Who will replace Little?

In the aftermath of the decision not to retain Grady Little as manager, one Red Sox official summed up the club's mission neatly.

"What we want," the official said, "is to find the next great manager."

That may be easier said than done.

"Never mind the next great manager," countered an executive from another organization. "Who are the great managers (working) now?"

Baseball managers, for the most part, lack the star power of their counterparts in other sports. Who's the baseball equivalent of Bill Parcells? Or Jimmy Johnson? Or Scotty Bowman? Or Phil Jackson?

Joe Torre, who's managed in six of the last eight World Series and won four of them, may come the closest. And if Torre were to become available as part of George Steinbrenner's expected house-cleaning, he'd be hired the following day to manage the Sox. But precisely because that would be the case, Steinbrenner will never let Torre go while the Sox have a dugout opening.

So as the Sox look to hire their eighth manager since their last World Series appearance -- ninth, if you count Mike Cubbage's three-week interim spring training stint -- here's a look at the possible field.

Good Shots
BUD BLACK: Black has no managerial experience, but he's highly regarded and respected for the job he's done with the Anaheim pitching staff. It doesn't hurt that he's been in the dugout with Mike Scioscia, who would probably be the most sought-after manager in the game were he to become a free agent.

It could be tough for the Sox to bring a managerial neophyte into Boston, with the attendant media and fan pressures. But Black has a certain presence -- and some front-office experience in Cleveland to add to his resume.

TERRY FRANCONA: Francona managed the Phillies for four years without a winning season. The experience hasn't stained him, however. To the contrary, his name pops up frequently in association with job openings, with the Orioles also interested.

Francona could learn from his mistakes in Philadelphia, and he's young enough to incorporate the Red Sox philosophy that mandates an emphasis on "new school" methods.

JOEL SKINNER: The runner-up when the Indians went looking for a new manager last winter, Skinner has managed at the minor-league level and coached at the big-league level.

He's not a big name, but he's held in high esteem throughout the game, and since the Cleveland organizational philosophy is quite similar to the Red Sox, he would have little trouble adjusting.

GLENN HOFFMAN: The Sox asked for -- and received -- permission to speak to him before hiring Little in March of 2002, but Hoffman politely declined, citing the new Sox ownership and unsettled front office.

Now, with a few more seasons of coaching experience to his credit -- he managed the Dodgers for the second half of the 1998 season -- he might be more willing to jump.

As a former Sox player, he understands firsthand the unique demands of the Boston market, something no other candidate in this group can claim.

Long Shots

BRUCE BOCHY: Bochy, who has had five straight losing seasons in San Diego after taking the Padres to the 1998 World Series, may have tenuous job security, and he's a known commodity to both GM Theo Epstein and CEO Larry Lucchino, both of whom worked with Bochy in San Diego.

But the Padres are moving into their new ballpark in April and are unlikely to make a dugout change at such a pivotal time. Bochy and GM Kevin Towers enjoy as solid a working relationship as any manager and GM tandem in the game.

Add in Padres owner John Moores' intense dislike for Lucchino, and it's hard to imagine him doing the Sox any favors by letting Bochy out of his contract.

JIM TRACY: Tracy's strength -- in-game management -- was Little's biggest perceived weakness, so that represents a fit.

But as the Dodgers prepare to change ownership (from Rupert Murdoch to Frank McCourt) and perhaps general managers (Dan Evans to Billy Beane?), it seems Tracy is probably safe.

MIKE HARGROVE: Hargrove is a solid manager, having taken the Indians to the World Series twice while improving the Orioles significantly this season. His relationship with Manny Ramirez is good, too.

But with two stops along the managerial circuit, Hargrove may be viewed as an old-school choice, part of the old-boy network.

No Shots

DAVEY LOPES: Sure, Lopes has New England roots and is familiar to both Lucchino and Epstein from San Diego.

But Lopes' one chance at managing in Milwaukee was, frankly, disastrous, and his brutal honesty would not go over well in the Boston clubhouse, where the star players are used to special accommodations from the manager.

BOBBY VALENTINE: Valentine, too, would answer the need for a better dugout tactician, where even his many enemies concede he excels.

But Valentine can be a divisive figure, and his personality would be too strong for Lucchino, who nonetheless is said to view him favorably.

CHARLIE MANUEL: Despite rampant speculation in Boston earlier this week, Manuel has no chance of being considered, much less hired.

Sean McAdam of the Providence (R.I.) Journal covers baseball for ESPN.com.