Sunday, December 07, 2003  
 Clubs TonightHot TixBand GuideMP3sBest Music PollSki GuideThe Best '03 
Food & Drink
Editors' Picks
New This Week
News and Features

Food & Drink


Stuff at Night
The Providence Phoenix
The Portland Phoenix
FNX Radio Network

  E-Mail This Article to a Friend

Looking for the best in Grady Little’s worst moment


Should a man’s whole life be judged by the actions of his weakest moment? That question is at the heart of what’s going on in Boston’s baseball world. Sometimes the way that we remember people, or presume to know them, is based on a first impression, or maybe an off-hand comment or behavior. Perhaps we watched someone park illegally in a handicapped space; perhaps we saw how good the person is around children; perhaps we found out that the person cheats at cards. All these revelations can forever inform or taint our impression about someone, and regardless of whether we’re seeing that person on his or her best or worst day, the indelible perception often remains.

Sometimes, of course, a person’s legacy is what happened on his best day — say, Kirk Gibson homering off Dennis Eckersley in the 1988 World Series. But sometimes it’s his worst: the name Bill Buckner comes to mind, not because of his eight .300 seasons, but because of one ground-ball error made 17 years ago.

Red Sox manager Grady Little is facing the same kind of scrutiny. For many, he has joined the pantheon of New England goats. His visage has been placed on a wall alongside those other representatives of Boston sports infamy, a line-up that fairly or unfairly includes Buckner, Calvin Schiraldi, Bob Stanley, Mike Torrez, and John McNamara. All those former Soxers established solid credentials and statistics during their tenure with the Olde Towne Team, but left under a cloud of disgrace because of their failures in a critical moment on baseball’s biggest stage. The woeful history of the Red Sox’ post-season performance is littered with the likes of the above-mentioned characters, and each of whom contributed in his own way to the team’s failure to capture the elusive championship that it has so long coveted.

Little’s contribution to last week’s game-seven defeat in the ALCS to the Yankees is freshest in the minds of the team’s followers, and therefore his transgression is seen as the most damning. It has been a long time since a Red Sox team entered the season with the overwhelming belief that "this was the year," and then proceeded to make every effort to accomplish that goal. But just as the dream seemed so close to coming true, it was supposedly sabotaged, not by one of the players on the field, but by the manager in charge of making the key decisions.

And so it was that Grady Little, who five different times coulda-shoulda lifted tiring ace Pedro Martinez after seven innings in the Bronx, decided to leave the right-hander in, and thereby set the stage for the all-but-dead Yankees to rally for three eighth-inning runs en route to an extra-inning 6-5 triumph and the AL pennant. Pedro could be criticized for fighting to stay in so long, but frankly, that shows heart and mettle, and he can’t be blamed for believing that he had the goods to vanquish the Yankees. His perception was biased. Ultimately, however, it wasn’t Pedro’s decision; it was Little’s.

For Red Sox fans, that was Grady Little’s worst moment, and unfortunately it happened at a most inopportune time.

Little continues to maintain that, given the chance to do it over again, he would have played the same hunch. This does nothing to assuage still-in-mourning Red Sox fans who all too clearly recall yelling at Little through their TVs late last Thursday, "What in the hell are you doing? Take him out!" Little could be defended if this had been his standard procedure throughout his two-year tenure at the helm of New England’s storied franchise, but in reality, it was not. Traditionally, he would not risk Martinez’s fragile right arm despite the Dominican superstar’s oversized heart and pleadings. Traditionally, and certainly lately, he could count on his bullpen crew to come in and put out the fires. And strategically, it made no sense to leave Petey in given the fact that the eighth and ninth hitters in the previous inning had reached on hits, his pitch count was over 100 as the eighth inning unfolded, and — when Little did make the fateful decision to stick with him — three consecutive left-handed batters were coming up. All three of those hitters faced Martinez, and all three of those hitters got hits. When Pedro was mercifully lifted, it was a tie game, and the ultimate ending was all but ordained.

Why did Little do it? Why did he risk not only the game, but also the health of his prized righty for the upcoming World Series? Why did he leave him in after Derek Jeter smoked a double to the deepest part of Yankee Stadium? Why the same behavior after a single stung to center by Bernie Williams? Why no movement when Hideki Matsui laced a ground-rule double down the line? Why in the name of Joe Morgan did Pedro face catcher Jorge Posada, whose bloop to center hearkened back to Morgan’s game-winning Texas leaguer in the ninth inning of game seven of the 1975 Series?

Good questions, all. And that is why a manager — whose first two years leading a major-league team resulted in 188 victories — is now on the hot seat. Last season’s Sox team was a disappointment despite its 92-70 record, but this season, notwithstanding plenty of high-wire acts and memorable collapses, the team accomplished its goal of reaching the playoffs. And despite losing the first two in a best-of-five ALDS with Oakland, Little successfully steered the listing ship to three straight wins and the match-up with the Pinstripers. While some moves throughout the series (and season) could have been questioned, the fact remained that the Red Sox reached game seven, and were on the precipice of advancing to the Fall Classic when Little’s dubious moves took center stage.

Little claims that four MLB managers have contacted him to say that they would have employed the same strategy with Martinez, but the overwhelming majority of writers and fans throughout the country remains unconvinced. Every single fan I have talked to had a similar question during game seven: What in hell are you doing? The disconsolate Red Sox players seem to be halfheartedly coming to Grady’s defense — and why wouldn’t they, given that he’s such a "player’s manager" (translation: "lets them get away with just about anything") — but they must be harboring silent doubts about the man whose tactics derailed their dreams of post-season glory and curse-bursting.

The Red Sox owners will hold back until after the World Series before announcing whether they will pick up the one-year option on Little’s contract, or let him walk. Is it a tough decision? You bet it is.

Most Red Sox fans are still livid over that ALCS loss, and that fury will fuel many a hot-stove discussion in the coming months. It won’t even matter whether the Yanks converted their 27th championship or whether the undermanned Marlins improbably collected their second in seven years. For Sox fans, it hurts because they felt their team was better than either of those combatants, and destiny was denied because of the actions (or inaction) of one man.

There are two main questions for the Sox brass. One revolves around a potential replacement. If you don’t renew Little, then whom do you bring in instead? Unless Joe Torre becomes available via a firing (if he resigns in New York, no way will Steinbrenner let him sign on with any team, much less the Bostonians), there are no obvious candidates. Little’s demeanor did mesh nicely with the collective personality of the Sox clubhouse. Who out there in the unemployment line can match that ability to juggle the combustible egos that personify this team?

The second question is more difficult: can Grady Little face the Boston fans without forever being blamed for his transgressions? Fast-forward to Opening Day at Fenway in 2004, when the manager is being introduced to the faithful during pregame festivities. Will the fandom have forgiven him by then, and will his intro be marked by a let’s-move-on standing ovation?

I think not.

The Sox owners have stated that they won’t let the fans’ perceptions determine Little’s future employment, but in my mind they sure as hell better take it into consideration. Most season-ticket holders will renew their seats without question given the team’s upward arc, but that doesn’t mean their voices shouldn’t be reckoned with. There are a lot of angry people out there in Soxland, and many of them are flat-out demanding that this lasting reminder of Heartbreak Version 9.0 be erased from the 2004 edition. The players can stay — the whole lot of them, in fact, says Red Sox Nation — but the manager must go. According to the fan base, he blew it for his players, and he blew it for the legions of Sox supporters everywhere. They know that Grady’s a nice guy, and maybe a pretty good manager, but he’s got to pay for what he did.

In his worst moment. Judgment day is at hand, and while I believe that the complete story of a man’s life cannot be based on what happened during his lowest point, life isn’t always fair or reasonable.

But in Grady Little’s case, it will dog him until the Sox win it all, and under his leadership that last best shot went up in flames. Little’s tenure will forever be judged by his misjudgment on that cursed night in the Bronx. And for that reason alone, Red Sox fans are not ready to give him another shot at redemption, unfair as that may be.

"Sporting Eye" runs Mondays and Fridays at Christopher Young can be reached at cyoung[a]

Issue Date: October 20, 2003
"Sporting Eye" archives: 2003 |2002
For more News & Features, click here
  E-Mail This Article to a Friend

about the phoenix |  find the phoenix |  advertising info |  privacy policy |  the masthead |  feedback |  work for us

 © 2000 - 2003 Phoenix Media Communications Group