Fredi Gonzalez hasn’t fully transitioned to his new job yet. He was walking around in shorts and a Braves hoodie the other day, with no name on his door and his office — still filled with old furniture with empty drawers and stripped down walls — ready for an extreme makeover.
Asked if he would sit for a photo behind the desk that once belonged to Bobby Cox, Gonzalez said, “That’s not mine.”
Instead, he stood off to the side, adjacent to the cigar humidor, which Cox left behind.
“The humidor is the only thing that’s staying,” he said. “Bobby gave that to me as a gift.”
In the Braves’ managerial world, the passing of the torch involves a lit Macanudo.
Three and a half months after replacing the retired Cox, Gonzalez began his on-field duties as manager this week, albeit on a small scale. The Braves are holding their annual pitching camp at Turner Field before they make the break for Florida. Some players stopped to introduce themselves to Gonzalez as they entered the clubhouse. Others already knew him from his days as a Braves coach, but they needed to be reassured of a few things.
“Some of us were worried about having to come to camp and running a six-minute mile the first day or doing shuttle runs,” Chipper Jones said. “We’ve always been allowed to sort of play ourselves into shape. That would be a culture shock, but Fredi assured us that won’t happen.”
There is no culture shock here. That may seem strange. Cox had managed the Braves for the last 21 years. Logic dictates his replacement would come off as dramatic change, like altering the office décor from old-man traditional to new guy modern — with an accent wall. (Gonzalez: “I just learned that term.”)
But this won’t be some sweeping new regime. Gonzalez isn’t a politician stepping into office and pulling an Al Haig (“I’m in charge here”). For all the talk about how the Braves will be more “aggressive” and run more, they probably ran and hit-and-ran more in Cox’s final season than they had in years.
“People have been asking me all the time about how I’m going to be different,” Gonzalez said. “But it’s not like this is football or basketball. I’m not going to bring in a different scheme, like the West Coast offense or the triangle offense.There’s a very good core of people here, and spending five years with Bobby a lot my values have come from him.”
The Braves didn’t seek nor need to be taken in a completely new direction. They didn’t need someone to give a new earth-shaking speech on day one of spring training. (Gonzalez: “Mine will probably be about the same length as Bobby’s: ‘We’re here to win.’”) They just needed an upgrade of the old model. Fredi Gonzalez is Bobby Cox 2.0.
General manager Frank Wren locked onto Gonzalez from the time he was fired by the Florida Marlins on June 23. They met the following week at a park-and-ride lot in Carrollton off I-20. Wren picked him up and drove to his cabin on Lake Wedowee in Alabama.
Wren: “We probably talked for four to five hours. Then we went to the marina and ate catfish.”
Over the next few months, Gonzalez met a few other times with Wren and team president John Schuerholz. Cox knew about it and even encouraged it. He and Gonzalez met twice a week for coffee during homestands, talking baseball and the Braves. When Gonzalez attended Gwinnett games, Cox asked him about pitching prospects Brandon Beachy and Mike Minor. The Braves never actually said, “You’re hired,” until after the season. But as Wren said: “I’m sure he had every indication he would be our next manager by September.”
For the record, Gonzalez sought to make only one sweeping change — and it was shot down.
“I think it was the second time I met with John in September, he started going over some of the team rules and he asked, ‘What would you change?’” Gonzalez said. “I said, ‘Well, what do you think about letting guys wear jeans and collared shirts on the road?’ And he was like, “’No.’ I don’t think I even finished the question. I’m like, ‘OK, that’s not a deal-breaker.’”
A momentary glitch in the new software.
By Jeff Schultz