Sunday, March 21, 2010

Should Grady Have Lost His Job?

A pretty uneventful weekend for the Red Sox, as Papelbon having a headache is now worth a blog post on the Boston Herald. It's very good news for baseball that Joe Mauer signed an eight-year contract, but I already wrote all there is to write on that topic a few weeks ago. So why not actually make good on a promise. We always say at the end of an argument that only time will tell whether a major decision is a good one or a bad one.

How about this one? It's been six and a half years (almost) since the Red Sox fired Grady Little. We all know the circumstances. They won the World Series the next year. But now that Francona has become a complete fixture in Boston, and in the wake of Francona making a slew of questionable decisions all year last year, we can now rationally ask the question:

Should the Red Sox have fired Grady Little after the 2003 ALCS?

At the time I said yes, and I will continue to say yes. And here's why:

-It was not just about the one decision to leave Pedro in during Game Seven. The thing is, that decision made at that moment was not really too far out of character. It was beyond enfuriating, but it was not at all surprising that the manager would do what he did. He made similar questionable decisions throughout the 2002 and 2003 seasons at the helm.

-There was a pretty sizeable rift between the manager and the front office over the use of statistics. The front office were a bunch of stat-heads, and the manager was a hunch guy. This was pretty evident given the batting average against Pedro after 100 pitches. And it came to a T at the absolute worst time. If the front office had stayed with Grady Little, there would probably be more rifts. Remember how much of a disaster it was when the GM and the rest of the FO were fighting? Just imagine how bad it would be if the manager and the FO were fighting. And the players would have been caught in the crossfire.

-Also, in terms of the brutal Boston media back then (it is different now), every decision made by Grady would have been microanalyzed in the context that the Pedro decision happened. That would have been further tension.

-The fatal flaw that befall most managers in the first place is their loyalty and trust in their players instead of making rational decisions. Grady was overtrusting already after two years. At least with Francona, the irrational trust factor didn't happen until probably 2008 with players like Timlin and Varitek. All the problems Francona is afflicted with would have happened from the get-go with Grady Little. And who knows, that could have cost the team the 2004 World Series as well.

-Bottom line is, for the first four seasons, Francona was terrific for the Red Sox. He really did something no previous Boston manager had ever done: Establish tranquility between the team, the front office, the media, and the fans. I never really considered him the best field manager, and his abilities as a field manager have deteriorated considerably over the past two seasons as he has become too loyal to some of these players. But he was the right guy at the right time for that job. He pulled it off, which is something that couldn't have happened without the firing of Grady Little.

7 comments:

jason said...

back when grady was fired i disagreed with it, now i have seen the light and think it was a good move, you must understand that i was a very pro grady person back then which i dont think there was anything wrong with... but thinking about some of the points dv made helped me realize that he was right the first time he made those arguments against me because at the time i was thinking about the past not the future and i think he is right in saying it wouldnt have gone very well if he had stayed, in other news embree is signed with the sox... are things that bad out there?

Anonymous said...

DV

The reason Francona has been successful in Boston is because of what you mentioned--that he's been able to get everyone from players and management on the same page and keep them there. He doesn't have a huge ego and just does what needs to be done to make things work, be it protecting his players through the media or nodding in agreement and biting his tongue when a guy like JD Drew gets signed.

The thing about Grady Little is that he just couldn't have come back to Boston in 2004. It would have created a black cloud that hung over the team all year long. Combine that with all the controversy that surrounded Nomar up until the time he was traded and it's likely that the 2004 team would have struggled.

--the Gunn

the gm at work said...

Jason,

My argument at the time, more or less, is that the decision made in Game 7 was not out of character. He did dumb crap like that constantly. Still believe it. But I'm glad that you agree now that six-plus years have passed.

And yes, they are that bad. I was really rooting for Knight School (yeah, the ESPN/Bob Knight reality show) finalist Dustin Richardson to get into the bullpen, but injury has derailed that.

Gunn,

Agreed with all the Francona stuff and especially with the Grady Little stuff. There was freaking chaos here when the GM and FO were feuding. There was freaking chaos in 2009 when the team was feuding. 2004 would have been a completely explosive (in a bad way) season had this bomb not been diffused.

Patrick said...

i agree with everything you wrote here dv, to why grady had to go to why francona has done such a good job. i also agree with you that francona has started to slip a bit lately. not in ultimate results, but in some of the same ways torre did in his later years with the yankees. this is not because of anything torre and francona did necessarily, as much as it is about the natural progression of managers in baseball. managers get loyal and in the long baseball season it becomes difficult to keep things fresh and motivated as a manager. there was some statistic i saw, that i've referenced here before, i believe from bill james, that an absurd percentage of world series champions have had managers in their first three years on the job with that team. i'm not a believer in correlation equaling causation, but you look at girardi in year two getting the job done. i had talked myself into torre leaving being maybe the best thing because i knew it had a good chance of happening, but afterwards thought it was a mistake. now it seemed like the right move, despite how highly i think of torre as a manager, especially as someone who could keep order and sanity in a tough baseball market just like francona, in addition to being good baseball minds. so you wonder if the same thing will become true of francona, where he's still the same good manager, but it just becomes time for a change to freshen things up. it may have worked for the yankees. other things were at play (most notably the yankees' change in direction in baseball operations and also capitalizing on one of the best free agent classes in recent memory), but you can't deny the statistics with new managers, and girardi is just further evidence.

TimC said...

Like Jason, I was a very much against firing Little at the time. Of course, given how things have played out, it would be foolish of me to say that I would go back and do things differently.

That said, I am having trouble remembering exactly why Francona was hired in the first place. Was it because he was expected to do all the things DV outlined? I do not think this was the case and maybe the club got a little lucky with Francona's success in those areas.

PF brings up a good point about manager freshness. The three year figure probably has as much to do with the general mindset of change an organization has when it makes a managerial change; for example, the Yankees making the big signings last off-season saw them fulfill a two-step rebuilding process that began with hiring Girardi. If its the case that a team already has a good manager, I see no reason why the manager should not be allowed to oversee the rebuilding process.

Anonymous said...

Tim

If I remember correctly Francona and Curt Schilling were more or less a package deal. Schilling loved Francona from his Phillie days. And let's not forget how tenuous those times were--Schilling was reluctant to come to Boston and the Yankees were making a push to trade for him as well. So I believe that bringing in Francona was a bold move to sweeten the pot for bringing Schilling to town.

--the Gunn

Patrick said...

this last point by gunn should not be understated. i have no idea whether or not it is accurate, but it certainly makes a lot of sense. because remember, it wasn't just that the yankees were making a push to get schilling, it's that schilling only really wanted to stay in arizona, go to the yankees, or go to the phillies. check out these two quotes below from that year:

“I can stay here and pitch the last year of my contract in Arizona, and then walk. Or I can talk about possibly getting a three-year extension to go to New York and have a chance to win a world championship. If those are my choices, why wouldn’t I at least agree to listen?”

“There are two teams the Diamondbacks know I’ll talk with if they try to make a trade with them. That’s the Yankees and Phillies. Other than that, there are no hidden factors, no hidden agendas.”

something obviously changed, and it very well could have been francona. for whatever reason, the diamondbacks were charging the yankees a premium. they were asking for alfonso soriano and nick johnson for schilling and junior spivey. at the time, that was an absurd price. especially considering they ended up dealing him for casey fossum, brandon lyon, jorge de la rosa, and a minor leaguer to be named later. if that was boston's intention with francona, it was a good job capitalizing on the diamondbacks charging the yankees a premium and getting schilling for a lot less.