powered by WordPress & Theme by Anders Norén