Players' approval loud and clear
FORT MYERS, Fla. --
The new Sox owners barred the media from the clubhouse when they introduced Grady Little to the team as the third Red Sox manager in seven months, not even counting interim skipper Mike Cubbage. But they could have loaded the press corps onto canoes in the nearby Calahoosahatchee River and reporters still might have heard the thunderous ovation that Little received.
That's how popular the former Sox bench coach is with his new crew.
"It's a perfect fit," catcher Jason Varitek said. "It was quite enthusiastic in here. We've been going about our business, working really hard, and staying pretty focused this spring. And to have a person like Grady to come to the helm is nice."
Reporters in the outer chamber of the clubhouse had no problem hearing the roar, though there was a measure of surprise moments later when the door opened and former Sox great Jim Rice emerged.
"It's not me," Rice quipped.
No, the new skipper is not nearly as famous as Rice, who shares the title of special instructor with Ted Williams and Carl Yastrzemski. But Little is respected throughout the clubhouse for his fair, frank, and low-key style. He coached under Jimy Williams for three years, including 1998 and '99, when the Sox went to the playoffs.
"I'm just really happy he's back," said Pedro Martinez, who made a playful gesture to welcome Little that helped trigger the ovation. "He's a funny guy. He communicates well with all of us. He respects all of us. He is real easygoing. We all respect that. He should be a perfect fit for this team."
Little is expected to make at least one coaching change by the end of the week. And he indicated he will waste little time informing each player what role he envisions for him, including veterans such as Tim Wakefield who are eager to know.
Many Sox players were here with Little in the late '90s. And almost to a man, they lauded the new owners for taking a chance on Little, who has yet to manage in the big leagues.
"I think everybody was pleased," Lou Merloni said. "He was a great bench coach for us. And he has a great personality. He always keeps things loose."
Little also worked wth Manny Ramirez with the Indians in 2000. Getting along with the $160 million slugger is a prerequisite for any Sox manager, since Ramirez is starting the second year of an eight-year contract.
Little signed a two-year deal with club options for a third and fourth year.
"Manny is a good kid," Little said. "All he wants to do is play baseball. He likes playing baseball. He likes hitting the baseball. I have a lot of fun with Manny, and I look forward to having him around."
As much as the Sox were pleased by Little's arrival, they were relieved to put behind them the uncertainty over who would lead them.
"It's great to finally have it out of the way," Martinez said.
Varitek concurred: "Now we can look toward somebody getting to know us and we can get to know his style. It will bring a calm to the rest of the staff, from the trainers on down to the minor league staff and the other coaches, because they've had to live with probably the biggest unrest of anybody."
One of the most welcome signs for the new owners may have been Martinez's reaction to Little's hiring. Martinez has made no secret in recent years of his reverence for Felipe Alou, his former manager in Montreal, who lost out to Little for the Sox job.
"There's no better guy," Martinez said of Little. "Grady and Felipe were my favorites. If they chose either one of them, I would be equally happy."
Martinez said he spoke with Alou, who was "fine" with the outcome.
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