Fredi Gonzalez, the last remaining Latino manager in the big leagues, was terminated yesterday by the the Atlanta Braves. Also canned was bench coach and longtime Gonzalez associate Carlos Tosca, wiping the slate clean of top Hispanic chiefs in the Braves dugout.
Why did this happen, you ask? It was unfortunate and almost unfair. Atlanta is off to one of its worst starts in franchise history and was 9-28 thus far under Gonzalez, who was in the final year of his deal. Under such circumstances, somebody’s head needs to roll, and it’s usually not the guy in the suit upstairs. But maybe in this case it should have been, since Fredi Gonzalez had nothing to do with putting this team together. He was asked to be patient while the Braves began a rebuilding process, one that has been a disaster. Quite frankly, the Atlanta Braves are an inferior product with the worst roster on paper in the National League.
The big problem here is that the Braves fans are used to winning, and when that doesn’t happen, it affects attendance. It’s no fun doing the Tommy Hawk Chop when your team is getting its ass kicked. What’s odd is that Gonzalez apparently used to be a pretty good manager. Otherwise, ownership wouldn’t have agreed to renew his contract through 2016, with an option for the following season.
Gonzalez led the Braves to a pair of playoff berths and a division championship. But some front office changes would eventually take place along with a shift in philosophy. High-earning players were moved and payroll dramatically slashed. This season, Atlanta ranks a lowly 27th among the 30 MLB teams in overall salary, which is absurd for a major-market team. Offensively, the team has hit fewer home runs than Colorado Rockies third baseman Nolan Arenado. Colombia’s Julio Teheran is the only star in the Braves pitching rotation, leaving a weary bullpen that has compiled an horrible 4.78 ERA. Meanwhile, Atlanta’s .978 fielding percentage is next to last in the senior circuit.
Even more bizarre was the embarrassing way Gonzalez was fired. Shortly after the Braves lost to the Pirates on Monday evening in Pittsburgh, the 52-year-old Cuban skipper received an email directing him to board a commercial flight back to Atlanta the following day. That couldn’t have been good news, since the team had three more road games to play in the Steel City. One would think that a manager who has led his team into battle for six years at least deserved a phone call and a politely-worded gracias. And Tosca? Maybe he had to pay his own way back home to clean out his locker.
Most certainly, the legendary Bobby Cox would have never been treated as poorly as Gonzalez. Then again, that’s not even a matter worthy of discussion. Cox had Chipper Jones, Tom Glavine, Greg Maddux, and Andruw Jones. That was a different era and now, the Atlanta Braves are a franchise in transition.
Fredi Gonzalez did the best he could, and he had a positive influence on his players. But it’s hard to make chicken soup out of chicken shit. He deserves another gig, hopefully sooner than later.