FIRE JOE MORGAN: Up is Down, Black is White


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Thursday, December 08, 2005


Up is Down, Black is White

Did any sentient entity on any planet in the universe expect any sportswriter to describe the hiring of Grady Little as the manager of a major league baseball team as a "coup"?

The answer to the question is yes: me, on planet Earth, because that sportswriter's name is Bill Plaschke. Plaschke's going with the headline "Team Pulls a Real Coup With Its Latest Hire" -- the team being the Dodgers and the hire being Grady Little. Now, just so we're straight here, Merriam-Webster defines a coup as a brilliant, sudden, and usually highly successful stroke or act. The area where I agree with Plaschke is that yes, hiring Grady Little could indeed be classified as an act. Or a thing. I guess it was sudden, also.

Judging managers is exceedingly difficult to do with any sort of precision. Short of a guy being a total jerk or putting on a fake mustache and glasses in order to re-enter a game he's been ejected from, it's tough to say with certainty exactly how bad (or good) a manager is. Actually, now that I think about it, even if a guy were to put on a fake mustache and glasses in order to re-enter a game he's been ejected from (although I can't see how that would ever happen in real life), he still might be an okay manager. Besides, the ability of the baseball players on a baseball team is far, far, far more important than the savvy of the manager. I would say something crazy, like 100 times more important. At least.

Regardless, when it comes to good old baseball man Grady Little, Bill Plaschke is willing to credit all of his team's success to Grady and simultaneously absolve him of all failure. Let's begin the hyperbole:

Let me see if I have this straight.

There was an unemployed manager out there whose last night of work was Game 7 of the American League championship series.

Yes. In that game, the unemployed manager you speak of made arguably the most colossal blunder in baseball history. Arguably.

There was a former manager out there whose last season contained 95 wins.

Yes. His team in that last season, the 2003 Boston Red Sox, featured a historically great offense including six regulars with OPS+'s over 120, among them Manny Ramirez, David Ortiz, Nomar Garciaparra and Jason Varitek. The pitching staff was headed by all-time great Pedro Martinez, who threw 186.2 innings of 212 ERA+ (2.22 ERA) ball.

There was an ex-manager out there who was fired because he trusted instinct over statistic, people over paradigms, baseball over everything.

Also there was the colossal blunder thing, and the multitude of questionable in-game decisions throughout his tenure.

And this same guy, the Dodgers just hired him?

Ned Colletti can pump his right fist any time now.

I'm beginning to think that someone really, really likes Grady Little. Likes him a lot.

In resurrecting Grady Little as the new Dodger manager, he hit a late-inning, backdoor slider out of the park.

What's that? Oh, you're not done.

The baseball folks in Boston may be wincing, but baseball folks everywhere else are smiling, waxing in the rebirth of a good man wronged.

Are they, Bill Plaschke? Or did they also watch Game 7 of the 2003 ALCS? And is it just me, or is Bill Plaschke using an unconventional definition of the verb "wax," which I believe means (here comes Merriam-Webster again) one of three things:
1 a : to increase in size, numbers, strength, prosperity, or intensity b : to grow in volume or duration c : to grow toward full development
2 : to increase in phase or intensity -- used chiefly of the moon, other satellites, and inferior planets
3 : to assume a (specified) characteristic, quality, or state

These baseball folks are increasing in intensity because Grady Little got hired?

"I love baseball, this is my life, this is what I do," said Little, a former cotton farmer with a voice like syrup and the expressiveness of grits. "To be able to get another chance like this, I'm very, very fortunate."

"The expressiveness of grits"?

Little's only other major league managerial experience consisted of two years with the Boston Red Sox, who fired him because of one bad decision he made when the still-cursed franchise was six outs from going to the 2003 World Series.

So it was the curse that made them lose, not Grady Little.

Going with his gut, his gut failed him, as he left a tiring Pedro Martinez on the mound to face the New York Yankees in the eighth inning with a 5-2 lead. Martinez gave up three runs before the Yankees won it on Aaron Boone's home run in the 11th.

Little was gone shortly after the ball, canned by weak-kneed Boston officials who bowed to a region of whiny, self-absorbed fans.

So it was the fans that got him fired, not Grady Little's performance.

Before breaking the 86-year-old "Curse of the Bambino" — which was really the curse of being the last integrated team in baseball — the Red Sox did all sorts of silly things to their managers in the name of voodoo.

What? Integration is coming up in an article about Grady Little?

"It's New England, it's Boston, all they want to do is win," said Little with a huge sigh and great restraint.

Funny, but that's all Little, 55, did there. He won.

Well, to be fair, there was the colossal blunder thing.

This was a guy who had been director Ron Shelton's inspiration as the real manager of the Durham Bulls.

Who cares? Seriously, who the hell cares?

Players understood and loved that he was all about the grass-roots part of the game. That he would judge them not for only how they looked, but who they were.

I want my team's manager to judge players for how good they are at playing baseball.

"It's like [former player] Dante Bichette once said," Little explained Tuesday. "When you see a pretty girl wearing a bikini on the beach, she shows you a whole lot. But she doesn't show you everything."

He added, "My philosophy is like that. Statistics can't show you everything. I'm a human kind of guy."

Here's a better analogy: when you see a checkbook and the numbers in it showing the debits and credits to your checking account, it shows you a lot of what you need to know about your checking account. Those numbers represent money, and ultimately, what you want to know is how the money is doing.

Baseball statistics are nowhere near as accurate as the numbers in your checkbook, but I still think this is a better comparison than saying that statistics are to a player's effectiveness as the attractiveness of a girl's figure is to her suitability as a life partner.

But that's me, a guy who undestands analogies.

This humanness pulled together a clubhouse with players as diverse as Manny Ramirez, Derek Lowe and Nomar Garciaparra.

Actually, Manny Ramirez and Nomar Garciaparra had been performing at superstar levels for years before Grady Little managed them. Derek Lowe had one amazing year, and that year occurred while Grady Little was his manager. If you want to attribute his success to Grady Little, as you clearly do, you are welcome to do so. Please understand if I am skeptical about this attribution, however.

Ramirez averaged 34 homers and 106 runs batted in in two seasons with Little despite being benched for missing games. Lowe was 38-15 under Little and channeled his nervous energy into a force.

Okay, but didn't Grady Little just say "Statistics can't show you everything"? Anyway, Manny Ramirez' career 162-game averages are 42 home runs and 136 RBI. So he was worse under Little. Again, if you think that Little somehow helped Lowe with his energy-channeling-force-creation, be my guest.

Then there was Garciaparra, who had his last good season under Little, 28 homers and 105 RBIs.

Yes, but before that he was even better. He declined afterwards due to injury and various other reasons. Your point?

Little took a diverse group and turned them into winners who, months after he was fired, became nationally known as "the Idiots." Then, of course, they finally won the World Series.

After he was fired and another manager was hired. Now you're crediting him for helping them win it all the following year? Good Christ, Plaschke. Those hollow, flexible cylinders with red stripes you're grasping are known as straws.

Yet, when he was fired, he accepted it with humility and grace, never really ripping, instead disappearing into the Chicago Cubs' system as their roving catching instructor, an important yet anonymous and thankless job.

A good reason for that disappearance was that no one wanted to hire the guy who made that colossal blunder we've already talked about.

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posted by Junior  # 4:59 AM
Wow. The realy lame thing is, if the Dodgers improve by like 15 games next year as I believe they will -- because everyone on their team won't be injured -- and everyone is going to attribute it to Grady Little and ned Colletti instead of DePo who has put the team together. And if they don't, everyone will blame DePo for having put the team together.
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