October 28, 2003

Man Versus Machine? There was much more objectivity in the papers today than I expected. A sampling:

Michael Silverman: "According to club sources, some of the problems the Red Sox had with Little were that he did not call upon his coaches for enough input, there was not enough attention paid to offensive and defensive matchups, that game plans were cast aside when the game began, and in the Division Series with the A's, he did not have a meeting with his hitters to go over the A's pitchers. "

Gordon Edes: "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. ... 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..."

Edes is also the first Boston writer to float the name of Whitey Herzog in print. In the spring of 2002, Herzog was offered the job as Joe Kerrigan's bench coach. "I turned that down because I knew it wasn't going to work. Hell, maybe I should have taken it, I'd have been manager by the end of spring training [instead of Grady]. ... You got a good club there. I thought you had a better team there than the Yankees." Herzog says he'll listen if the Red Sox call. Pick up the phone, Theo.

Michael Holley writes of "irreconcilable differences ... It was never personal. The gap occurred when the manager was gently asked -- and sometimes forcefully told -- how to prepare for games. ... They wanted a curious thinker, a man who never would stop prodding and poking. ... Little listened to his bosses during these sessions, but he is not that kind of manager. If there is a legitimate criticism of him, it is that he should have tried harder to do what they wanted. If there is a legitimate criticism of them, it is that they should have quickly known what he was when they interviewed him."

Bob Hohler: "Principal owner John W. Henry, who believed Little too often made tactical decisions without adequately applying the vast statistical resources the team provided him, 'took the position well before the post-season that the club may need to question a long-term commitment to its manager,' ... The decision cleared the way for a wide-ranging search for a manager who possesses Little's deft touch in handling the players and media in one of baseball's most demanding markets but who also gives greater weight to the volumes of quantitative analysis developed by senior adviser Bill James and his statistical specialists. ... Despite the front office's unhappiness with Little's use of statistics, Lucchino said the Sox are not seeking a slave to computer analysis. 'This is not going to be a stat geeks organization, nor is it going to be an organization run by old salty dog baseball traditionalists,' Lucchino said. 'It's going to be an organization that mixes and matches and has balance and employs all the tools that might be available.'

Gerry Callahan: "The Sox expect to be in the playoffs again next year and the year after that. Grady says he'll be there to haunt them, but the Sox' owners can live with that. They saw him manage in a big game in October. Nothing can be as frightening as that."

Sean McAdam: "Said a club source: 'Grady wasn't fired for one wrong move. He was fired for the wrong way he went about making decisions.' ... Little was often reluctant to incorporate statistical data in making personnel decisions, lineup choices or in-game strategic moves. Additionally, communication with the coaching staff was often lacking, and management expressed dismay that input and scouting reports on players weren't disseminated to coaches."

Steven Krasner mentioned the June 21 nightmare in Philadelphia: "Very often, a game comes down to late-inning strategy. Specifically, how a manager runs his pitching staff is a major factor in the perception of how well he is doing his job. ... all along the way there were many moves made by Little that were of the head-scratching variety. ... One thing Little did often was stick with his starters longer than other managers. ... Little was slow in having relievers get up in the bullpen, generally waiting a batter too long before being able to get a favorable matchup. ... Every manager gets second-guessed. It goes with the territory. Other managers may look better from afar because you don't see each one of the thousands of decisions a manager has to make over the course of a season. But rest assured, if you spent a week with any manager, there would be some head-scratching. In the Sox' view, Little's strategic decisions during a game weren't made by using all of the tools at his beck and call."

Paul Doyle: "Henry and Epstein are unabashed fans of James, known for his unconventional ideas. James does not believe in the traditional use of a closer and values on-base percentage above most other statistics. James also opposes the use of the sacrifice bunt because he does not believing in giving up outs." ... I get the strong sense Doyle hasn't read James. James is fine with sacrificing in specific situations, but not as a knee-jerk reflex. Statistically, the odds of scoring a run with a man on first and none out and a man on second and one out are nearly identical, but after the bunt, you have one less out. And who knew getting on base as much as possible was "unconventional"?

Howard Bryant: "The bottom line in Boston is that men lost out to machines yesterday. The job Little did in massaging the disparate personalities of Ramirez, Timlin, Garciaparra, Martinez, et. al., was to Henry secondary to his refusal to write out his lineup based on the numbers."

Why does it have to be one or the other? Why can't it be both? Red Sox management clearly believes it's possible. Why employ someone who steadfastly continues to rely on only 50% of available resources? Every writer who posits this as man versus machine is doing nothing more than commenting on a battle that isn't being fought.

Naturally, there was some crap (here and here). And all Dan Shaughnessy needed to do was drop in a few quotes from the press conference and then tell everyone that of course -- wink wink nudge nudge -- we all know the Sox are lying. ... Several other writers, including this one, have mentioned McKeon likewise going with his gut in sticking with Beckett in Game 6 of the World Series. There is a big difference. One, Beckett is much younger than Pedro. Two, there is no way McKeon sits on his ass with a Gump-grin on his face as Beckett allows 3 or 4 line drive hits and the Yankees tied the game (or take the lead). No way.

BlogWatch: Bambino's Curse moves back to its original home for the off-season. ... Ben Jacobs takes Adrian Wojnarowski's latest ESPN column apart. ... Dwight's House: "Those evil statheads, run by Grand Poobah stathead Bill James have dispatched another Good Baseball Man. Little will get a job soon enough. ... happily staring into space as his starting pitcher dies on the mound ... That will always be Grady Little's baseball legacy in Boston. Grinning like an idiot, while the world collapses." ... Portland Sox Fan has a question for the writers who are incredulous that if Grady had taken the Red Sox to the World Series, he might still have been replaced: "What happened to Dusty Baker last year?"

The Yankees' off-season will likely be even busier than Boston's. I'd love to stay on top of the New York papers for tidbits, but I doubt I'll have the time. So far, we know Giambi loves porn and Zimmer won't return to the Yankees "even if they wanted to have a day for me." Don Zimmer Day at Yankee Stadium? Yeah, that'll happen. Maybe that tumble on the Fenway turf did screw him up after all. And one Yankee player blasted Giambi for not starting Game 5. Because this player apparently was with the Yankees in 1996 and 2003, it has to be Jeter, Williams, Pettitte, Nelson or Rivera.

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