Little has roots here, but hiring him won't help O's gain ground


October 31, 2003|By Laura Vecsey

LET US CONSIDER the interview of Grady Little by the Orioles today for manager the only thing that makes sense: an act of goodwill on the part of the Orioles toward one of their own.

Long ago, as in really long ago, Little was a practitioner of the Oriole Way. That alone will get you in the warehouse door for an interview, given the current mind-set of the Orioles' front office, which seems to believe in order for the Orioles to go forward, they must return to their roots.

Grady Little is roots, and if ever an unemployed major league manager needed kindness, that would be Little and that would be now - although there's no truth to the rumor that Grady Little voodoo dolls will be a popular stocking stuffer this Christmas in cold, cold New England.

It also does not hurt that owner Peter Angelos was enamored with Little during the last round of interviews, which resulted in Mike Hargrove's hiring.

"We're happy to have a chance to interview a manager who's had the success that Grady Little has had," Orioles vice president Mike Flanagan said yesterday, which is funny, because at least Hargrove got all the way to Game 7 of the 1997 World Series before his pitching staff failed him, whereas Little never got to the medal round.

Poor Little, who so poignantly accepted his fate by saying better it be he who's vilified in Red Sox Nation, not one of his players.

Little has a point, considering how miserable Bill Buckner's life became when everyone knew it was manager John McNamara who should have lifted the hobbled Buckner for a defensive replacement during the 1986 World Series.

For most of 2003, Little was a Southern-drawlin', mild-mannered and sympathetic figure - all the way up until that fateful eighth inning of Game 7 of the American League Championship Series. All season, Little let his Red Sox "Cowboy Up" to their hearts' content. A player's manager is what he's called.

But as it was in the beginning with Ted Williams and Carl Yastrzesmki and Roger Clemens, so it was again this season with Manny Ramirez, Nomar Garciaparra and Pedro Martinez: The stars run the show in Boston. So Little let the tiring, sore-armed Martinez stay in the game too long.

Lead blown. Yankees win. Little is the new addition to those Bambino/Buckner/Bucky T-shirts that demonstrate Red Sox Nation anguish. The rest for Little, as they say in New England, is infamy.

The Red Sox's anguish is not the Orioles' anguish, however. What Little did for Boston doesn't really matter in Baltimore, where Orioles roots continue to mean something, maybe too much.

Granted, those were good baseball roots back in the early '80s, when Little was a minor league manager in the Orioles' system. But those also were different times. New rules, new kinds of players, new payroll considerations make a strict adherence to the Oriole Way potentially short-sighted.

As an organization foundering to develop talent and contend these past 20 years, the Orioles needed to tighten up the minor leagues, draft and trade for young talent, teach and expect fundamental skills. They need to return to a reliance on pitching. That was the Oriole Way, but that doesn't mean the organization can't marry what was good with what will work now.

That's why a hungry young candidate such as Ozzie Guillen should be the next candidate Jim Beattie and Flanagan interview.

Why the same, old names all the time? The Orioles' GMs say they want energy and brains? Well, new blood in that field manager's job might be a way to fire things up. Guillen, a Florida Marlins coach and a managerial candidate for the Chicago White Sox, was impressive to talk to during the World Series.

But, for the moment, there is Grady Little for the Orioles to consider, or at least he is here so the Orioles can pick his brain about the Red Sox. That has to be a big reason why Little is here and maybe as a favor by his longtime home team.

Little isn't a poor choice because of what happened in the ALCS. There are other reasons why the Orioles' search should look under new rocks.

Little contends he was let go in Boston based on that one disastrous decision. That decision - or lack of one, which is the real reason it's so serious - certainly made it impossible for the Red Sox to bring him back. But there was enough evidence - such as, say, the lack of a contract beyond the season - that alone suggested throughout September and October that Little's continued employment in Boston was no guarantee, just as it was no guarantee for Hargrove, who did less wrong than Little and is now also looking for work.

(Hargrove in Boston? That would be funny, except that young Boston GM Theo Epstein is probably too into spreadsheets to take a look at an "old-school" manager like Hargrove.)

Speaking of Hargrove: In what way is Little a better or different choice from the guy who just got shown to door? None. Nada. Zip.

Like Hargrove, Little is a nice man. Like Hargrove, he is a player's manager. And to boot, Little is actually less emphatic, less of a respected in-game tactician than Hargrove.

The Orioles wanted someone more fiery than Hargrove? That is not Little, who might be the polar opposite of Larry Bowa on the scale of fiery managers.

But luckily for Little, he has friends in Baltimore. Or at least he's getting an interview with an organization that needs to keep its options open, because there's no guarantee Eddie Murray, Sam Perlozzo, Tom Foley or Terry Francona are the absolutely right picks.

Lee Mazzilli, Rich Dauer and Rick Dempsey should be happy to have gotten a call. Same goes for Little.

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