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Wednesday, December 07, 2005

Grady Little's Next Chance

Most thought it might not come again.

I, for one, am glad that it did.

There are enough stories about careers in which someone transgressed badly enough at some point in his career that he won't get another chance, whether it's in the cockpit, with the church keys or managing your baseball team. And in certain instances, that's a shame.

Grady Little compiled a .580 managerial record with the BoSox (and was well-regarded as a minor league manager and coach) before getting the ax a few seasons ago because he left Pedro Martinez in too long in the post-season. He did so eschewing a bullpen that had at the time a productive Alan Embree as the lefty setup man and a productive Mike Timlin as the righty set-up man. All because it's tough to tell a future Hall of Famer to sit down. (He also had the flammable, as opposed to flame-throwing, Byung-Hyun Kim as a closer, which might explain, if not excuse, the faux pas).

It's clear that Grady Little didn't exercise his managerial prerogative that day and tell Pedro to sit down. It's also clear that Grady Little concomitantly committed the post-season sin of forgetting to use good non-closing relievers. Many managers are guilty of that. They use extra starters as relievers figuring that they have better arms than the set-up men. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn't. The problem for the BoSox was that they had an excellent bullpen at the time and let a sore-armed pitcher stay in the game and get hit hard.

So GradyLittle got sacked, not because the BoSox lost, but because of how they lost. The Red Sox front office got gunshy about Grady Little and, not confident about letting him make key decisions again, let him go.

I didn't agree with the decision. I didn't like Little's decisions, but I thought he deserved another chance. (After all, Dusty Baker, viewed as a good manager, has made some horrid post-season decisions, and he's been managing for a while without a firing-induced respite). Yet, I could understand where the Red Sox were coming from -- they had to get someone else. And it looked like Grady Little was on the scrap heap of baseball history, along with the names Merkle, Snodgrass, Durham (Leon) and Buckner, perhaps never to get another chance to redeem himself.

He's getting one now. Credit Dodger GM Ned Colletti for having the guts to make the call. (Question him, if you will, for why somehow one-time Angels, Blue Jays and Phillies' manager Jim Fregosi somehow snuck into a managerial selection pool). Little is getting his second chance, and he deserves it.

Far, far away from Beantown.

It's not like the BoSox replaced Little with the baseball equivalent of Bill Belichick. True, at one point Tony LaRussa might have been interested, but instead of searching far and wide from some math brain to bring their team a championship, they brought in Terry Francona. Francona is a good guy, a players' manager, but no one will accuse him of being a great baseball mind. If there's a crainial continuum for baseball coaches that can be measured in football parlance, it's probably the case that Francona is more toward the Rich Kotite end of the spectrum than the Belichick end.

He did, to his credit, stay calm and keep it relatively simple when the BoSox came from 3 down to overtake the Yankees two years ago in the ALCS. Ironically, his biggest sin wasn't leaving Pedro Martinez in too long -- it was putting him in as a reliever late in the series. Go figure. The BoSox win the World Series and Francona doesn't have to buy a meal in Boston for a while, and Little got banished. It's not as though Francona's being at the helm is akin to Trent Dilfer's winning a Super Bowl at QB for the Ravens about five years ago, but the Red Sox didn't replace Little with someone with great credentials. Francona's previous major-league managerial job left him with a losing record in Philadelphia in the 1990's. He just turned out to be what the Red Sox needed -- a solid baseball man with a reputation for getting along with his players. You didn't need a rocket scientist with all that talent, you just needed someone to rule with a lighter touch. Francona did what it took, and I, for one, was glad to see a nice thing happen to a nice guy, a baseball lifer.

Now it's Grady Little's turn. He's not taking over a team with the talent of the Red Sox or the same commitment to winning. The Dodgers are intent upon turning things around, but hopefully owner Frank McCourt will have more patience with the Colletti/Little regime than he did with the DePodesta/Tracy regime. If he does, some good things can happen for one of baseball's most storied franchises.

And for a manager who deserves one more chance.


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