Grady grates on fans
Dodgers faithful grow impatient with Little's moves
Posted: Thursday September 20, 2007 1:33PM; Updated: Thursday September 20, 2007 3:35PM
The easiest thing to do in baseball is to blame the manager. The hardest thing to do is to find someone who can do the job better.
With the Los Angeles Dodgers tumbling from first place in the National League West on July 29 to fourth place on Thursday morning, despite the highest payroll and arguably the most contributions from the farm system of any team in the division, some Dodgers fans aren't looking for someone to blame. They've already found their man, and folks in the Northeast will probably recognize the name.
If Grady Little hasn't worn out his welcome in Los Angeles yet, he has worn it down. Thanks to the development of sassily talented young players such as James Loney, Matt Kemp, Russell Martin and Chad Billingsley, there's plenty of hope for the Dodgers in 2008. But after a honeymoon in 2006 that saw Los Angeles reach the playoffs, there's also plenty of doubt as to whether Little is the right manager for the job.
What else is new in baseball, right?
Little, of course, has been tattooed with the memory of being the one who failed to call in the tow truck the night Pedro Martinez ran out of gas for the Red Sox in Game 7 of the 2003 ALCS. When Little got his next managerial job before the 2006 season and began his first spring training, he was asked about Martinez nearly every day.
This year, Martinez has been the least of anyone's concerns with Little. Instead it has been all about Little's starting lineups for the Dodgers, because pretty much every game this season, the names Little wrote on the lineup card raised questions, such as:
Why wasn't Kemp playing more? Not until Sept. 4-8 did Kemp (currently with a .900 OPS) start five games in a row, and even after that period he sat three times in the next seven.
Why wasn't Juan Pierre playing less? Despite his weak bat and arm, Pierre has maintained the longest current consecutive games played streak in baseball. Even after reaching base at a .408 clip this month, Pierre's season-long OBP is .330. Sure, he was general manager Ned Colletti's prize offseason position-player signing, but did that mean Little couldn't rest Pierre at all?
Why did Little insist from April into June that Nomar Garciaparra could not play third base, only to move him there after he spent 285 plate appearances at first with a .648 OPS and one home run?
Why wasn't the sore-ankled and subsequently ineffective Rafael Furcal getting more rest to get him healthy? Why wasn't All-Star catcher Russell Martin getting more rest to keep him hardy?
Why hadn't Andre Ethier, with an .800 OPS on the year, .820 for his career and .825 since the All-Star Break, started in more than five consecutive games since June?
Not everyone was bothered by all the questions, but virtually all were vexed by some. Lineup frustration became de rigueur for Dodgers fans of all stripes.
And then, over five consecutive games earlier this month, as the Dodgers made one last uphill charge for the playoffs, renewed concern over Little's management of the pitching staff reached unprecedented heights for him in Los Angeles, and the atmosphere surrounding him became more toxic:
Sept 6: After allowing Derek Lowe to bat for himself with two runners on and a 2-1 lead in the top of the seventh, Little removed Lowe after letting him face only one more batter.
Sept 7: In an almost identical situation, after allowing Billingsley to bat with one on and a 3-1 lead in the seventh, Little took Billingsley out after just one more batter -- Barry Bonds -- reached base.
Sept. 8: David Wells, 44, claimed on waivers only days earlier, was given the rope that Lowe and Billingsley didn't get, allowed to stay in the game with the tying run up to bat in the bottom of sixth.