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Ross Newhan / ON BASEBALL

Those Little Decisions Can Prove Quite Costly

October 28, 2003|Ross Newhan

I don't recall if it was over corned beef and cabbage at Dinty Moore's or VO and water at Toots Shoor's. Both of those New York establishments closed years ago, and some of my memory cells went with them.

I do recall that it was 1961, my first year of covering baseball, and I had the good fortune to be introduced to the city that never sleeps (and, yes, we've tested that label a few times) by former New York Giant infielder and manager Bill Rigney, who was in his first year of managing the expansion Angels and who also would patiently introduce his rookie baseball scribe to the nuances of the game.

On this night, Rigney was discussing managerial behavior and saying there were three things a manager should never do.

One, he should never fall in love with his players to the extent that it affects his judgment.

Second, he should never ask a player to do something he isn't capable of doing.

Third, he should never abdicate his decision-making responsibility by leaving it up to the player or allow himself to be talked out of a decision by the player.

Other managers in other places -- Walter Alston, Gene Mauch, Dick Williams and John McNamara among them -- would echo Rigney's tenets, and all of that has been with me since Grady Little, the Boston Red Sox manager, vacated his responsibility in the eighth inning of Game 7 of the American League championship series.

Five outs from an AL pennant, a berth in the World Series and a possible exorcism of the Bambino's curse, Little went to the mound and allowed an obviously weakening Pedro Martinez to talk him into remaining in the game, although Little was prepared to take him out.

He had left-hander Alan Embree up and ready in the bullpen in anticipation of the left-handed hitting Hideki Matsui coming to the plate.

Instead, Embree could only watch as Matsui and Jorge Posada doubled off Martinez, tying the score in a game the Red Sox ace had once led, 4-0, and setting the stage for a stunning 6-5 victory by the New York Yankees in 11 innings.

On Monday, the Red Sox made an anticipated move, firing Little.

Club President Larry Lucchino tried to say that it didn't stem from a single decision in a single game but rather "months of thought about the club's long-term direction."

Well, even if the Red Sox had been giving it months of thought, that single decision in a single game left them with no choice but to remove Little, whose 16 years of managing in the minors apparently failed to prepare him for the caldron of Yankee Stadium in October and the assuredness to shoulder the responsibility of his job.

It's too bad in many ways because Little could otherwise take pride in having led the often dysfunctional Red Sox to 93 and 95 wins in his two years while coping with shortages in the rotation and bullpen.

In addition, the Red Sox have created an environment in which Martinez -- basically a six-inning pitcher now who expects to be paid like a 23-year-old Josh Beckett stud -- is coddled. What Martinez wants is what he gets.

Little may not have been totally responsible for that environment, but it was certainly at play in the eighth inning of Game 7, and when it played out the way it did, the Red Sox could not risk returning Little to a rebellious Red Sox Nation ready to storm the Green Monster with his first controversial decision of 2004.

Nomar Garciaparra, Derek Lowe, Jason Varitek, Trot Nixon and Martinez are eligible for free agency after that season, meaning 2004 may represent something of a must-win situation and probably not the right one for a manager who left the most important decision of 2003 to his ace pitcher and who wasn't Boston's first choice anyway.

That would have been Felipe Alou, who was concerned about Boston's uncertain ownership at the time.

Also, the Red Sox were interested in Dodger coach Glenn Hoffman, but Hoffman chose not to interview.

However, the Red Sox will again ask the Dodgers for permission to talk with Hoffman, a New England source said, and will also seek permission from the Angels to interview pitching coach Bud Black, who previously has shown no desire to leave his San Diego-area home.

As opposed to the old school instincts of Little, both Hoffman and Black might fit Boston's desire for a more cutting-edge manager willing to use statistics generated by Bill James, the Red Sox's stats guru. Then again, their early list includes old-schoolers of the Jim Fregosi and Charlie Manuel mold.

The Red Sox would be recycling Fregosi and Manuel, but weren't the World Series champion Florida Marlins recycling Jack McKeon?

Seldom has a postseason produced more exciting and extraordinary games -- or been tougher on managers.

Beckett made McKeon look good by dominating the Yankees on three days' rest in Game 6 of the World Series, but several McKeon peers will be spending a cold and empty winter.

While Little's blunder was the biggest, others came close, the most notable being:

* Joe Torre's use of the tarnished and rusty Jeff Weaver when there were other options for the Yankee manager in the Game 4 World Series loss to the Marlins.

* Ken Macha's use of Adam Melhuse -- Adam Melhuse? -- to pinch hit for Jermaine Dye during a ninth-inning threat by the Oakland A's in a Game 5 loss to the Red Sox in the American League division series;

* Dusty Baker's failure to have his bullpen ready behind Mark Prior in the eighth inning of the Chicago Cubs' loss to the Marlins in Game 6 of the National League championship series and his fatal patience with a struggling Kerry Wood in Game 7.

While a reflective Torre considers whether he wants to spend another season in George Steinbrenner's asylum, only Little has paid with his job.

Unfortunately, it had to be.

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