Official: Red Sox Fire Manager Little

Monday, October 27th 2003, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

BOSTON (AP) _ The Boston Red Sox decided to let manager Grady Little go on Monday, a high-ranking team official told The Associated Press, speaking on the condition of anonymity.

The move comes less than two weeks after Boston blew a chance to play in the World Series when its ace couldn't hold a lead against the New York Yankees.

Little is paying the price for his decision to stick with Pedro Martinez in Game 7 of the AL championship series.

The Florida Marlins beat the Yankees in the World Series that wrapped up Saturday, ending baseball's embargo on major moves and freeing the Red Sox to cut Little loose.

Little's contract expires Friday, so he was not fired. The team merely chose not to pick up his option for next year.

Team spokesman Charles Steinberg wouldn't comment, but said the Red Sox would make an announcement later Monday.

The Red Sox won 93 and 95 games in Little's two years as manager, reaching the playoffs this year for the first time since 1999. They fell to the brink of elimination in the first round against the Oakland Athletics before winning the last three games to advance to the ALCS, and Little's job seemed secure.

The Yankees took a 3-2 lead in the series as it headed back to New York, and Little seemed to be making all of the right moves.

He left struggling shortstop Nomar Garciaparra alone, and he snapped out of his slump with four hits in Game 6 to force a seventh game. And, because Little chose not to use Martinez on short rest, he had his ace available for the decisive game.

Boston staked Martinez to a 4-0 lead, and it was 4-2 after seven when it seemed like Martinez's night was done. But Little sent him out for the eighth and he quickly ran into trouble; even after Little came out to talk to Martinez, he left him in rather than trust the lead to the bullpen that had struggled all year before finding some consistency in the playoffs.

The Yankees tied it off Martinez in the eighth, then won the game and the series in the 11th on Aaron Boone's homer of Tim Wakefield.

Red Sox players came to Little's defense.

``There's no reason to blame Grady,'' Martinez said. ``Grady doesn't play the game, I do. If you want to judge me or curse me or whatever, I will swallow that, because I am responsible.''

Two days later, Little sat in his office and defended the decision to stick with his ace.

``If people want to judge Grady Little on the results of a decision I made in that last game the other day, so be it,'' he said in his Fenway Park office. ``In my heart, I know we had a great season here.''

Although publicly commending Little's work in keeping the clubhouse together, the Red Sox delayed a decision on Little's future while angry Red Sox fans called for his job. The team had insisted that Little's future would not hinge on the one decision.

General manager Theo Epstein is known to rely more on statistical analysis in assessing players and matchups than Little, who often used his instincts in making decisions. Owner John Henry is also in the statistical analysis camp.

But Epstein was complimentary about Little's work managing the strong personalities in the Boston clubhouse.

``A lot goes on behind the scenes that people never know about,'' Epstein said, ``different things that Grady Little does to help preserve and improve the chemistry of the ballclub.

``He knows that he did his absolute best and he knows he really helped this team get to the doorstep of the World Series this year and he's proud of that.''

Little, 53, became the Red Sox manager in March 2002, after Joe Kerrigan was fired.

Little managed 16 seasons in the minors from 1980 to 1995 and was San Diego's bullpen coach in 1996. He spent the next three seasons as Williams' bench coach in Boston then had the same job the next two seasons with Charlie Manuel in Cleveland.

In 2002, the Red Sox got off to a 40-17 start under Little but finished at 93-69 and missed the playoffs. This season, they were 95-67 and led the AL in batting average, total bases and other offensive categories.