The Baltimore Orioles Hall of Fame was created out of a partnership between the team and the Orioles Advocates during the mid-1970s. Their purpose was to honor those within the organization who have made significant contributions to the Orioles.
Of course, most of those contributors have been those who wore the black and orange with some degree of distinction as players or managers. The first induction that took place in 1977 installed Brooks Robinson and Frank Robinson as the first members of the Orioles' Hall of Fame.
However, time and again, the organization and voters (for purposes of full disclosure, I am one of those voters) have seen it fit to honor those who have served the Orioles in other areas, such as broadcasters, scouts, trainers, general managers and, yes, even owners.
It hit me these past couple weeks -- with the combination of the 2015 Orioles' Hall of Fame induction and the Aug. 1 news of former O's president and CEO Larry Lucchino announcing he would step down as the Boston Red Sox's team president at the end of the season -- that shouldn't Lucchino hold a prime spot in the O's Hall of Fame?
His absence from that sort of local discussion seems particularly ironic in reading many national baseball writers, some of whom brushed shoulders with Lucchino while they were covering the Orioles as young writers and extolling his tremendous career accomplishments in discussing the merits of his inclusion into the National Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, N.Y.
Lucchino, now 69, served first as vice president/general counsel and then as president/CEO of the Orioles from 1979-1993. His Orioles association began during the team's ownership by famous attorney Edward Bennett Williams, who also owned the Washington Redskins for a time. Williams died in 1988.
Lucchino's accomplishments during his years with the O's included, but were hardly limited to, working to boost attendance at Memorial Stadium through grassroots efforts; expanding the team's broadcast footprint and in the process, widening its fan base, and helping to get Oriole Park at Camden Yards built.
After his time with the Orioles, Lucchino held top executive jobs with the San Diego Padres and the Boston Red Sox. He recently announced he's leaving the Red Sox at the end of the year.
He has been with World Series-winning baseball organizations, including here in Baltimore; has a Super Bowl ring (Redskins), and even a Final Four watch (as a member of the Princeton team that featured Bill Bradley).
To put this discussion in perspective, let's look at some of the non-uniformed personnel the O's have welcomed into their Hall of Fame: public relations man Bob Brown, director of community relations Julie Wagner, play-by-play men Chuck Thompson and Bill O'Donnell, executives Lee MacPhail, Frank Cashen and Hank Peters, trainers Ralph Salvon, Richie Bancells, as well as longtime and deserving scouts Walter Youse and Don Pries. Even early owners are honored by the inclusion of Jack Dunn III and Jerold Hoffberger.
But despite all the incredible work of the aforementioned group and the uniform personnel who have contributed to everything that goes with earning enshrinement into the O's Hall of Fame, shouldn't the Orioles include staff from the marketing, facilities or any other department from the team?
So is the case simply that Lucchino oversaw the planning and building of Oriole Park at Camden Yards? Certainly, that feat alone would carry enough weight to place him in the O's Hall of Fame, but it runs much deeper than that.
It's really about what drove the value of the Orioles. When Williams bought the team from Hoffberger in 1979, he paid a $12 million purchase price (with $2 million in the bank). A decade later, in 1989, after Williams had died, Lucchino selected Eli Jacobs to become the principal partner, paying $70 million for the purchase of the Orioles. Then four years later, but with Camden Yards open and thriving, Peter Angelos bought the team out of a court-mandated bankruptcy sale from Jacobs for $173 million (the highest price ever paid for an MLB team at the time).
Do objective observers of the local scene think that value wasn't born of the blood, sweat and smarts of the Williams-led ownership, of which Lucchino played an integral part?
When Lucchino and his then-boss and mentor, Williams, took over the Orioles during mid-summer of 1979, average attendance was in the low 20,000s. By the time Memorial Stadium had run its course, Lucchino's efforts had raised attendance at the “The Old Gray Lady of 33rd Street” to the low 30,000s from 1989-1991.
So what was the secret behind the attendance increase? There were four significant reasons, two of which had nothing to do with anything other than luck, and the rest were pure Lucchino.
The first was not an insignificant part of the dynamic -- the crash-and-burn mentality of Robert Irsay during the first six years of his 12-year tenure as the Baltimore Colts' owner from 1972-1983. During his first six years as owner, Irsay essentially dissipated all of the Colts' good will with the team's fan base.
The second part of the dynamic came in 1979, the year Hoffberger sold the Orioles to Williams. It was coincidentally the first season WFBR got the radio rights to Orioles games.
The third reason was that while Williams may have had some flirtatious intentions toward Washington, D.C., where his powerful law firm was located, the team's play in 1979, along with the two previous dynamics I mentioned, created an intense bonding with the fans that fueled a spike in average game attendance during the first five years of his ownership before the club's last World Series win in 1983.
Where Lucchino's brilliance came into play was his notion of warming up to D.C. fans, not with an eye toward moving or splitting the Orioles franchise with them, but by expanding the size of the Orioles' market.
During those first few seasons of his leadership, it was as if the team's radio network of small stations and marketing efforts annexed southern Pennsylvania, D.C. and Northern Virginia.
Lastly, the Designated Hitter program, which Lucchino oversaw, was a joint effort from the city business community and the Orioles that brought in working professionals to sell tickets to businesses, nonprofit organizations and other groups. It was Lucchino's baby and afforded him a great cost-free sales force that he motivated with team incentives, trips and an overall part of being a team member. For years, the Designated Hitter program was the O's ticket sales engine, and Lucchino drove that asset hard. The program still exists now, but it isn't nearly the force it was back then.
During the Orioles' 1979 World Series season, they drew a total of 1,681,009 fans, and by the time Angelos would pay the then-ungodly sum of $173 million for the Orioles -- who had just started playing in a brand new-state-of-the-art ballpark 16 months earlier -- attendance had soared to more than 3 million.
In addition to Lucchino's masterful influence in the creation of Camden Yards and its "new-but-feels-like-old" design that was quickly copied around the country, a lot of the value that has stuck with the club to this day saw Lucchino plant its seeds.