It should come as no surprise to anyone that the management of the Boston Red Sox have decided not to bring Grady Little back to manage the team in 2004. Little took a beating in the Boston Press after the Red Sox lost Game 7 of the ALCS and he knew last week that it was all but over for him in New England. There was a shrill cry for his head in Red Sox Nation too.
Is this the right move? Has management under-appreciated Little’s contributions? Regardless of whether or not you hold Little accountable for Boston’s Game 7 loss, he had two terrific seasons in Beantown. The 2003 team showed the kind of resolve and determination that kept Yankee fans up at night all season long. But as Gordon Edes notes in The Boston Globe, Game 7 isn’t the only reason Little won’t return:
The Sox no longer want to discover, to their dismay, that the manager, according to a team source, failed to hold a hitters’ meeting before the Oakland playoff series, wasting countless hours of traditional scouting work and sophisticated video and statistical analysis that was done ostensibly to give the Sox an edge.
…The Sox, who as of last night had not contacted or asked permission to interview any candidate, plan to go beyond the traditional, just-show-up-in-a-coat-and-tie-and-answer-our-questions evaluation process. They will want hard answers, using specific situations, perhaps even using video, on how a manager handles the game within the game. No more guesswork on whether the manager will know that he should bring in Alan Embree to face Jim Thome, not only because the stats are weighted in Embree’s favor (0 for 7, 5 whiffs) but because Embree’s strengths are best suited to exploit the weaknesses in Thome’s swing.
It was not Little’s managerial style to meticulously anticipate every game situation that might arise, and, armed with the best possible information — some statistics-oriented, some not — react to those situations in a manner that would satisfy an owner as mathematical in his world view as a John W. Henry. That is why the Sox are not being dishonest in their insistence that Little was not being cashiered because of what happened in Game 7 of the ALCS. They had reservations that extended back to his first season on the job, which is why they did not exercise his contract option this spring, according to one of the team sources.
The Sox are looking for the ideal manager to fit their sabermetric-run organization, and that’s fair enough. Edward Cossette for one, trusts in Theo (Edward hits the nail on the head when he talks about the animosity that exists between the media and The Bill James Gang). Maybe the Sox won’t skip a beat. Hell, they might even improve—though how much better can you do than 95 wins? But imagine the pressure the incoming skipper will feel. If he falls short of making the World Serious, the season will be deemed a failure. If not in the eyes of management–and the more sympathetic and patient fans like Cossette, and Ben Jacobs—than at least to the general public and the press. Jeez, who do the Sox think they are: The Yankees?