Where Are They Now? – Grady LittlePosted: July 2, 2013
What defines a baseball life? Four decades in the game, or one controversial decision that may (or may not) have led to October heartbreak? Ten years after the crushing loss that saw his Red Sox lose in heartbreaking fashion to the Yankees in Game 7 of the 2003 American League Championship Series, Chris Nashawaty finds that the former Red Sox skipper, who has been coaching high school baseball in North Carolina, has no regrets. And he’s ready to get back in the game.
Grady Little is 63 now, and the grandfather of three has been out of Major League Baseball since 2007. With a 385-290 record; his .552 winning percentage puts him ahead of Tony La Russa and many others on the all-time list. But Little is unfortunately remembered for a decision to keep a tired pitcher, Pedro Martinez, in during the 8th inning of Game 7 of the 2003 ALCS. Most Red Sox fans resent Little for this and truly believe he cost them the title. Martinez gave up three runs allowing the Yankees to tie the game. They wound up winning in extra innings. “Look, my life is about that moment,” he says. “My life is about people judging me on one game when I managed about 3,000. Shoot, I made a decision. The results were bad that day. But I made those same decisions to get us there.” (PAGE 104)
Would he make that same decision today? Before he answers this question, he wants you to understand all the little decisions that led to the moment that has come to define him.
Grady grew up in a baseball oriented family, and developed into an all-state player in North Carolina. He was drafted by the Braves out of high school in 1968, and continued his career with the Yankees. “I tried to play for seven years, but I couldn’t hit,” he says. “By the time I was playing in the Yankees system, I knew I wasn’t going to make it to the majors.” (PAGE 106) Little was let go from the Yankees, and after four years he was burning to get back to baseball. He took a managing job for the Oriole’s rookie team in 1980.
After a series of jobs in the minors and on the major league staffs of the Red Sox and Indians, Little finally got the chance he’d been waiting for: to manage the Red Sox. “We jumped off to a heck of a start,” he says. “We had 93 wins that first season…” (PAGE 106)
Little also formed great relationships with the team’s players, Kevin Millar being one of them. “Grady allowed you to just be who you were,” says Millar. “We called him Country, and he was one of my favorite managers—if not my favorite, period. We had so many unique personalities on that team. That team set the foundation for the 2004 World Series team. Grady doesn’t get enough credit for that.” (PAGE 108)
Little still doesn’t regret his decision to keep Martinez in. He says, “I can’t pinpoint my exact thinking at that moment, but we’d been hitting and missing with the bullpen all season. They did a great job in that series, but I’m not just reflecting on two or three games, I’m reflecting on 170. That’s where the thinking of stretching Pedro came in.” Little adds, “I look back sometimes and say, What if I had taken him out? What would have happened? We don’t know.” (PAGE 108)
It didn’t feel the same for Little after he scouted for the Cubs in 2004 and then managed the Dodgers from 2006-07. “I started to feel the same way after a five-game losing streak as I felt after a five-week winning streak,” he says. “I knew that wasn’t right. I’d been going for a lot of years. And at that time I thought, I don’t want to do this anymore.” (PAGE 109)
After the Dodgers chose not to bring him back, Little moved back to Charlotte, North Carolina and settled down for a new life with his wife and family. More recently, he started coaching high school kids at the nearby Hickory Grove Christian School. He may be the most overqualified varsity coach in America. For now, Little is content with the way things are, but he says there will always be a little part of him itching to be a part of the big leagues again. “You know, you might physically walk away from the game, but your heart never leaves it,” he says. “If a coaching opportunity came around, I’m ready to go back to work. I have the energy and the will to help an organization.” (PAGE 109)