Recycling would not be an empty solution
The ideal manager to succeed Grady Little? One Red Sox player suggested to his agent recently that statman Bill James come down to the dugout, make an IBM manager his bench coach, and install modems in the offices of John W. Henry and Larry Lucchino so they instantly could convey their wishes, instead of having to wait until after the game to question the manager's strategy.
Think about it. Henry graduated into the billionaires' league by relying on statistical formulas in the money market and commodities world; it's reasonable for him to expect, is it not, that the manager of his $106 million baseball roster do the same?
Perhaps the Sox should take their cue from the Florida Marlins, survey the field of available grandfathers, and go retro. Jack McKeon isn't the only golden oldie on the market, although if the Marlins, for some unforeseen reason, decide not to bring him back, McKeon should hop into that new Mercedes 500 SL given to him by Marlins owner Jeffrey Loria and head north as fast as the speed limit will allow.
Clearly, Sox ownership believes it has a club built to win it all; otherwise it wouldn't be cutting ties with Little, who fell a game short of going to the World Series. The window of opportunity with this current club may be a narrow one, with the contracts of Nomar Garciaparra, Pedro Martinez, Trot Nixon, Jason Varitek, and Derek Lowe all set to expire after the 2004 season.
The Sox already went down the road of hiring a new face in Little, a man who had never managed in the big leagues and came to the harsh judgment that maybe there was a reason he was stuck managing in the minor leagues for 16 years. It didn't work, in their view, so it would seem to be risky business to bring another untested newcomer in this market, especially since he wouldn't have the built-in advantage Little had of knowing these players before he was hired, having served as Jimy Williams's bench coach.
Glenn Hoffman, for example, might be on the cutting edge of talented up-and-comers, but can the Sox brass reasonably expect Hoffman to have the kind of cachet needed to win over a clubhouse full of players who swore allegiance to Little? The San Francisco Giants knew they had to aim high when they let Dusty Baker walk after last year's trip to the World Series, so they hired Felipe Alou, one of the few people who could command instant respect in any clubhouse.
The Sox never gave Little the kind of tangible security that allows a manager to make decisions fearlessly, knowing that he would have the backing of his bosses. A veteran who has seen it all, like McKeon, who would blow cigar smoke in the face of his critics, would be the kind of manager best suited to navigate the treacherous demands on a manager in Boston. (What's Bill Parcells doing after football season, anyway?)
Jim Leyland would be a great fit, but Leyland is wrapped up in coaching his talented young son and already told the White Sox, who are in the market for a manager, that he's not interested in coming back. Leyland was sorely tempted to come to Boston once, but took the Marlins job before Williams was hired in Boston. In his first year in Florida, he won a World Series.
Whitey Herzog is sitting home in St. Louis, at 71 willing to attempt a salvage operation like the one McKeon pulled off in Florida. Joe Kerrigan, during his abortive term as Sox manager, boasted that Whitey had signed on to be his bench manager; Herzog quickly put to rest that notion, but has told friends he'd love a crack at another title.
Sox general manager Theo Epstein may be more attracted to a new face like Hoffman or Bud Black (who just signed a one-year extension as pitching coach with Anaheim and has told friends he'd prefer to stay on the West Coast). Terry Francona is another name that has some support in Sox circles, though he flamed out in Philly.
The surest way to ensure that George Steinbrenner won't do something stupid in New York and fire Joe Torre is to float Torre's name as a possibility in Boston. As inviting a fantasy as that is, Torre almost certainly will remain in pinstripes.
Perhaps the most attractive alternative in the experienced crowd is Jim Fregosi, who thought Dan Duquette had promised him the Sox job until switching to Williams at the last moment. Fregosi has handled clubhouses with larger-than-life characters before in a demanding market. In Philly, he had Lenny Dykstra, John Kruk, Darren Daulton, Mitch "Wild Thing" Williams, a true crew of renegades, and took them to the World Series (and shame on this space for suggesting yesterday that Fregosi hadn't won).
Fregosi was thought to be a strong candidate in San Francisco before Brian Sabean was dazzled by Alou, and although he has spent the last several years as a top adviser to John Schuerholz in Atlanta, evaluating talent and recommending trades, Fregosi would like to return to the dugout. Of course, he said yesterday, he would be interested in the Boston job if it opened.
Fregosi is the type who could maintain clubhouse control while still being perceived as a players' manager. He is tough enough, after Philly, to brush off critics' best shots. And he's smart enough to pay attention to the statistical data his bosses place at his fingertips, while retaining sufficient independence to let his players know that the lineup card belongs to him, and him alone.
Fregosi would be labeled a recycled choice by his detractors, but after Grandpa Jack McKeon, recycled may be the hottest trend in the game.
© Copyright 2003 Globe Newspaper Company.