Wednesday, October 22, 2003

Should Grady Stay or Should He Go?

By now we've all heard the What If's. What if the Sox lost Game 7 in a blowout and Pedro never made it out of the 3rd Inning? What if Grady had gone to Embree early in the 8th Inning and he got lit up? What if Pedro had gotten out of trouble, but then Williamson lost it in the 9th? Boston still would have lost, but would Grady Little be on the firing block? And the answer to each of these is of course, no. He wouldn't. But guess what - none of those things happened. Grady DID make a bad decision, and it had dire consequences. The Red Sox lost the ALCS because of a tragically dumb mistake by their manager, and the fans are never going to forget it. But the question is, is that a firing crime?

The debate here really is not whether Grady is a capable manager. He clearly has a great fix on a tricky Red Sox clubhouse and seems to handle, in relaxed, Torre-like fashion, a media-crazed baseball city with humor and patience. His in-game managing can be suspect at times, but I'd love to see a list of those whose isn't. Joe Torre started Enrique Wilson at third base twice because of his success against Pedro in a monumental 20 AB's (Hey, that's a full 1/32nd of a season!) and Wilson made a couple of huge errors. The Yankees won the series and beat Pedro twice, so Torre didn't hear about it. But come on folks, Enrique Wilson? In the playoffs? Managers are faced with tons of decisions from game to game, and they make odd choices on at least a handful of them. When a move doesn't pan out, they're throttled, and when it does, they're praised. Baseball is not an exact science, and if it were Richard Feynman would be make a great skipper some day (wait, I think he's dead). Problem is, Grady made his gaffe in the biggest game his team has played in over 15 years. Not good. So not good that he's bought himself a subscription to the death-threat-of-the-month club. But let's be fair, it was one decision. No one who won 95 games without a bullpen and guided his team back from 0-2 and 2-3 in consecutive series should get a pink slip because of one decision. Right? Hello?

Well normally, yes. Normally, Grady could bear down for the winter, avoid opening any powdery envelopes, and get ready for bats and balls in the spring. After some hot stove talk and a pitching acquisition or two, a normal city would accept the past and move on. But Boston is not a normal city. We don't, you know, forget. Bill Buckner had to move to Idaho for crying out loud. Could you imagine performing so badly at your job that you had sell your house, take your kids out of school, and move half way across the country? Ahhh, horribly emasculating. And how does that conversation go?

Husband: Honey, how 'bout we move to the Midwest?!
Wife: Why would we possibly want to do that?
Husband: Uh, better real estate value?
Wife: What?
Husband: Better schools, you know, for the kids.
Wife: This is because of that ground ball, isn't it?
Husband: What?, it's just...I thought...
Wife: I don't know why you couldn't have just fielded the damn thing.
Husband: No but, sometimes...the crowd, and funny hop, I.....
Wife: Are you crying?
Husband: No (sob)... it's just. Oh God.

Aaaand scene. This is what Boston fans can do to you, and Grady will get it just as bad. Little will forever have a red T on his chest (Too Stupid To Pull Pedro From the Friggin' Game) in Boston, and that can make a man's job rather difficult. What happens if Grady blows a couple of games early in the season next year? The fans will be merciless. What if, God forbid, he goes to the mound, leaves a starter in the game, and the pitcher gets hit hard? He'll get destroyed. In short, how can Grady be expected to confidently call the shots in such a situation? I'm not sure it's possible. Even if he is a pretty skilled leader (which I think he is), how do you manage when an entire city seriously questions your ability to remove your head from your warm and comforting rear end? Unfortunately, I don't think he can.

The biggest worry in all this though is the clubhouse. Does Little really have the team behind him? They've all come out in support for him in the newspapers, that's true. But let's be realistic. If every strung-out, dangerously inebriated Red Sox fan knew Grady was making the wrong move on Thursday night, you don't think his players did too? You're suggesting that Mike Timlin was thinking, "Hey, wise move Professor"? Puh-lease. They knew he was bone-heading it up, and they knew it would be costly. The players love Grady because he's a swell guy and he treats them well, but there is no way they have confidence in him. They now think in the back of their minds that when the chips are down, their boss just might screw up. And that is really no way for a team to be. As unfair and unfavorable as it is, I think the Red Sox might just have to kiss this pretty good Manager good bye. And hey, maybe Billy Buck can recommend a nice place in the Boise area.