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After long auditions, Little gets Sox helm

FORT MYERS, Fla. -- Grady Little, named yesterday as the 43d manager of the Boston Red Sox, was discovered by Hollywood long before he ever made it to the big leagues.

The 52-year-old native of Abilene, Texas, was managing the real-life Durham (N.C.) Bulls, the minor league team that inspired the 1988 hit movie "Bull Durham," and was enlisted by director Ron Shelton to show actors how to play the game.

"They called me a baseball trainer in the credits," Little said. "I tried to teach Tim Robbins how to wind up and simulate throwing hard, and gave pointers to Kevin Costner. I was in one scene, but they cut it out of the movie."

But shortly before noon yesterday in City of Palms Park, Little took a star turn on the biggest stage of his life. After 16 years of managing in the minor leagues, a half-dozen years serving as an understudy to other managers including ex-Sox skipper Jimy Williams, and a brief stab at cotton farming, the North Carolina-raised Little was unveiled as the man who will guide the Sox in the 2002 season.

"What I see beneath the charm and the NASCAR exterior is a real quiet confidence and honesty and respect," said Sox CEO Larry Lucchino, who elicited a roar that could be heard outside a closed Sox clubhouse when he and interim general manager Mike Port introduced Little to the team.

The silver-haired Little, who was informed of his hiring in a phone call from Lucchino and Port between 11 and midnight Sunday and instructed not to tell anyone - not even his wife, Debi - until the next morning, said this was better than anything that could have been put on the silver screen.

"It's just a dream I've always had," he said. "When people dream, they don't know if things will come to reality. Some people dream of hitting the lottery or getting a new car or a new house, but they don't know if it will become a reality. That's the way I felt about being manager of a big league team."

His first words of advice to the media: "If I ever get to talking too fast for any of you guys, just let me know and I'll slow it down."

Little, who said he enjoyed showing off his drawl in the North End when he lived in Boston, was chosen over two other candidates interviewed by the club, former Montreal Expos manager Felipe Alou and Mike Cubbage, the team's third-base coach who had been interim manager since Joe Kerrigan was fired last Tuesday.

"It was an easy choice to take Felipe Alou," Little said, alluding to Alou's much more impressive big league resume. "That's a gutsy move these owners have made, and I'm going to do everything in my power to make it look like they made the right move."

In hiring Little, who was to begin his third season as the Cleveland Indians' bench coach after serving under Williams for the Red Sox in the same capacity for three years (1997-99), the Sox chose a man who won more than 1,000 games managing in the minors and four times was named Minor League Manager of the Year. In 1992, Little managed Greenville (S.C.) of the Double A Southern League, an affiliate of the Atlanta Braves, to a record of 100-43 - the first minor league team since 1960 to win 100 games.

This winter, Baseball America, the trade publication, named Little the best minor league manager of the last 20 years.

John Hart, the Texas Rangers general manager, called Little a "fabulous hire" for the Sox. Hart and Little roomed together at St. Thomas University in Miami when both were apprentice managers in the Orioles' system back in 1984.

"I think he's a great hire for this franchise," said Hart, who as Indians GM hired Little when former Boston GM Dan Duquette would not give Little a two-year contract. "With all the controversy that swirled around here, you've now got a calming and straight-shooting guy who's not going to try to reinvent the wheel.

"He knows the game, he knows the league, he knows a lot of the players who are here. All the players are going to respect him, and he's going to be accessible to the media."

In addition to rejoining Nomar Garciaparra, Jason Varitek, Brian Daubach, and Trot Nixon, all of whom were here during Little's first tour of duty with the Sox, Little also has a previous relationship with star slugger Manny Ramirez, forged when both were with Cleveland during the 2000 season. Ramirez was not happy last season, his first in Boston after signing an eight-year, $160 million contract, and there were several incidents that indicated he had problems with Kerrigan.

That should not be the case with Little, Hart said.

"Grady has a great relationship with Manny," Hart said. "Manny was never a problem in Cleveland. He's a great kid. Manny needs a comfortable environment where he can just go and be Manny. Grady knows that; we've talked about it a thousand times, so obviously Grady was very aware of Manny's situation."

Yet, for all the praise lavished on Little yesterday, he had been passed over numerous times for promotion by other clubs. He interviewed for managing jobs in Milwaukee, Tampa Bay, and Baltimore (twice) without being hired. A matter of timing, he has said.

But it was clear in the Sox' process that he had been targeted early as a candidate by Lucchino, who knew Little from their days together in San Diego, when Lucchino was CEO and Little was bullpen coach under Bruce Bochy with a Padres team that won the National League West title in 1996.

Lucchino told friends that while attending church Sunday, he was reminded of his days with the NFL's Washington Redskins, when the team chose a veteran coach, Jack Pardee, over an unheralded candidate. A year and a half later, recognizing their mistake, the Redskins hired Joe Gibbs, who took the team to the Super Bowl.

Lucchino said yesterday that the Redskins situation was not an exact parallel, but he had no qualms about choosing Little over the more experienced Alou, who had interviewed Saturday.

"Felipe would have been more than a safe choice - he would have been an excellent choice," Lucchino said. "We made a decision that Grady Little was the man. It was almost like promoting from within. There's something about someone who knows your system, who knows your people, who knows your personality, who knows your city, who knows your league.

"I have enormous respect for career baseball people who've worked at every level. I admire his track record, I admire his temperament and his disposition. I respect his honesty and forthrightness."

Little played six seasons as a minor league catcher (lifetime batting average: .207) after being drafted out of Garinger High School in Charlotte, N.C., in 1968. He and his wife make their offseason home in Pinehurst, N.C., where he lives on the No. 6 course at Pinehurst Country Club, which has hosted the US Open. He plays golf five or six times a week when he is home.

His handicap?

"It varies," he said. "It could be 10, or it could be 20, that's just the way I play.

"Larry was getting on me for not having a cellphone. I said, `Larry, the last cellphone I had is in a lake at Pinehurst golf course.' I missed a putt and I went back and tossed it as far as I could."

Little's first season as a player was cut short by six months of boot camp in Parris Island, S.C., when he enlisted in the Marine Reserves during the Vietnam War. For the next six years, he spent two weeks each summer in the reserves.

"I'd like to use that as an excuse - you know what I mean? - for why I couldn't play," Little said. "but I can't."

After three years as a player-coach, Little got his first full-time coaching job in 1974 with West Haven (Conn.) of the Eastern League, a Yankees affiliate. He left baseball the following year and returned to Texas, where he grew cotton on a 330-acre spread with a single tractor. Not because he grew up a farmer, he said, but because he'd done a little research and discovered that it wouldn't be hard to get someone to put up seed money for him to get started.

But making money? That was another story, even though he eventually cultivated 600 acres of his own, not to mention farming the land of several older farmers.

"There are too many things that are out of your control in farming," he said. "Bugs. One little tornado. When the bloom is coming out, that's a crucial time, and if there's a heavy wind like you have in Texas all the time, and it blows the bloom to the ground, it's not going to make you a boll of cotton."

The price of cotton today, he said, is less than it was when he was farming 25 years ago, which is as good an explanation as any for why he returned to baseball. The Orioles hired him next, he joined the Braves system in 1986, and after a decade in the minors, Bochy made him his bullpen coach in 1996. A year later, Duquette hired him for Williams's staff in Boston.

"When I come to this ball club as a manager," Little said, "I'll bring a little bit of Jimy Williams with me and I'll bring a little bit of Bobby Cox and I'll bring a little bit of Charlie Manuel and a little bit of Bruce Bochy and I'm going to bring a whole lot of Grady Little."

Asked whether the fans of Boston would give him a honeymoon period as manager, he said, "I don't want one.

"What I remember about those fans in Boston, they're going to be mostly concerned if we win a game or lose a game. I'm all about winning, and if they give us a chance to come in there and show them what we can do before they start voicing a bunch of opinions, they might like it if we're winning. They might not like me too much if we're losing.

"I like that. They feel the same as I do, because losing is not an option here."

After his team beat Oakland and advanced to the ALCS, Grady Little had his locks snipped. After his team beat Oakland and advanced to the ALCS, Grady Little had his locks snipped. (Globe Staff Photo / Stan Grossfeld)
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coverage of grady's hiring
Grady Little's failure to remove Pedro Martinez when the ace was tiring in the 8th inning of the ALCS Game 7 was hardly the first time the manager made a head-scratching move this season. Is it time for him to go?

Yes. He catered to the team’s superstars once too often by letting Pedro decide whether he would stay in the game.
No. He set a positive attitude for the team, knew how to handle the fragile egos, and got the most he could out of the players. He deserves to stay.
Total votes: 35,595
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