Search for the new man could take a while
Grady Little's replacement is not just waiting in the wings to be unveiled by Red Sox management as soon as the furor over Little's departure ends. It is likely to be weeks, if not months, before the Sox decide they have found the right man, one they hope will combine Little's human touch with an NFL coach's mentality when it comes to game preparation. The Sox no longer want to discover, to their dismay, that the manager, according to a team source, failed to hold a hitters' meeting before the Oakland playoff series, wasting countless hours of traditional scouting work and sophisticated video and statistical analysis that was done ostensibly to give the Sox an edge.
Ideally, the Sox hope that search culminates in the unearthing of a Mike Scioscia, a young, progressive manager who took the Angels to a World Series title in 2002 and was a special blend of great clubhouse presence and sharp, well-organized thinking. On their short list are three people who might fit that mold: Bud Black, the Angels' pitching coach; Glenn Hoffman, the Dodgers' third base coach; and Terry Francona, the Athletics' bench coach, according to another team source.
Francona, who managed the Phillies for four seasons, is scheduled to interview with the Orioles today and already has been interviewed by the White Sox. He managed Nomar Garciaparra in the Arizona Fall League and got acquainted with Manny Ramirez while managing in the Dominican Republic. "I'm hesitant to say anything," Francona said yesterday, "until, and if, the Red Sox ask for permission from the A's."
Black just signed an extension with the Angels but last night told the Los Angeles Times he'd be open to listening to the Sox. Hoffman did not return phone messages yesterday, but he received a strong endorsement from one Sox official who will have at least some input in the search. Hoffman, the former Sox shortstop, turned down a chance to interview for the job before Little was hired because the Sox' GM situation was unsettled, "but he's one of these guys who's great at blending personalities," the Sox official said, "plus he has a lot of experience in the game."
But that's just a jumping-off point. The Sox, who as of last night had not contacted or asked permission to interview any candidate, plan to go beyond the traditional, just-show-up-in-a-coat-and-tie-and-answer-our-questions evaluation process. They will want hard answers, using specific situations, perhaps even using video, on how a manager handles the game within the game. No more guesswork on whether the manager will know that he should bring in Alan Embree to face Jim Thome, not only because the stats are weighted in Embree's favor (0 for 7, 5 whiffs) but because Embree's strengths are best suited to exploit the weaknesses in Thome's swing.
It was not Little's managerial style to meticulously anticipate every game situation that might arise, and, armed with the best possible information -- some statistics-oriented, some not -- react to those situations in a manner that would satisfy an owner as mathematical in his world view as a John W. Henry. That is why the Sox are not being dishonest in their insistence that Little was not being cashiered because of what happened in Game 7 of the ALCS. They had reservations that extended back to his first season on the job, which is why they did not exercise his contract option this spring, according to one of the team sources.
But Little's way, especially the way he brought the clubhouse together, worked well enough for the Sox to win 93 and 95 games. If the Sox had advanced to the World Series, Henry still might have resisted giving him a long-term deal, but those debating in favor of retaining Little because of his obvious strengths would have had firmer ground upon which to stand.
The net the Sox will cast in search of a new man will be wide enough to include Jim Fregosi, who almost certainly will be interviewed, and perhaps even 71-year-old Whitey Herzog, who might have special appeal to Henry because of Henry's love for the Cardinals, which goes back to his childhood. It's not inconceivable, one of the team sources said, that the Sox would look at Herzog as a short-term solution, a la 72-year-old Jack McKeon, manager of the Florida Marlins, and hire his eventual successor as bench coach.
At this stage, they're not ruling out anything -- other than Little.
"Trader Jack made my [expletive] name famous again," Herzog said yesterday with a laugh. "I'm younger than he is."
Herzog twice has been approached to manage the Red Sox and turned down the job both times. The last time was in 1996, before Jimy Williams was hired, when Dan Duquette wouldn't give him enough say in choosing his coaching staff. More recently, he was offered the job as bench coach under Joe Kerrigan, who was replaced by Little in spring training 2002.
"I turned that down because I knew it wasn't going to work," Herzog said. "Hell, maybe I should have taken it, I'd have been manager by the end of spring training."
Herzog said he's spent the last 10 years "doing a lot of fishing," but in the right situation he'd love to come back.
"I've got a new heart, there's no heart damage, I'm lifting weights and using the treadmill three times a week," Herzog said. "I tell my surgeon, I'm not worried about my heart, how about the other [expletive] parts? Tell me my liver and kidneys are OK, then I'll be happy.
"You got a good club there. I thought you had a better team there than the Yankees. In fairness to the manager, it boils down to the same thing: He made the decision, if he'd gotten the Japanese guy [Hideki Matsui], he'd have been fine. But they'd already hit two bullets that inning.
"Hey, it comes down to what Casey [Stengel] told me when I was still in player development for the Mets, and had never managed. Casey was getting old, but for some reason he thought I'd manage one day. He told me, `Just remember one thing: Unless you die on the job or own the team, you're going to get fired.' "
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