Sox invite Grady Little ... no reply so far

TORONTO -- Terry Francona apparently is not the only Boston Red Sox manager prepared to skip the 100th anniversary celebration of Fenway Park next week.

According to a baseball source, Grady Little was sent an invitation at his North Carolina address, but to date the club has not received a reply.

That is not likely to come as a shock to anyone. Little was fired under humiliating circumstances in 2003, just days after the Red Sox lost Game 7 of the ALCS to the New York Yankees. Instead of praise for taking the Red Sox to within a game of what would have been their first World Series since 1986, Little was eviscerated for his decision not to replace ace Pedro Martinez with a reliever with the Red Sox ahead by three runs with six outs to go.

The Yankees rallied to tie the score against Martinez, then won on Aaron Boone's home run off Tim Wakefield in the 11th inning. But just as Bill Buckner bore singular blame for Boston's Game 6 loss to the New York Mets in the '86 Series, so, too, did Little, for '03, with owner John W. Henry famously joking, according to published accounts, that instead of declaring the celebratory tagline, "I'm going to Disney World," he was substituting, "I'm firing Grady Little."

Little, like Francona, was deeply wounded by the circumstances of his exit from the Red Sox. His two-year term with the Sox had begun under much happier circumstances, when he received a standing ovation from the team in spring training when introduced by the Sox owners as new manager.

Some of Little's comments about being fired bear an uncanny resemblance to comments made by Francona in the days since his departure. Like Francona, Little said he wasn't even sure he wanted to return.

"If they don't want me, fine, they don't want me," Little said at the time. "If they want me to come back, then we'll talk and see if I want to come back up there. That's the way I feel about it."

In March, when Francona visited Sox training camp with his ESPN broadcasting team, he had said he probably wouldn't attend the anniversary celebration.

"I'm not sure I'm ready for the hugs,'' he said. "I haven't stopped the bleeding.''

Little, during the firestorm about the Martinez 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."

A number of players defended Little's decision, most notably catcher Jason Varitek, even years later.

Little's most famous parting shot: "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."

The Red Sox have made an effort to invite everyone who has ever worn a Sox uniform, at least those for whom they have an address.

While Francona almost certainly would receive an ovation if he did attend, it's not clear what kind of reception would be accorded Little, even though the Red Sox won two World Series in the next four seasons. His name still provokes a strong reaction among many Sox fans.

"That's not my problem," he said. "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."