Friday, February 17, 2006

This Time, Someone Has Stuck With Little

Chris Livingston for
The New York Times
Courtesy of
the New York Times
By Jack Curry
New York Times
February 16, 2006

VERO BEACH, Fla., Feb. 16 — Grady Little had doubts, nagging doubts, that he would manage a major league team again. Those doubts, he said, drifted in and out of his mind, staying as long as he would let them. Still, it must have felt like trying to control a migraine.

Little was baseball's forgotten manager, tossed into the recycling bin by the Boston Red Sox because he left Pedro Martínez in a game too long. Little was considered the reason Martínez lost a lead to the Yankees and Boston failed to reach the 2003 World Series. Every calamity needs a villain. Little was it.

Now Little is the happy manager of the Los Angeles Dodgers, and the doubts seem to have vanished. He patted Eric Gagne on the back and chatted with Derek Lowe as the Dodgers pitchers and catchers worked out for the first time Thursday. What happened at Yankee Stadium 854 days ago has long been a memory for Little.
Chris Livingston for The New York Times

"I don't think it'll ever be totally forgotten," Little said. "If you spent any time in New England, I think you'd realize that."

On Oct. 16, 2003, Little made a questionable pitching decision, the Red Sox gagged and, 11 days later, Little lost his job. It did not matter that he had won 188 regular-season games in his two years as their manager or that he had relied on someone who, although fatigued, had been Boston's dominant pitcher.

All that mattered was the ugly result. After the Yankees rallied against Martínez, after the Red Sox were part of another horrific ending to extend their drought without a title to 86 years, a legion of fans needed someone to blame. It was not Martínez, who repeated Thursday that he would not have left the game on his own. It was the guy who had too much faith in him.

"Pedro is one of the players in that clubhouse who realized I made about two million decisions in that two-year period I was there," Little said. "That one, like every other decision I made, I've got to wait for the results to see if it was a good or bad decision."

That snippet of sarcasm is as close as Little, 55, gets to sounding bitter about becoming Boston's speed bag. Usually, he is dispensing one-liners. When asked why he chose No. 9, Little said, "It's a number I wanted to wear in Boston, but they wouldn't let me wear it for some reason."

Boston's No. 9 belonged, of course, to Ted Williams, and is retired.

It is spring training, so there is optimism all around the recently dysfunctional Dodgers. Ned Colletti, the new general manager, selected Little to manage a revamped roster that included the free-agent acquisitions Rafael Furcal, Bill Mueller, Nomar Garciaparra and Kenny Lofton. Brett Tomko and Jae Seo are new to the rotation, and Danys Baez was added to the bullpen.

Little, a consultant and assistant for the Chicago Cubs the previous two years, said that he appreciated how the Dodgers were "above judging a person on the results of one decision in one game." Was that a jab at the Red Sox? Maybe. Little does not say he was dismissed for leaving Martínez in. Or does he?

"That wasn't the reason," Little said. "I don't know. You've got to ask somebody else that question. I know in my heart probably what the real reason was. But I can't turn back the clock."
If he could, he would go back to when the Red Sox had a 5-2 lead after seven innings in Game 7 of the American League Championship Series. "He was damned if he did and damned if he didn't as far as what he was going to do with Pedro," said Lowe, who was with Boston then. "If you sat here today and said you had a three-run lead going into the eighth with a chance to go to the World Series, would you want Pedro back out there? Of course."

After a one-out hit sliced the lead to 5-3 in the eighth, Little asked Martínez if he had "any bullets" remaining. Martínez said he did. Martínez's effectiveness was known to drop off after 100 pitches, but Little stayed with him. The Yankees rapped four consecutive hits against Martínez to tie the score, and won, 6-5, on Aaron Boone's home run against Tim Wakefield in the 11th inning.

"I love Grady," Martínez, now a Met, said Thursday in Port St. Lucie, Fla. "I thought what happened to him was unfair. But that ownership group wanted him out of there."

Lowe said he was surprised by how much abuse Little received and hinted that Little's options in the game were limited.

"Without getting too in depth," Lowe said, "there were guys that probably didn't want to go out there and pitch the eighth."

Martínez said: "I was tired. They knew I was tired. But Grady didn't have the faith in the bullpen that he wanted to have."

The decision will be a significant part of Little's legacy. He is clearly tired of discussing it, but seems to realize it will never fade away, despite the Red Sox winning it all in 2004 with Terry Francona as the manager.

Little remembered how some Bostonians would grouse that Johnny Pesky's delayed throw helped allow the Cardinals' Enos Slaughter to score the decisive run in Game 7 of the 1946 World Series. If Pesky would not have hesitated, the fans would say, the Red Sox could have been champions.

"A lot of the people talking about that play weren't even alive in 1946," Little said. "Who am I to think what happened in one game in 2003 is going to be forgotten? I don't think it's going to happen."

Courtesy of the New York Times

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