boston.com Sports your connection to The Boston Globe
MICHAEL HOLLEY

Critics yanking him too quickly

Let me guess. Most people you've talked to want Grady Little to just get up and go away.

They don't want to hear any more of his stories about Faith Hill and Shania Twain. They don't want to hear him refer to himself in the third person. And, without a doubt, they don't want him walking to or from a Fenway mound ever again. For the majority of Red Sox fans, the best thing Grady could do for them is put on pinstripes and go work for George Steinbrenner. At least that way the Sox would be better off than the Yankees.

This is all understandable, given the events of Game 7. The totality of the game still hammers away at the soul, and the start of the World Series last night -- in New York -- doesn't make it better. We all hear the howls for Grady to be banished, as if he were a czar at the end of a rotten regime. What we don't hear enough is this:

Wait a minute.

There is no question the manager made two poor, game-changing pitching decisions at the end of Game 7. He should have taken out Pedro Martinez, either after the seventh inning or after Derek Jeter's one-out double in the eighth. Just as damaging as the Pedro decision was his puzzling bypass of Scott Williamson in the 10th and 11th innings. If he had gone with Williamson to begin the 11th, he would have had several matchups in his favor.

Mariano Rivera hadn't pitched three innings in seven years, so the 11th was going to be his last. Joe Torre would have then been forced to choose among Gabe White, Jeff Weaver, Jose Contreras, and a tired Andy Pettitte. Williamson would have been available to pitch at least two innings. In one of those innings, the killer 11th, he would have been able to face the previously slumping Aaron Boone.

The woulds and coulds might take us to 2004.

The fact is that the strengths and weaknesses of the manager should not be surprising to anyone, especially his bosses. He does not have a natural feel for pitching staffs, a weakness made a lot worse on a team without a closer. He also is inclined to go with his gut when making decisions, which is not a good idea when you work for a management team raised on sabermetrics. You're not going to see Grady in the dugout poring over charts and coming to the on-the-spot conclusion, for example, that if he gets a chance to pit Alan Embree vs. Enrique Wilson late in a game, he has to go with it. Embree would turn the switch-hitting Wilson into a righty, and Wilson has almost no chance against Embree from that side of the plate.

That's not Grady. You're either his guy or you're not, and he doesn't apologize for not backing up his assertions with stats. As for his strengths -- and, yes, he does have a few of them -- he has a lot of Dusty Baker in him. He has a knack for stripping away all the things he doesn't have in common with his players and connecting with them on the one or two things they do share. This is huge in baseball, which is why you hear management types rave about players who "want to play" for the skipper.

There are many reasons the Sox should pause before placing Grady on the outbound Greyhound and that's one of them. Do they have a replacement in mind who can bring what Grady lacks on the bench while also matching what he does in the clubhouse? That question can't be answered today or tomorrow. It can only be answered with something that very few people want to give right now.

Time.

If a change is going to be made, everyone needs to be convinced ("fairly certain" is not good enough) that the new manager can handle what has the potential to be a flammable '04 clubhouse.

Martinez and Nomar Garciaparra will be in their contract years. Jason Varitek and Derek Lowe also will be nearing the end of their deals. This will be mentioned, from February until October. We know the manager-for-the-moment can remain calm while dealing with brushfire controversies and criticisms that inevitably come when you work here. How will The New Guy respond when he hears Manny Ramirez say he doesn't want to play in Boston? Or when he flicks on his radio in mid-May and hears his own name being swatted across the airwaves?

The truth is that some men in baseball, whether players or managers, can handle the pressure and angst of Boston. Most cannot.

It is dangerous and foolish to make a decision because of one game and two nearly unforgivable mistakes, so Sox management must be sure of why they're moving on. They have to articulate their position clearly. Imagine the confusion of a potential candidate:

"So, the guy you're asking me to replace won 95 games -- without a closer -- and took the team to Game 7 of the American League Championship Series. He lost in 11 innings. If I don't do that, minimum, I'm a failure?"

This is not the season for reactionaries. As bad as you think Grady is -- and his approval ratings outside of his household are negligible -- an emotional decision could make the situation worse.

If it were up to me, I'd first try to craft a compromise before firing him. The first thing he would have to do is say goodbye to his bench coach, Jerry Narron (a move that is likely to happen, anyway). He'd also have to agree to empower the pitching coach, essentially making that man the manager of the pitching staff. In the compromise, Grady would sort of play the role of a football coach. He'd be a supervisor with coordinators overseeing segments of the team. In this case, the "coordinators" would help mask his weaknesses, freeing him to improve on his strengths.

No matter where John W. Henry, Larry Lucchino, and Theo Epstein go from here, we're about to find out how the hierarchy works on Yawkey Way. Lucchino hired Grady, but does his general manager have the power to fire him? If not, why not? And which man among the three has the final decision on Grady's future? (All of the above, by the way, is not an acceptable answer.)

These are delicate days for baseball in New England. There's nothing wrong with taking a long, long walk before making a decision. We're not just talking about the short-term future of a manager. We're talking about the future of a franchise.

SEARCH GLOBE ARCHIVES
 
Globe Archives Today (free)
Yesterday (free)
Past 30 days
Last 12 months