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Managerial move by Little

He's decided to leave last season in past

NEW YORK -- Grady Little was changing the oil in his new Kawasaki motorcycle around the time Tony Clark's grounder made its way through David Ortiz's glove at first base Wednesday night at Yankee Stadium. Back home in Pinehurst, N.C., fresh off a scouting trip through the Cubs' minor league system -- Little is a special assistant to Chicago general manager Jim Hendry -- the former Red Sox skipper could only feel empathy for Terry Francona.

"Terry Francona is a good friend of mine and I feel bad that I've never talked to him since he took the job," Little said. "I think Terry knew going in that it was a tough job and that you have to make it to the World Series. I know he was in Philadelphia and that's certainly a tough place. I'd say Philly and New York are in the same category, and then Boston is in a category by itself."

Little claims he's almost completely detached from his life as Sox manager and is busy with his new duties. He refused to speculate on future managerial opportunities.

Though Red Sox Nation might hold Little in contempt for his decision to keep Pedro Martinez in after an eighth-inning visit to the mound in Game 7 of the American League Championship Series, the rest of baseball has been more forgiving.

"We'll see how things turn out," Little said. "I'm not really at liberty to comment on any of that stuff about my future. I'd like to manage again. The time away from it has probably been good for me. I've had a good situation with Chicago. I've been able to make my own schedule and go around the farm system and do some major league scouting, and I've just been able to see the game from a different view. Basically, I'm watching it from the stands rather than from the dugout. It's just completely different. I think when I do go back, this experience will help."

Little wasn't surprised to hear about the growing grumblings about Francona, given the rabid Red Sox fan base. Little said he doesn't wish that on anyone. Though it would be human to take some satisfaction that the team performed better under him than it has under Francona, Little said the circumstances are much different for Francona.

After all, Francona has come into a no-win situation. Management brought him in to take this team to the next level, meaning the World Series. Another tough situation Francona has to deal with is the impending free agency of the big four -- Martinez, Jason Varitek, Derek Lowe, and Nomar Garciaparra. He also hasn't had a full complement of players. Garciaparra (Achilles') and Trot Nixon (back, quadriceps) have only recently returned.

Little managed a record-setting offense. The team's bullpen-by-committee mistake nearly ended Boston's season before it began.

Little knows fans won't let up if Francona doesn't right the ship. He knows it from the nasty feedback he's received and continues to receive from Red Sox fans.

"I pray for those people," Little said. "It was a decision I made and I have to live with it, and I have. I've moved on. It didn't work out, but at the time I felt it was the right thing to do. You can't take it back. I can't change it, but you just move on and do the best you can in the next thing you do with your life."

Little said he's watched only parts of a few Sox games. He's aware of the team's recent failures through things people tell him and the media.

"It's a long season," Little said. "They're going through their down time right now, but that's a talented roster. Those guys will turn it around. There are some very good players on that team. They can hit. Sometimes you just go through slumps, whether it be offensive or defensively, but that's not going to last forever. When you have that kind of talent, the cream rises to the top eventually.

"We all know what guys like Nomar and Trot can do. They were hurt at the start but they need some time to get back into the flow of things. You're telling me Nomar isn't going to be a positive factor before it's over up there? Come on. He's a great player," Little said.

Little was a candidate for one managerial job -- the Orioles -- after he was fired. He was a finalist for the job that went to Yankees first base coach Lee Mazzilli. At the time, Little thought he had an excellent shot at the job but GMs Jim Beattie and Mike Flanagan felt Mazzilli was best suited for the type of team they were building.

Little, an old-school manager not overly enamored with the statistical nuances of the Sox organization (though he used them at management's urging), is gaining popularity because of his style. One of his best friends is Jack McKeon, who has won a championship with the Marlins and has Florida in position to make the postseason once again.

Little will not speak ill of Theo Epstein, the young GM whom he respected and felt he was supported by throughout his tenure.

"Once I left, I let it all go," Little said. "I thought we did some good things there. I thought I got the most out of my players. They were productive. We had some brushfires to put out and we did it quietly, without a lot of things getting out in public and in the media. I thought we handled things the way you should."

He said while he still respects many of his former players, he hasn't kept up with them as much as he feels he should.

"It's a tough thing," he said. "I'm not there anymore and all of us move on to other things. I think I helped some of the players and I know they appreciated what I did. I'm sure they respect and like playing for Terry. Why wouldn't you? He's a good man. I wish him the very best."

Any advice for Francona?

"I do, but I'd rather say it to his face than say it in the media," Little said. "There are a lot of things I could say to him and one of these days I will. I think he's finding some things out for himself anyway. I think some of the things I'd tell him are probably obvious to him now anyway."

As for the disgruntled Red Sox fans, Little said, "I wish they could all have one big meeting up there. The fans, the media, the players, the coaches, and manager, and front office, and just take a vote or try to decide what it is that would make all of them happy."

Right now Little is content with his job and he lets any frustration go on the backroads of North Carolina on his new Kawasaki, waiting for one more chance to let the good times roll.

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