Princeton University

Tonight will be the fifth home game of the season for the Princeton women’s lacrosse team — and the fifth time it will rain.

If ever a team deserves a moment in the sun, it’s the Tiger women. Rain or not, though, it’ll still be a big game, as the Tigers host Penn, who knocked off No. 1 Maryland last week, in a huge Ivy game. 

The opening draw is at 7. 

TB was going to write more about tonight’s game, until he saw the news yesterday of the passing of Larry Lucchino. A member of the one the most legendary teams Princeton has ever fielded in any sport, Lucchino went on to a career as a Major League Baseball executive that will eventually land him in the Hall of Fame.

“It’s so disappointing that it didn’t happen before he passed away,” Gary Walters said yesterday.

In many ways, Lucchino is the personification of one of his greatest achievements, the construction of Oriole Park at Camden Yards, for which he was the driving force when he worked for team owner Edward Bennett Williams.  

Today, Camden Yards is the model for almost every new baseball stadium, a modernization of the classic old ballparks long gone. Back then? It was something that had never been done before, after the “cookie-cutter” era personified by Philadelphia’s Veterans’ Stadium, Pittsburgh’s Three Rivers Stadium and Cincinnati’s Riverfront Stadium.

Like Camden Yards, Lucchino himself was a cross between a bygone era and a modern world. The Princeton he attended changed almost immediately after he left it, when women were admitted, and the Lucchino who went on to great professional success was a cutting age man who embraced change.

When TB heard the news about Lucchino, the first person he thought of was Walters. The two met on their basketball recruiting trips back in 1963. They were Pennsylvania East and Pennsylvania West, Walters from Reading and Lucchino from Pittsburgh, and they were great friends from the day that they sat next to each other at that Princeton-Penn game in Dillon Gym until Lucchino’s passing yesterday.

They also played the same position, point guard. For their three years together on the varsity, Walters was the starter and Lucchino pushed him every day trying to take the job. 

“I have nothing but admiration for him,” Walters said. “He went out every day and gave me his best. Every single day. He gave me nothing for free.”

Lucchino and Walters were sophomores in 1965, when Bill Bradley led the team to the NCAA Final Four. In their senior year of 1967, Princeton rose to as high as No. 3 in the national rankings.

At graduation that year, Lucchino was voted by his class as the top all around man. He went from Princeton to Yale Law School and then to Washington, D.C., where he worked for Edward Bennett Williams, the owner of, among things, the Baltimore Orioles.

After leaving the Orioles, he became president of the Boston Red Sox, with a fan base that hadn’t experienced a World Series title since long before any of its current members had been born. You had to go back to 1918 to find the last Red Sox championship. Lucchino rebuilt an organization — beginning with his hire of a young, unknown GM named Theo Epstein — and now the team has won titles in 2004, 2007 and 2018.

Along the way, Lucchino beat cancer several times, first lymphoma and the prostate cancer and renal cancer. 

That’s Lucchino’s bio. For who the man was, TB turns it over to Walters, who, in the 30 minutes he and TB spoke yesterday, ran the gamut of emotions, from tears to laughter, as you might expect:

“At the basketball banquet my senior year, my whole speech was about Larry’s competitiveness. It talks about him as a person. He was tenacious, a fighter, competitive, principled, a leader. He was able to see the big picture and then was able to get all of the people in the organization to fulfill their roles so that the greater purpose could be achieved. His life is reflected in his achievements. Camden Yards. He’s the one who broke the “cookie-cutter” mold. Winning with the Red Sox. I think people had given up on that ever happening. 

“He beat cancer. I remember in 1986, when he was about 40, he came up to Boston with lymphoma. They put him in a sealed tent so no germs could get in. Back then, lymphoma was like a death sentence, but he beat it. The next year, I organized a 20th reunion for our 1967 team, just so he’d be there. I was so glad he got to have that experience, and then he kept going.

“We could make each other laugh. If you wanted him to laugh, the best way was to get me to laugh. He was just a great all-around person. He was voted that by our class, and he never changed.

“I will miss him terribly.”

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