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Tuesday, October 21, 2003
Little hope

By Tim Keown
Page 2 columnist

More than likely, Grady Little is finished as manager of the Red Sox, done in by his inability to foresee Pedro Martinez's impending demise in Game 7 of the ALCS. To a lesser degree, Dusty Baker is being second- and third-guessed for his handling of the Cubs' pitching staff, specifically his over-reliance on Mark Prior in the post-Bartman hours of Game 6 of the NLCS.

Grady Little
Was Grady Little possessed by a curse? Fiction would make more sense than fact.
There is no sense in engaging in any further re-rehashing of our inability to coax a Red Sox-Cubs World Series out of this postseason. But the respective fates of Little and Baker raise a salient point about the nature of the sports business: Nobody in sport -- not coaches or catchers or kickers -- is under more scrutiny than the people who take big-league baseball teams into the postseason.

When's the last time an NBA coach was criticized to the point of outright blame for substitution patterns in the NBA Finals? What NFL coach was uniformly excoriated for losing the Super Bowl because of a "bad scheme"?

They don't "scheme" in baseball, which is yet another of its many advantages. Managers put guys on the field and then react to situations as they happen. It's entirely subjective; most football fans, even when they're drunk, can make the right call on when to punt and when to go for it.

But a pitching change, or non-change, late in a deciding game? You've got to be a combination of faith-healer and psychic. Little, as he proved, is neither. He's a hoper, a guy who believes what he wants to believe and crosses his fingers just in case. The process is not scientific, unless you're Joe Torre and have the unique ability to hand the ball dispassionately to Mariano Rivera to start the eighth, every single time.

And who can resist this little re-re-rehash: Little's biggest mistake may have been putting Tim Wakefield in the game instead of Scott Williamson or some other non-knuckleballer in the 10th . When Boston's season ended, it was Rivera vs. Wakefield, which is about as Torre vs. Little as you can get without pulling something.

This Week's List

  • I don't know why, and you don't know why, but he's The King: Jim Leyritz.

  • This is what happens when you start liking the sound of your voice a whole lot more than doctors recommend: Warren Sapp and his "slavemasters" quote about the NFL.

  • The way Sapp's been playing, here's an idea that might not have occurred to him: Silence.

  • Cute, sure, but utterly ridiculous in a baseball sense: Hideki Matsui and his dainty little spin move before he released the ball to the plate on Juan Pierre's two-run single in Game 1.

  • As the people in Sacramento will tell you, it's another case of Laker Bias: Courtroom drawings of Kobe Bryant make him look like he's 12, while the courtroom drawings of Chris Webber give a glimpse of what he'll look like when he's 50.

  • As we all know, there's nothing quite like the feeling of excitement that comes with owning less than a single square inch of old jersey: Donruss, a baseball card company, purchased one of three remaining Babe Ruth jerseys at an auction in order to cut it into little pieces and sell it in packs of cards.

  • Later this week: Donruss buys the Declaration of Independence, runs it through a shredder and weaves it into NYPD caps to be sold outside Yankee Stadium during Games 6 and 7.

  • Just for the heck of it: Jim Willoughby.

  • Not to draw conclusions about team chemistry and belonging and who's in and who's out, but just for edification purposes: There's an interesting photo in Sports Illustrated this week showing seven Red Sox lining up for the national anthem, with the first six sporting Millar-inspired shaved heads and the seventh -- Byung-Hyun Kim -- looking out drearily from under a full nest of hair.

  • This week for the Mavericks: Antoine Walker, the fourth shooting (and shooting, and shooting) forward on the roster.

  • Hey, some people collect baseball cards, some collect pieces of historic fabric: Mark Cuban and Don Nelson just happen to collect gunners.

  • The way the Mavs see it: They needed Walker and Antawn Jamison to split up the shots Nick Van Exel would have taken.

  • Hey, Bret Boone: You there? ... Bret? ... Bret?

  • It's the undetected home-grown threats that endanger us all: The misuse of apostrophes in home-made stadium signs ("Go Giant's!" "Miller's Say HI!!!") is traveling the path from epidemic to catastrophe.

  • When postgame interviews go bad: After Curt Minifee asked Mariano Rivera -- the best big-game closer in history -- if he was viewing the Series as a chance at "redemption to clear your name," didn't you expect a laugh track?

  • And finally: Can we please get just one more face shot of Bret Boone ("Bret ... you there, Bret?") as he gazes blankly from the booth after his brother hit the homer?

    Tim Keown is a senior writer for ESPN The Magazine.