As Braves get started, Fredi Gonzalez looks like Cox 2.0

Bobby Cox left behind his cigar humidor xxx.

The retired Bobby Cox left behind an office-warming present for his replacement, Fredi Gonzalez: his cigar humidor.

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

Follow me on Twitter @JeffSchultzAJC; friend me at Facebook.com/JeffSchultzAJC

148 comments Add your comment

goldwreck

February 1st, 2011
9:43 am

I just hope he’ll be his own man.

Reid Adair

February 1st, 2011
9:47 am

I think this will be a good transition for the players. As spring training goes along, they’ll see some differences between Fredi Gonzalez and Bobby Cox. However, as I’ve felt for a while now, the Braves’ problems are above the players and the manager.

World Series in 2012

February 1st, 2011
9:48 am

Looking forward to great things with this year’s club.

CantonBravesFan

February 1st, 2011
9:49 am

With what Fredi did with the Marlins….I am really looking forward to this season!!!

Fish Bisch

February 1st, 2011
9:52 am

Go Braves! I can’t wait for the season to start.

Trashy

February 1st, 2011
9:53 am

Isn’t it April, yet?

Feeanch

February 1st, 2011
9:54 am

Chpper would have been well-served over the years to actually do some sprints and warm up before a game. His solitaire -playing warm up routine is legendary in the clubhouse. I think that as the team transitions to a faster, more aggressive on the basepads kind of team that Wren alluded to in his season-ending interview with DOB being in shape will become a necessity. I bet chipper would have had half the injuries in his career had he adopted that mentality, particularly the last 3 years. Would it kill him to do some yoga like Al Leiter late in his career?

Jeff

February 1st, 2011
9:57 am

Wedowee rules, jk it sucks, stay away

fred

February 1st, 2011
10:00 am

the guy benched the marlins best player in hanley ramirez for acting like a panzy, “Goldwreck.” I am confident he will be his own person.

Chris

February 1st, 2011
10:03 am

Get rid of Chipper and I’ll give my vote to Fredi for Manager of the Year…

EW

February 1st, 2011
10:05 am

Seems like the front office made the right move. Chop Chop

Hankie Aron

February 1st, 2011
10:07 am

I agree with goldwreck, come spring training he has to come in and be his own man. He couldn’t be Bobby Cox 2.0 anyway because he’s not Bobby Cox. He is a different man who will run the team similar to Cox but different in his own way

FalconDawg

February 1st, 2011
10:08 am

I agree about Chipper because the main source of injuries is not doing the preventative maintenance. We are going to have a chance to score a ton of runs this year as long as we keep the base paths moving. Not to mention when you get a stolen base, especially from Chipper or McCann, it really cranks up the team.

Hankie Aron

February 1st, 2011
10:08 am

Hard nosed ,agressive, and accountable

Hankie Aron

February 1st, 2011
10:10 am

By the way, I do think last year was by far one of the best coaching jobs Bobby Cox has ever done. That team way overachieved with all the injuries and were very close to ousting the eventual World Series Champions,

Hankie Aron

February 1st, 2011
10:12 am

Given a healthy Prado, Chipper, Matt Diaz, Jurrjens, and a few others I think the Braves may have well won it all

Hankie Aron

February 1st, 2011
10:14 am

Oh well it’s the past. I like Venters setting up Kimbrel. The bullpen for the Braves should be electric with Linebrink and Sherrill along with the aforementioned young guns

Hankie Aron

February 1st, 2011
10:14 am

Help me Schultzie I am talking to myself

UGABugKiller

February 1st, 2011
10:16 am

Jeff, you do realize that printing “Freddie is Bobby Cox 2.0″ is about the worst thing in the world you could have said?

Bobby Cox, as in the absolutely worst postseason manager in baseball history?

Bobby Cox, as in the man who would do the same thing in October, over and over and over again, only to lose to worse teams, over and over and over again, but expecting a different result each time?

THAT Bobby Cox? You do realize that Bobby Cox’s “performance” as a manager in October is Einstein’s very definition of insanity, right?

In ANY other town, where the media is 1) scared of the manager or 2) where people really care about baseball like they do college football (towns like Boston, New York, and Chicago) there is NO WAY Bobby Cox still has a job after the fiasco of the 1996 World Series, right?

Bobby Cox’s great Braves teams lost to a WORSE team in the postseason TEN TIMES in fifteen tries. TEN TIMES.

Ten times, Bobby Cox took the better team into a postseason series, and lost.

And you can’t blame the players, as many fools in this city do. The players weren’t the ONLY variable that never changed in the fifteen postseason tries. Cox, however, was. Cox was the only constant, the never-changing variable of every single embarrassing Braves postseason collapse.

And you want Freddie to be Bobby Cox 2.0?

Does that mean we’re doomed already?

UGABugKiller

February 1st, 2011
10:18 am

That read:

In a town where the media is 1) NOT scared of the manager…

please continue.

Dawg A

February 1st, 2011
10:22 am

As much as I liked Bobby it was time to bring in some new blood! I believe that we got the best manager for this job! And John S. should be more concerned with giving Fredi more talent than what his guys wear on the road!!!

[...] This post was mentioned on Twitter by ajc sports editor, heatherkirksey, Tom Branch Jr, Daemon Whittenburg, David Pollack and others. David Pollack said: RT @JeffSchultzAJC: As Braves get started, Fredi Gonzalez looks like Cox 2.0 http://bit.ly/esXN2R [...]

bulldog bubba

February 1st, 2011
10:35 am

Look people, 13 days and counting! Its like waiting on christmas to get here.Go Fredi and GO BRAVES!!!!

Unknown Hinson

February 1st, 2011
10:37 am

Now if we could just have a more competitive payroll. I hate you Liberty Media and especially Time Warner. Truly hate you. i Hope the economy destroys Time Warner, and even LM after they sell the Braves of course.

Jeff Schultz

February 1st, 2011
10:40 am

Goldwreck — I don’t think there’s any question about that. Benching Hanley Ramirez at Florida told you all you needed to know about Fredi.

Jeff Schultz

February 1st, 2011
10:40 am

Trashy — Almost.

Jeff Schultz

February 1st, 2011
10:42 am

Hankie Aron — No question (in my view) that last year was one of Cox’s best managing jobs, given the backdrop.

Jeff Schultz

February 1st, 2011
10:43 am

UGABugKiller — It’s only the “worst thing” I could have written to those fans who don’t think Bobby Cox was a good manager. Obviously I’m not of that opinion.

Art Vandelay

February 1st, 2011
10:45 am

To all of you implying that Chipper doesn’t put in the work to stay healthy: one does not play professional baseball (or any professional sport) for 17 years without making a serious commitment to physical fitness. Chipper’s knee injury last year was the result of him making a spectacular play on a ball that most 3B never would have gotten to — the ligament would’ve torn no matter how old he was, or how many stretching exercises he had done before the game. Give the guy a break already; he’s the greatest player to ever put on a Braves jersey and deserves the benefit of the doubt until he proves otherwise.

idot

February 1st, 2011
10:50 am

Yeah, but can Gonzo pick a booger in the dugout, as good as Bobby could?

Ben

February 1st, 2011
10:52 am

Looking back at Fredi’s past with the Braves and everything that happened since then, one should realize that his becoming Braves manager is a natural flow that was meant to be. Everyone will come to know that. Any other choice would not work.
.

Jamaaliver

February 1st, 2011
10:55 am

Fre-Gon, while not a bad decision by any means, still was second on my list to Ned Yost.

Baseball is such a long season, it’s very important that we just get off to a solid start. With new leadership on the bench, I don’t know that we could recover if we were 8-14 and in last place in the division after the first month. (Like we were last season) Otherwise, things could snowball.

Ben

February 1st, 2011
10:56 am

Art Vandelay…Truer words were never spoken.

idot

February 1st, 2011
11:01 am

Chipper is a good baseball player.
But, the greatest player to ever put on a Braves jersey?
I don’t think so.

Chipper

February 1st, 2011
11:09 am

Jamaaliver, your list was wrong.
Look for a 14-8 start instead of a 8-14.
Bobby was an excellent manager inspite of all his second guessers. Fredi will take some chances that Bobby would not. That will be the biggest difference in comparing them. Yost would simply not fit.

Art Vandelay

February 1st, 2011
11:11 am

idot, feel free to put forward your own suggestion on who takes that title.

idot

February 1st, 2011
11:14 am

Not Chipper.

chief pitchanono

February 1st, 2011
11:15 am

Freddy, has been handed a good team. As all teams it does have questions, mainly for me its the youth at the backend of the bullpen. Hopefully between Venters and Kimbrell, they can hold down the closers job, but they are young and kimbrell doesn’t have much mlb expierience, so their will be a learning curve that we all have to be patient with. How he deals with all this youth when it struggles from time to time, or if the worst happens and the closer roll ends up being a revolving door. These will be the times when we find out what kind of manager he is.

benchwarmer

February 1st, 2011
11:23 am

Art V. How about Babe Ruth, Hank Aaron , Warren Spahn, Gregg Maddox, Eddie Mathews, then Chipper.

idot

February 1st, 2011
11:26 am

I think that Bob Uecker was the funniest player to ever wear a Braves jersey.

gbaucum

February 1st, 2011
11:30 am

@Art Vandelay. I don’t know that you can say Chipper is the best 3rd baseman to every put on a Braves Jersey, much less the best player ever. I would give you that he ranks very close. Hard to say Chipper is for sure better than Eddie Matthews, much less Hank Aaron.

Hankie Aron

February 1st, 2011
11:30 am

UGABugKiller is clearly on suicide watch. We all know the Braves struggled in the postseason during many of those years but Bobby Cox is not a bad manager. He is a hall of fame manager first ballot. Oh yeah- There is NO way Bobby Cox ever would have been fired after the 96 Series.

gbaucum

February 1st, 2011
11:31 am

@ benchwarmer . . . Babe Ruth stunk by the time he played for the Braves.

GovClintonTyree

February 1st, 2011
11:34 am

The latest transition in our great, grand organization.

I would have liked more championships, too. While there may have been a few things I’d've done differently than Bobby over the years, the fact of the matter is that the playoffs are, to a certain extent, a crapshoot. Anything can happen in a short series. Unfortunately for us, it often did. For instance, I thought he squeezed all the juice out of last year’s club that he could, and we were one nightmare inning from Brooks Conrad away from being all square with the eventual World Series champions going into game five.

Pretty sure Bobby had Brooks taking ground balls from spring training until then. I know he flipped Infante and Conrad to give Brooks a little more comfort and he still missed balls my eight year old would have made plays on. I’m not sure what else he was supposed to do.

Art Vandelay

February 1st, 2011
11:37 am

I should’ve qualified my statement since this is such a subjective discussion, so I’ll do it now: Chipper Jones is ONE OF the greatest players ever to put on a Braves uniform, and deserves the benefit of the doubt until he proves otherwise. Better? Either way, it doesn’t change anything about the sentiment of my original post.

And let’s be realistic here. Babe Ruth played a total of 28 games for the Braves in the last year of his career — he’s not even in the discussion.

gbaucum

February 1st, 2011
11:41 am

@ Art Vandelay- He’s certainly the greatest position player the braves have had in the last 35 years. I’ve always loved Dale Murphy, but at this point I don’t think there’s any question Chipper has been and is better.

Smiling Jack

February 1st, 2011
11:44 am

Let’s give the guy a chance….leave off the comparisons…start with a new, clean slate, anticipate a wonderful year of baseball…Braves will be just fine. Fredi G will be an excellent manager and do a really good job. Come on people, give them a break. Go Braves!

Art Vandelay

February 1st, 2011
11:49 am

@gbaucum, agreed. I forget how often people like to pick on a single word from a 115-word post. I’ve been in Atlanta for exactly 35 years, and Chipper is the best I’ve seen at any position. I hesitate to include pitchers because even the best starters only play in 35 games a year.

Murph was always a favorite of mine too, but those teams were just awful for the most part. Chipper has been the undisputed leader on a team that has made the playoffs 13 times in the 17 years he’s been here. That counts for a lot in my book.

Larry

February 1st, 2011
11:50 am

1-15…this is Bobby’s record in the last game (and, of course, series) in the postseason and you are touting him as “Bobby Cox 2.0?” Let us all pray you’re dead wrong!

What Freddie needs to do:
1. Shave off that juvenile looking goatee sprinkled with gray hair and look like a professional!
2. Call a team meeting and tell everyone there will be no barking out cute little nicknames like Cox. You are grown men. I will treat you as such and I expect you to act as such!
3. Everyone (coaches and players) will be in top physical condition…no more fat guys in uniform!
4. We are going to play an aggressive brand of baseball with intelligent and calculated, but bold and courageous in-game, situational managing. No more waiting and hoping for the home run!
5. Everyone must earn their starts and batting order…no exceptions!
6. You will treat all fans (our customers who pay for your wealth privilege) with the utmost respect and courtesy.

My personal favorite:

7. We will no longer allow reporters from the AJC to eat free at the buffet and gain access to any areas outside of the post-game conference room so they will be more genuine, honest, and straight-forward in their reporting (it is widely known that certain AJC reports have refrained from criticism in the past of Bobby Cox so they can keep their special privileges at Turner Field).

Ross

February 1st, 2011
11:50 am

Uh, I’d kind of like to see the Braves get into shape, what a concept. You know, able to handle late inning games and extra innings, little things like that.

I was hoping for a little more baseball and a little less kissass.