Saturday, December 10, 2005

Bill Plaschke on Grady

Out on the west coast, the LA Times employs a sports columnist by the name of Bill Plaschke. Plaschke is one of those "traditional baseball guys," someone who resents the hell out of Bill James and Billy Beane, and anyone who's spent time trying to objectively learn to evaluate baseball players and baseball teams. He called for Paul DePodesta's execution as soon as he was hired and spent the entire DePodesta era trying to run him out of town. Small, petty, spiteful and gloriously ill-informed, Plaschke is the man who wrote in December of 2000 that "today, the Twins wake up with zero chance to make next year's playoffs. Like the Pittsburgh Pirates. Like the Montreal Expos. Like about all but five or six teams." Of course, 8 teams made the play-offs in 2001. One of them happened to be the Minnesota Twins...

See this "outside the tent" piece from Matt Welch for more Plaschke background. Well, here we have another Plaschke masterpiece, just begging for a fisking...
Let me see if I have this straight.

Based on your track record, I'm thinking probably not.
There was an unemployed manager out there whose last night of work was Game 7 of the American League championship series.

There was a former manager out there whose last season contained 95 wins.

There was an ex-manager out there who was fired because he trusted instinct over statistic, people over paradigms, baseball over everything.

And this same guy, the Dodgers just hired him?

Well, not exactly, no. Yes, the 2003 Red Sox, with Grady Little at the helm, did win 95 games. But he wasn't "fired." They hired him in 2002 and gave him a 2 year contract. That contract expired at the end of 2003. After looking at the body of work, they decided that they didn't want to sign him to a new contract. That's not "firing." He was a free agent, they didn't re-sign him.

And he wasn't "fired" because he "trusted instinct over statistic." He was "fired" because they weren't happy with the job he did. Not to mention the ticket holders who wouldn't have been back if Grady had.
Ned Colletti can pump his right fist any time now.

In resurrecting Grady Little as the new Dodger manager, he hit a late-inning, backdoor slider out of the park.

The baseball folks in Boston may be wincing, but baseball folks everywhere else are smiling, waxing in the rebirth of a good man wronged.

Anyone else feeling misty-eyed? Emotional? I admit it, I reacted emotionally to this line. But I wasn't sure whether to laugh before or after I threw up...

I'm actually reminded of Dickens. And Oscar Wilde. Charles Dickens was a great writer, capable of great emotional impact. But sometimes he went just a bit too far, and it didn't work. The great comment from Oscar Wilde, with which I wholeheartedly agreed, was about "The Olde Curiousity Shoppe." Wilde said that "a man would have to have a heart of stone not to laugh at little Nell's death..." There are tragedies and rebirths in this world. Grady Little's managerial career isn't one of them.
"I love baseball, this is my life, this is what I do," said Little, a former cotton farmer with a voice like syrup and the expressiveness of grits. "To be able to get another chance like this, I'm very, very fortunate."

Little's only other major league managerial experience consisted of two years with the Boston Red Sox, who fired him because of one bad decision he made when the still-cursed franchise was six outs from going to the 2003 World Series.

Which "one bad decision" was that? Sending Pedro out for the 8th? Leaving him in to face Jeter? Leaving him in to face Williams? Leaving him in to face Matsui? Leaving him in to face Posada? Going to Wakefield in a tie game with Williamson still available? Or was it one of the myriad of other decisions to leave pitchers in games too long over the course of his two seasons at the helm? Or just his one decision to ignore all of the information that his bosses had tried to give him on how they wanted things done?
Going with his gut,

Instead of the mountain of other evidence, such as Martinez' past performance record when over 100 pitches, or the fact that he clearly thought he was done after seven, or that his velocity was going up but his pitches were straightening out. Or the fact that he allowed 3 straight hit, including a home run, and a hard line drive out to the last 5 batters he faced in the seventh. Or the fact that, by the time he was removed, he'd allowed 3 singles, 3 doubles and a home run to the last 9 batters he'd faced.
his gut failed him, as he left a tiring Pedro Martinez on the mound to face the New York Yankees in the eighth inning with a 5-2 lead. Martinez gave up three runs before the Yankees won it on Aaron Boone's home run in the 11th.

Little was gone shortly after the ball, canned by weak-kneed Boston officials who bowed to a region of whiny, self-absorbed fans.

Anyone who's read Plaschke's virtually non-stop assault on Paul DePodesta since he was hired can only react to this with 3 words. Pot. Kettle. Black.

And it has apparently escaped his attention that they did, in fact, upgrade, as the following year, the team won 11 games in October, as opposed to just 6, and captured the World Series, and Terry Francona outmanaged Mike Scioscia, Joe Torre and Tony LaRussa in the process. The day a Grady Little managed Dodger team does anything comparable, it'll rain up instead of down.
Two things about then, as they relate to now.

First, if Grady Little can guide the devastated Dodgers to within six outs of a World Series, the only decision that will be questioned will be the size of his statue.

I can just picture it now. Grady manages a Dodger team to a lead in game 7 of the NLCS, then completely gags, making awful tactical moves that cost LA the pennant. Bill Plaschke will be leading an effort to build a statue to Grady.

Second, leaving the Red Sox is generally a good and fortunate thing.

It happened to Babe Ruth. It happened to Roger Clemens. Heck, it has made a saint out of that lucky kid Theo Epstein.

The Red Sox fans who tell you Little was a terrible manager — and there are plenty of them — will also tell you that Bill Buckner was a terrible baseball player.

I'll tell you that Little was a terrible manager. And he's right, I'll also tell you that Bill Buckner was a terrible baseball player. In 1986, anyway. Not because of the 6th game, though - that was Rich Gedman's fault. And John McNamara's fault. And Calvin Schiraldi's fault. No, Buckner was a terrible player in 1986 because he didn't hit for power and he didn't take walks, and he wasn't very good defensively anymore at a weak defensive position. He led all of baseball in one category that year - outs made. Bill Plaschke may not understand this, but for an offensive player, making outs is a bad thing. That means that someone else doesn't get to bat, and you don't get more chances to score runs. The player who makes the most outs in baseball, if he's not countering with something pretty spectacular (the fact that Buckner hit 18 HR doesn't come close to qualifying), is hurting his team. Badly.

Which is not to say that Buckner was terrible for his whole career. He wasn't. But he wasn't ever a great player, and he was a bad one for longer than he was good.
Yeah, that same Buckner who had 2,715 hits.

And made over 7000 outs in the process. Context, Bill. Context. He really had no business in the Majors the last 5 years that he played.
Before breaking the 86-year-old "Curse of the Bambino" — which was really the curse of being the last integrated team in baseball — the Red Sox did all sorts of silly things to their managers in the name of voodoo.

Dick Williams won a pennant in his first year, and was gone in his third year. Don Zimmer averaged 96 wins for his first three seasons, and was gone in his fourth.

Williams wound up winning two World Series titles in Oakland and Zimmer became a legendary bench coach with the Yankees, both men lucky to have left town.

"It's New England, it's Boston, all they want to do is win," said Little with a huge sigh and great restraint.

Funny, but that's all Little, 55, did there. He won.

Funny, but that's not all that he did there. Yes, his (superbly talented) teams won 188 games. They also lost 136. They were 6-6 in the post-season, the one time that they got there.

After 16 years as a minor league manager, he won the Red Sox clubhouse after being appointed full-time boss in the spring of 2003. The ovation was so loud, it was heard by reporters outside the room.

This was a guy who had been director Ron Shelton's inspiration as the real manager of the Durham Bulls, with one publication selecting him best minor league manager of the last 20 years.

Players understood and loved that he was all about the grass-roots part of the game. That he would judge them not for only how they looked, but who they were.

"It's like [former player] Dante Bichette once said," Little explained Tuesday. "When you see a pretty girl wearing a bikini on the beach, she shows you a whole lot. But she doesn't show you everything."

He added, "My philosophy is like that. Statistics can't show you everything. I'm a human kind of guy."

There's a wonderful scene in Dostoyevsky's "The Idiot" (gee, I wonder how it is that Bill Plaschke writing about Grady Little makes me think of "The Idiot") in which characters are having a discussion about things that they've done in the past that embarrassed them. Only, as is actually the case, no one really wants to share the things that are deep down and embarrassing - we hide them away, from everyone else, yes, but especially from ourselves. Well, most of the people share events or occurrences that make them look good - ostensible "embarrassments" that really show their nobility or intelligence or the pride of their spirit. That's how I read that. "Statistics can't show you everything." No one ever said that they could. Grady ignored all of the statistics that his bosses provided him. He ignored all of the data that people gathered, gave him to work with. He ignored it all, and when the things that those statistics would have told him beforehand actually happened, he's wearing his ignorance as a badge of honor.

And Bill Plaschke loves him for it. He's a "human kind of guy." Unlike those of us who actually want to understand how the game works.
This humanness pulled together a clubhouse with players as diverse as Manny Ramirez, Derek Lowe and Nomar Garciaparra.

Ramirez averaged 34 homers and 106 runs batted in in two seasons with Little despite being benched for missing games.

I don't know whether to laugh or cry. Notice how Plaschke derides numbers, hates statistics, but now wants to praise Grady Little by using Manny Ramirez' statistics?

Now, maybe Plaschke should just stick to that whole "anti-stats" thing, because even when he does it, it makes him look like an even bigger idiot than when he just sticks his fingers in his ears and says "I can't hear you!" Little gets praise because Ramirez "averaged 34 homers and 106 runs batted in" under Little. He ignores the fact that he average 40 and 125 in the two years before Little got there, and 44 and 137 in the 2 years since.

I've decided. Definitely I'll laugh...
Lowe was 38-15 under Little and channeled his nervous energy into a force.

A force that had him put up his worst ERA since his rookie year in Grady's second season.
Then there was Garciaparra, who had his last good season under Little, 28 homers and 105 RBIs.

You see, if they hadn't replaced the "human" Grady Little with that evil alien robot Terry Francona, Garciaparra wouldn't have had that serious tendon injury to his ankle.
Little took a diverse group and turned them into winners who, months after he was fired, became nationally known as "the Idiots."

Many months. Like, 5 months into the following season.
Then, of course, they finally won the World Series.

Right. Without Grady Little.
Yet, when he was fired, he accepted it with humility and grace, never really ripping, instead disappearing into the Chicago Cubs' system as their roving catching instructor, an important yet anonymous and thankless job.

"I'm not sure that I want to manage that team. That's how I felt when I drove out of town. If Grady Little is not there, he'll be somewhere. Right now I'm disappointed that evidently some people are judging me on the results of one decision I made -- not the decision, but the results of the decision. Less than 24 hours before, those same people were hugging and kissing me. If that's the way they operate, I'm not sure I want to be part of it...Just add one more ghost to the list if I'm not there, because there are ghosts. That's certainly evident when you're a player in that uniform."
- Grady Little, leaving town with humility and grace...
"Why would I be bitter?" Little said Tuesday. "If I was going to be bitter, I'd have to be bitter for the rest of my life. Hey, things happen. Either you get busy living, or get busy dying, and I was going to live."

In an era when a first-time manager wins a World Series, today's hot hires are young or fresh, so Little received little interest the last two seasons until Colletti smartly delved deep into the system of his former Cubs and dusted him off.

Little is relaxed enough to handle veterans, but crusty enough to gain the respect of kids, and media-savvy enough to handle buzz. All of that is required in this market, where the new manager must deal with an unsmiling Jeff Kent and effusive "Entertainment Tonight" and seemingly every shade of blue in between.

The Rafael Furcal signing was a strange surprise. The Little hiring was a pleasant one. With much work left to be done, we'll for wait for more.

We'll see how pleasant it is when the Dodgers don't improve, and the starters are consistently left in to give up leads in the 7th...



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