For all the reunions, memories, and general sense of bygones being bygones that will be swirling at Vero Beach this afternoon when the Red Sox face off against a number of old friends now employed by Frank McCourt in Los Angeles, there is perhaps one foremost question to ponder.
How messed up are the Dodgers?
Two seasons removed from perhaps the biggest mental blunder in postseason history, Grady Little's once and current players, including Nomar Garciaparra, Derek Lowe, and Bill Mueller, are expressing to anyone who will listen in Hollywood how raw a deal their manager received after tossing away the pennant in 2003, leaving a tired Pedro Martinez ... oh, you know.
"People try to beat him up about that (leaving Martinez in too long)," Lowe told the Orange County Register. "But there were a lot of people out in that bullpen that didn't want to be the next Billy Buckner. If you play there, that pressure is always there."
Should the man be forever crucified for one mistake? Nah. Look, Little could never manage here again, that much was for sure, and the Red Sox didn't want him back in the first place, a matter of philosophy more than for that one move. Or lack of one. So, when we learned that new Dodgers GM Ned Colletti tabbed the former Sox skipper as the team's new manager, I think many who had experienced that October evening were at least somewhat happy for the man, pleased to see a chance at redemption, particularly after the 2004 Sox exorcised his demon, among the many others.
But. Well, let's just say the Dodgers should be interesting this season.
Last week in a spring tune-up game, Little gave Andre Ethier, the former Texas League Player of the Year acquired from Oakland in the Milton Bradley trade this offseason, the swing sign on a 3-0 count. Either decided to take instead, frightening his manager, who was looking for the hack.
"I was a little scared he was into that Oakland thing," Little said. "We swing here on 3-0."
Yeah, that Oakland thing. No wonder Nomar is singing Little's praises. He might not walk all season.
"It's been ingrained in me since I was young," Ethier said. "I've been successful with that approach, not chasing balls out of the zone. It can be a tough adjustment."
Yikes. You've got to love when promising young stars are taught that chasing balls out of the zone is the way to approach the game. Mueller must be gritting his teeth.
The Dodgers, as constituted, should be decent enough to compete in the NL West, which would be hard-pressed to be more pathetic than it was a year ago, when San Diego took the title with an 82-80 mark. The Dodgers were fourth -- 71-91, 11 games back -- which prompted Boston-based developer McCourt to have a change in philosophy, doing a 180 in firing manager Jim Tracy and one-year GM Paul DePodesta, a disciple of "that Oakland thing." He then hired former hockey writer Colletti, who completed the radical change by bringing in Little, a man who appeared to have defied and refused to follow suggestions from the front office in Boston, which he saw as inferior to the mind of a baseball manager.
Somewhere in between "that Oakland thing" and Grady Little, lies the balance the Red Sox seem to be achieving with Terry Francona, who just happened to be Little's roomie in a former life. The trouble is, Little sounds so agitated by his experience working with the numbers and on-base percentage, of hearing Bill James' name mentioned in regard to holding off the stolen base he knows he had to attempt, that you have to wonder if his spite might get in the way of his managing.
It's obvious with his Oakland remark that he still harbors some ill will toward baseball's new-school approach. And that's fine. Bobby Cox's Braves have been winning division titles since I was a junior in high school with an old-school approach. But Little's distaste for these philosophies seems so deep at times, there has to be concern that it can blind him in seeing what is the right move for his team.
The stats said that night in October at Yankee Stadium that Pedro Martinez should have been lifted. Heck, everyone there except the guy with the power to do something about it SAW that Martinez should be lifted. Little went with neither his brain nor his eyes, instead following his heart. We know what happened.
It was, in part, the final thumb of the nose to a Boston front office that had inundated Little with daily statistics and field reports. Little was an old school guy in a franchise where the manager takes second fiddle in the overall scheme of things.
It was best for Little to move on, obviously. The Dodgers, though, better hope they're not dealing with a man who's out to prove a point above all else.
"Once I manage one game for the L.A. Dodgers, people are going to quit asking me about Pedro," he told the Los Angeles Times last month. "They are going to start asking about what I screwed up in the game tonight."
Little said he was prepared for an onslaught of questions form Boston reporters today, but that he was not interested in revisiting history. We're not here to talk about the past when it comes to Grady Little blunders. Then again, why should we? Heck, there may be plenty more in the Dodgers' future to make that Game 7 but a footnote.