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Work done; time to play

FORT MYERS, Fla. -- Firing Dan Duquette: an unchallenged layup.

Firing Joe Kerrigan: a wide-open foul line jumper.

Hiring a manager, any manager: a 3-pointer with a hand in the face.

"I would say that's pretty accurate," confirmed Larry Lucchino, the onetime backup point guard for some glittering Princeton teams and now CEO of your Boston Red Sox.

The really important management To-Do List grew shorter yesterday with the announcement that Grady Little is the new field manager of the Red Sox. Everyone feels better now. Call it the "Phew!" Factor.

"There has been significant change in the ownership process," said Lucchino. "It's been long and arduous. There are still decisions to be made, but the decision today really means we are on course for the 2002 season."

It has been noted on approximately 17 million occasions this past week or so that the ballplayers have soldiered on in a professional manner during the managerial limbo period. This would include both the lame-duck tenure of Kerrigan and the brief stewardship of Mike Cubbage, who though disappointed in being passed over for a big league managerial job yet again (depending on the count, he's been interviewed either four or five times), emerged from the process with his reputation enhanced.

Let's just say that if some club were to call Lucchino at any time asking for permission to talk with Cubbage, it will be granted, accompanied by an enthusiastic recommendation. He just wasn't going to get this job. Little had too much going for him.

Has ever a man still essentially unknown to the general public ever begun such a high-profile job with so many people saying so many nice things about him? One is tempted to ask that if Little is as special as we are now being told, why is he a big league managerial rookie at age 52?

"Here's a good assignment for you, although I think it's futile in nature," submitted interim general manager Mike Port. "Try to find somebody in baseball who doesn't like Grady Little. They might disagree with him on some matter. But dislike? I don't think so."

Enter Deacon Jones, a widely respected Baltimore scout who just happened to be making his spring training rounds here in Fort Myers on this day. "Grady is a great guy," Jones began. "A solid baseball man. Easygoing. He's done it in the minor leagues, and he's been around the major leagues long enough now to know what's going on. My colleagues and I have been talking about this all week. He is just a great man. Boston has hit a home run with this; it really has."

Here's how these new people do business: The players found out first. Imagine that. The Red Sox had just concluded batting practice and were ambling into the locker room when there was a sudden announcement about an unscheduled team meeting. The press conference was 45 minutes later.

Wow. This management treats the most important people in the organization as if they really count. Players are made to feel they're part of the whole, and not just hired Hessians. What a concept.

And when the players saw Little walking into the room, what happened? They applauded. They cheered. And this isn't hearsay. This was, in fact, heard-say.

"You might say they reacted with rousing jubilation," said Port, who seems to be getting looser and looser with each passing day.

Granted, this account of cheering ballplayers might not play too well with everyone in Boston, where fans have been bred to think that happy players mean spoiled or lazy players. If a fan hasn't done his or her homework on the Yawkey Era and the so-called "Boston Country Club," there is always a father, grandfather, or Uncle Louie to fill in the details. There is a reason why take-no-prisoners Dick Williams remains the most popular of all Red Sox managers in the opinion of vox populi.

Be assured that Mr. Little - described by one veteran baseball official as a "dumb-like-a-fox type with a Jim Leyland brain" - knows exactly what to make of his initial greeting from the players. "That was touching," he offered. "We'll see what kind of reaction I get when I leave in October."

In power for just two weeks, Team Henry has moved along nicely. Only some A-plus personality would argue that they have not acted with dispatch, sweeping out the Evil GM and the Miscast Manager and hiring a man to run the team on the field with more than enough time to make the necessary personnel decisions by Opening Day.

Port started as an outsider with this bunch, but it is apparent there is already a definite mesh. He certainly seems to be enjoying himself.

"I would say that this ownership is very interested and very proud to be associated with the Boston Red Sox," Port surmised. "They are very involved. They really want what's best for the fans. It's almost as if they see everything they do here put in capital letters because it is being done for the BOSTON RED SOX. They are very proud to be associated with the product."

OK, guys, what's next on that list? Another layup? Another foul line jumper? A 3-pointer? A Hail Mary?

"There will be a little break in the action now," said Lucchino. "But there are plenty of other matters. The revamping of the scouting and player development continues."

But this was the Big One, and now the focus is off ownership and back down on the field. Shine that spotlight on the (high-priced) talent.

Happy players are nice.

Winning players are more important.

Bob Ryan is a Globe columnist. His e-mail address is ryan@globe.com.

After his team beat Oakland and advanced to the ALCS, Grady Little had his locks snipped. After his team beat Oakland and advanced to the ALCS, Grady Little had his locks snipped. (Globe Staff Photo / Stan Grossfeld)
 So long, Grady
 Photos of Grady Little's tenure
 MESSAGES: Who should get the job?
Little not an option
Baseball blog: By the numbers
in today's globe
Little hope for manager
On baseball: Recycling a solution?
globe coverage of game 7
 SHAUGHNESSY: Heartbreak again
 MACMULLAN: Decision is legacy
 ON BASEBALL: Ace takes blame
coverage of grady's hiring
Grady Little's failure to remove Pedro Martinez when the ace was tiring in the 8th inning of the ALCS Game 7 was hardly the first time the manager made a head-scratching move this season. Is it time for him to go?

Yes. He catered to the team’s superstars once too often by letting Pedro decide whether he would stay in the game.
67.0%
No. He set a positive attitude for the team, knew how to handle the fragile egos, and got the most he could out of the players. He deserves to stay.
33.0%
Total votes: 35,595
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