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DAN SHAUGHNESSY

No mere mortal can fill this job

In the hours before the seventh game of the American League Championship Series in Yankee Stadium, exuberant/foolish Fenway Park workers prematurely painted the 2003 World Series logo onto a patch of grass behind home plate. The sacrilegious sod was gone when reporters looked down from the 406 Club windows yesterday.

Grady Little was gone, too.

As we knew he would, Little became the first victim of the fall of 2003. On the 17th anniversary of Calvin Schiraldi's Game 7 loss to the Mets.

Larry Lucchino and Theo Epstein put their best spin on Little's contract option not being picked up, but no matter what they say, this goes down as the first instance of a Red Sox manager getting the ax for a single decision in a single game. The front office can float balloons about differences in philosophy, lack of preparation, Little's tendency to talk about himself in the third person, or the alignment of Jupiter and Mars -- Grady got fired because he left Pedro Martinez on the mound in the eighth inning at Yankee Stadium.

Now we turn to the idea of who's next. What is clear is that there's not a human with all the attributes necessary to fulfill the requirements the Sox have established. They are in search of a guy who can please Bill James and Manny Ramirez. They want a man who can satisfy stat geek owner John Henry while still commanding the respect of the players. They need a guy who can work with young Theo and his seamheads, while keeping Pedro happy by sending him home to the Dominican every couple of weeks.

You'd better also be ready to answer to a demanding Lucchino and a wanting-to-be-more-involved Tom Werner (it was the late PA announcer, Sherm Feller, who once said, "We got so many owners, I don't know who to be nice to anymore.") Oh, and let's not forget the scrutiny of fans and media. It was Little who last week reminded us that, in Boston, anything less than winning a World Series now counts as failure.

Yesterday, Boston talk radio master Jay Severin listened to the Sox' job requirements and said, "That's like looking for the Playboy centerfold who also holds a degree from MIT and loves to cook."

In other words, the Sox never are going to find anyone with all the qualities they now require.

Something happened to Little during his final two months at Fenway. It all started the weekend of Manny's Dinner With Enrique Wilson at the Ritz. Ramirez's refusal to pinch hit in Philadelphia proved to be the last straw for Little and forced him to finally take action. He won over his clubhouse by taking a stand against Manny, but management wasn't impressed, and Little resented the lack of backing.

Yesterday's club statement said Henry "took the position well before the post-season that the club may need to question a long-term commitment to its manager."

Quite a broadside, given the hollow support Henry and Co. gave Little in September and October.

Little knew they didn't really want him, and their phony shows of support insulted his dignity. That was about the time he started to give defiant answers to standard media questions. He caught John McNamara Disease. He became paranoid.

"People have no idea what goes on around here," he said in a private moment of frustration with two weeks left in the regular season. "The stuff I put up with in that room [pointing to the clubhouse], most people wouldn't last five minutes in this job. Not five minutes."

Two days after the disaster in the Bronx, Little told reporters, "Hell, I've got people on that field throughout the seventh game thinking about Bill Buckner. That's a tough situation to be in. Everyone knows the environment here in Boston."

It was a telling remark, proof that in the end, the job overwhelmed the nice guy/cotton farmer from North Carolina. They always like to tell us that the past doesn't matter. Little preached that to the bitter finish, but like too many others, he ultimately was eaten up by the unbearable heavyosity of the Red Sox.

The last thing he said to the Globe's Gordon Edes, in his remarkable "take-this-job-and-shove-it" interview of last Wednesday, was, "If Grady Little is not back with the Red Sox, he'll be somewhere. I'll be another ghost, fully capable of haunting."

So there. In the end, Little understood fully what it meant to manage in Boston. Too bad there's no way to prepare his successor. Like having babies and running marathons, you can't know what it feels like to manage the Red Sox until you've sat in the corner office at Fenway for a couple of years.

Dan Shaughnessy is a Globe columnist. His e-mail address is dshaughnessy@globe.com.

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