Fredi Gonzalez says Braves’ autopsy over — he’s moving on

It took a while for Fredi Gonzalez to let go of last season's collapse. (Curtis Compton/AJC)

It took a while for Fredi Gonzalez to let go of last season's collapse. (Curtis Compton/AJC)

Four months after the last game, the last loss, the 20th loss in 30 games, it still doesn’t make sense. Players get hurt. Players slump. But does one get one’s mind around the worst collapse in franchise history and one of the worst ever in sports?

“You go over it in your mind a million times. You ask yourself, ‘Is there something I could have done better?’” Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez said. “After a while, it drives you crazy. This is really the first time I’ve talked about this, although I’m sure I’ll be asked 200 times at spring training. But we tried things. We had meetings. We had meetings for everything. We had meetings to decide about meetings. After a while it’s like, ‘How many times can I perform an autopsy?’”

Four months after the last game, the last loss, the spiral that crushed a team and its fan base, Gonzalez is going to struggle to convince anybody that he’s really over it. But he knows the calendar gives him no choice. The Braves open their annual prespring pitching camp Monday at Turner Field. They head to Florida in a few weeks. Before the first full-squad workout, players can expect to hear a positive message from Gonzalez — not about how they let a playoff berth slip away, but rather how they dealt with the aftermath.

For at least one month after the season, Gonzalez tried to avoid all media references to the Braves’ late-season drain-circling. But he was curious what was being said by his players, so he asked one of the team’s public-relations people to sort through articles. He was looking for player quotes that conveyed some sort of fractured clubhouse. There weren’t any.

“One thing I’m proud of is that nobody on this team did any finger-pointing,” he said. “There were no quotes about it being this guy’s fault, that guy’s fault. We all took ownership of what happened. That tells you a lot about these guys. You don’t see that in sports all the time. Look at what happened to the Jets. Oh my goodness — they lost two or three games, they didn’t make the playoffs and then they went after each other.”

When Bobby Cox passed the baton (or ball) to his former coach, Gonzalez seemed like the obvious choice. (AP photo)

When Bobby Cox passed the baton (or ball) to his former coach, Gonzalez seemed like the obvious choice. (AP photo)

OK. So the Braves can lose and still hold hands and sing Kumbaya. That’s not a bad thing.

But Gonzalez also knows the reality of 2011: What happened is unacceptable.

Good teams – and most would consider the Braves just that – can’t lose consecutive series to East Division clown acts like the Nationals, Mets and Marlins in a playoff race. Good teams don’t blow 8½-game wild-card leads in 23 days.

Players were injured. Players slumped. But Gonzalez, being the manager, was assigned blame. It was his first season after taking over for Bobby Cox. He was handed a playoff team, a potential World Series team. The Braves failed, so he failed.

“Our goal is to win a championship, and we didn’t do that,” he said.

It’s that simple.

What would he do differently than a year ago? He’s not sure. But something. Because if the Braves go into a similar funk in 2012, he said he will try anything. “Maybe I tell them to come to the park late or we skip batting practice,” he said. “I can’t really say right now.”

The Cox-to-Gonzalez transition was expected to be a smooth one. Gonzalez had coached here. He knew many of the players. There was a new vibe in spring training. Players were doing more running, working more on fundamentals. But it seemed the Braves never fully hit their stride, whether it was Dan Uggla flopping out of the gate, or Jason Heyward’s sophomore slump, or Martin Prado getting shelved by a staph infection. Jair Jurrjens and Tommy Hanson were dented by injuries, and by the final month of the season the rest of the pitching staff – starters and bullpen – was toast. Something always was off.

After the season, Gonzalez went kind of numb. He didn’t watch a playoff game until Game 6 of the World Series, and he turned that off after five innings.

“It was one of the worst games I’ve ever seen, so I went to sleep. I TiVo’d the rest.”

The next morning, he learned that St. Louis rallied to win in 11 innings over Texas and the Cardinals. The Cardinals, who reached the postseason largely because of the Braves’ fizzle, went on to win the Series.

Gonzalez went to Sea Island for a few days with his wife. He spoke to friends, in and out of baseball. He had several conversations with his long-time buddy, Orlando Magic coach Stan Van Gundy, as well as Bill Parcells and others.

Van Gundy and Parcells didn’t provide any wonderful insight, unless you count this: “They all said if you’re at this long enough, things like this will happen to you.”

Gonzalez knows this: It can’t happen again, but he’s fine with that pressure. He says he’s looking forward to the first day of spring, the first game of the 2012 season, because that’s the easiest way to move on.

“After something like last year happens, the first thing you want to do is get back on the saddle,” he said.

He said he’s happy that management “didn’t blow up the team,” adding, “We have a good ballclub, but I’m not going to blow smoke either. We have some guys who need to do better than they did last year.”

A gentle jab. That can’t hurt. Something has to change for the ending to change, even if you can’t quite figure out what went wrong last time.

By Jeff Schultz

Follow me on Twitter (@JeffSchultzAJC). Friend me on Facebook (Facebook.com/JeffSchultzAJC).

224 comments Add your comment

home&home

January 27th, 2012
4:25 pm

let’s home the “some guys” do better. If so, I really like this team.

Trashy

January 27th, 2012
4:26 pm

I won’t blow smoke either.

Reid Adair

January 27th, 2012
4:29 pm

“He was handed a playoff team, a potential World Series team. The Braves failed, so he failed.”

Last year’s roster, and the last few unfortunately, have been far from World Series teams. I don’t know anyone, other than apparently Jeff Schultz, who thought the 2011 squad was capable of reaching the World Series.

Omnipotent One

January 27th, 2012
4:31 pm

poor choice of words for Fredi……I feel for the Porter family

Jack Wilson

January 27th, 2012
4:33 pm

I am apparently the answer, right? Since I’m the only signing this offseason?

Charlie Liebrandt

January 27th, 2012
4:33 pm

The lineup remains at least one solid bat short. Maybe two. A lot to like about this club but with ownership keeping payroll at the middle of the pack, the pitching staff will again have to pull too much of the load and burn out. 85 wins, here we come!

Steve

January 27th, 2012
4:42 pm

Jeff what are your thoughts on Larry Dobrow on cbs.sportsline.com ranking the Braves 11th in his new “power rankings?” Seems a little low to me.

Billy Sanders

January 27th, 2012
4:44 pm

As competitive as the N.L. East will be this year, I don’t think I’d refer to teams that the Braves will face 18 times this season as clown acts. Injuries are part of the game, and certainly the team had it’s share…Uggla may have started slowly, but his seconf half season was the best 3 month stretch of his career….Heyward will be fine unless people expect him to be the next Hank Aaron….Chipper can’t play forever, and gets by on pure guts and passion….McCann is better than ever…so build on the positive for 2012. That being said, the Braves play in what is baseball’s best division heading into the season. Don’t take things for granted…it will be a four team dogfight !!!

SouthSide Dawg

January 27th, 2012
4:44 pm

Individual performance must improve for a couple of these guys. If it does, Braves will be fine.

beone

January 27th, 2012
4:46 pm

Get rid of the black hole sure outs and we will be ok.

benchwarmer

January 27th, 2012
4:50 pm

Yea we do need that one or two or three solid bats to better last years constant nail biter season. Looks like the Braves are hoping young talent will prove good like FF last year and some more veteran talent can rebound or play more consistantly. Having the speed of Bourn will add a dimension
seldom seen around here. Like most seasons the ifs can be counted but that is the same for all teams. The Braves have some very solid pitching and pitching debth. All things considered optimism should rule to start the season.

keepinitreal

January 27th, 2012
5:01 pm

He’s improving. He didn’t start a single sentence with, “You know what…”

Bama Mike

January 27th, 2012
5:01 pm

Well that settles it. Let the Frank and Fredi Farewell tour begin.

AlanFalcon

January 27th, 2012
5:03 pm

What really hurt was that after the Braves fell apart then the Falcons followed suit, now that is to much to handle.

Sure hope that 2012 will be better for the Braves and Falcons, I don’t know how much of this I can handle.

Herschel Talker

January 27th, 2012
5:05 pm

Schultzie:

“Is there something I could have done better?’”

Yeah, how about NOT STARTING DEREK LOWE, YOU MORON! It is inconceivable how stupid and out of touch with any sense of intelligence this man is. What a disgrace that this buffoon got to keep his job after that meltdown.

HT

Sonny Clusters

January 27th, 2012
5:25 pm

We have to tip our cap to Fredi. He got some speed in the lineup and looked to have good chemistry and then he went back to Heyward (ground ball to 2B) and broke up the Bourn/Constanza running show. And HT is right. Handing the ball to Derek Lowe and staying with him showed the rest of the team he didn’t care to compete. We was at the game when he should have forfeited his opportunity to ever again pitch for the team and what does Fredi do . . . he starts him again when he could have started Homer the Brave and done better. Fredi, it was an EPIC Collapse. You were steering the ship a lot like the captain of that cruise ship in Italy. He went to jail. You apparently have a Get Out of Jail Free card. Hold on to it.

abby normal

January 27th, 2012
5:27 pm

There is only one thing that’s going to exorcise last year’s demons……..win, baby, just win.

Sonny Clusters

January 27th, 2012
5:29 pm

We was wondering if porn stars had anything to do with the EPIC Collapse of the Atlanta Braves? Other sources are saying Popeye was seeing somebody other than Olive Oyl and that may have affected his hitting before the All-Star break. We don’t know but we do know Fredi had coaches calling out fans, and at least one player with a DUI arrest, and another who may have been in a movie with a german shepherd that was wearing socks.

Sonny Clusters

January 27th, 2012
5:33 pm

If Fredi thinks game 6 of the WS was one of the worst games he’s ever seen he must not have watched the September game Lowe pitched for 2 1/3 innings giving up 6 runs on 9 hits. Then, he starts him again a few days later. Guess what? We try to like Fredi but he is a cap tipper and a poor one at that and you know what they say about poor tippers.

McKee

January 27th, 2012
5:36 pm

We will see if Fredi and the Braves can rebound from the collapse. April schedule looks very favorable to the Braves and will give us a decent indication on how the season will unfold.

Dawgdad (The Original)

January 27th, 2012
5:39 pm

Sonny stole my line, but he is right, you just gotta tip your cap to Fredi sometimes, for changing what works and trying something different.

1eyedJack

January 27th, 2012
5:48 pm

Classic Sonny. Homer the Brave would have been a better option. Warren Spahn would have been a better option.

SimpleDawg

January 27th, 2012
5:54 pm

Fredi didn’t cause The Collapse. A manager could not have conspired to have the 2011 Braves team lose 20 out of 30 games……without the help of the players.

These guys are major league ballplayers – they should act like it.

Let’s see what happens in 2012.

3 stooges rule!!

January 27th, 2012
5:57 pm

Braves are a joke. When you have an incompetent manager and G.M, it isn’t a surprise this team collapsed. Add to that the fact that the leader of the team Crybaby Jones misses every big game, and you have no leadership from management to the manager on the field to the pathetic leader in the clubhouse. Wren has strapped the braves with his pathetic long term contracts to Lowe, Jones, and Hudson. These 3 over the hill clowns are making almost half of the braves payroll, and they contribute nothing. The only thing this manager is good at is tipping his hat to the other team after he blows a game due to his mindless coaching moves. What should braves fans expect, the cheapest ownership in baseball, hires the cheapest manager on the market, and the results speak for themselves. You get what you pay for in this case. The braves are paying this loser very little, and he has shown he isn’t even worthy of what he is getting paid. This guy has been fired twice by other teams, both in the minors and in the majors, yet the braves go and hire him. Go figure? Once again, Wren proves he is incompetent, by hiring this loser. Wren, Fredi,and Jones=the 3 stooges.

James Hagin

January 27th, 2012
6:02 pm

Sorry Fredi, but there is no excuse for the collapse in Sept. If anyone’s to blame, it’s got to be the manager. The entire team, with the exception of Chipper Jones, should go!!

Sonny Clusters

January 27th, 2012
6:07 pm

All this mess started about the time Chipper decided to sit out a game that he could have played in but since the lead was so big and since the Braves were the only team that could beat the Phillies he was just going to sit out and get ready for the playoffs. Jerk. He got back in the lineup in time to miss one in the lights that cost the Braves a game in Florida. Chipper has been the “leader” through all this misery. If you say he was the leader during the division “championships” (whatever that is) you are right. He was right there leading in every 1st round loss. The team needs a new leader. Get a guy out of row 6 and let him lead. Some changes are needed. The fans know those little flags in the outfield aren’t “championship” flags. That was an EPIC Collapse. EPIC. That may hang with this group instead of the 14 little flags. Change is good. Ask Obama. Er, wait a minute.

Sonny Clusters

January 27th, 2012
6:14 pm

We just got filtered and we was innocent. If after every game this season we have to hear interviews from Fredi and uh, Chipper then we are going turn down the volume on the AJC and listen to a magazine like Sporting News. We have often touted Stinky Wintes for a front office job with the Braves but we think they need Coach even more to explain to Jason Heyward why he hits soft rollers to second base. Heck, we may get LeTwan Anthony’s momma to explain it to him. Somebody needs to get him straightened out like a Linebrink fastball.

SawThat1nce

January 27th, 2012
6:15 pm

Hitting with RISP, improving OBP, starting pitchers improving their ability to go deeper into games, a couple of more relievers stepping up and taking some of the load off of OVentBril and Martinez.

Sonny Clusters

January 27th, 2012
6:15 pm

Looks like Ol’ Jeff is not coming back. We have some more suggestions for the Braves and we’ll be back later to share.

SawThat1nce

January 27th, 2012
6:18 pm

I think that the Braves can go all the way to the WS.
GO BRAVES!!

Dr. Phil

January 27th, 2012
6:27 pm

The good thing is, Wren didn’t give away any good players, as is his habit. Fredi has got some talent to work with, and a couple of “energy vampires” are gone. I will go to Florida in the spring and attend a few games in the summer, but I am getting the sinking feeling I had in the 70’s and 80’s.

1eyedJack

January 27th, 2012
6:34 pm

Our hitting coaches have their work cut out for them. Don’t mess with Freddie!

Stinger2

January 27th, 2012
7:04 pm

Jeff: I don`t know why you call the Marlins,Nats clowns.
They may be good enough to pass the Braves. Atlanta has essentially the same team but the Marlins and Nats have made moves to improve their teams.
My expectations for the Braves are not very high. If they can win 85 to 87 games, it would be about all I can hope for unless they do something to get more right handed power in the lineup on an every day basis. If things go downhill, we might see no better than a .500 season or worse.

DetroitBraves

January 27th, 2012
7:07 pm

Very convienent that Fredi is moving on given that his flaws – not appreciating OBP, not understanding platoon advantage, not being able to recognize leverage, fielding suboptimal lineups, an inability to manage a pitching staff – are the primary reasons for the Braves failures and the main reason for skepticism going forward.

Nativebird

January 27th, 2012
7:07 pm

Heyward Doesn’t break oUt in a big way this year? it and he are over. Too much invested in this guy for that type of worse than mediocre season he had in 2011. Crickets in right field. And chipper is done. It’s as if our gm is too afraid to tell his friends that they need to go. Like his goal is to keep the current band together, rather than win championships. god forbid someone tell chipper he’s got to go. He might get mad.

Chris

January 27th, 2012
7:11 pm

“3 stooges”: I can understand your point until you bash Huddy. He was probably our best pitcher last year don’t lump him in with Wren, Fredi & Chipper, though Chipper played about as well as can be expected.

lanier

January 27th, 2012
7:18 pm

heyward=francour. forget RF for this mob

Busch Leaguer

January 27th, 2012
7:50 pm

The best thing the front office did this season was addition by subtraction, Goodbyes to DLowe ,Kawakami,McClouth, AGonzalez,and Conrad.And if the Braves fall out of contention at the trading deadline.probable goodbyes to:Huddy, JJ, Bourn,Prado,and Chipper will more than likely retire before the season is over ,or end his season on the Disabled list.

Sonny Clusters

January 27th, 2012
7:57 pm

Proctor and Linebrink.

VinceVanGo

January 27th, 2012
7:58 pm

The Braves have an excellent bullpen and more than enough starting pitching. They also have several very good position players. McCann will bounce back big. Freeman will continue to improve and be very good, Uggla will have a better balanced season, Pastornicky will pleasantly surprise and be the real deal, Bourne will be Bourne and get on base and steal a few, and Prado(in Left) will make folks forget about his last year. The two keys to this season are Chipper & Heyward. If Chipper can hold up and play 135 games, and if Heyward rebounds to hit at least .280 with 22-25 home runs, then the Braves will be in the Wild Card hunt. If Ryan Howard can’t come back strong, and the Marlins and Nationals new lineups don’t jell exactly right then the Braves could actually win the division. I’m not even mentioning the Mets. Too bad so Sad.

Joey M

January 27th, 2012
7:59 pm

Best thing we can do is to forget. You can’t change the past and you can’t change the future. You can however direct what happens now. I applaud Wren for not imploding the team. Left to right I believe we can hang with anybody. On the mound, I believe we are superior when looking at starters, relievers, and arms in wait. Prado will have a better season hitting in the 2 spot. Bourn will be nice to have for a full season. His glove in center will help lower our starters era’s and shorten innings. Heyward and Freeman will be better and have more power. Pastornicky is a “?”. How good is his glove? Will he be a better bat then Gonzalez? Mario Mendoza was a better option hitting then Gonzalez last season. If Pastornicky can commit fewer then 20 errors and hit anywhere above .250, we have an improvement over last season. The bar isn’t very high for him. If Chipper can play 140 games with some level of health, he is still one of the most dangerous hitters in the game. The Phillies are going to miss Howard more and more as the season marches on. Utley is a health risk. Their pitching will keep them in games, but if you don’t score, you can’t win.

The Grinch

January 27th, 2012
8:03 pm

When McCann rushed back from the oblique injury and was clearly not able to hit nor throw runners out at second, Fredi started him nearly every game the final 6 weeks despite having the best backup catcher in baseball, essentially erasing the cleanup spot in the batting order for the stretch run. It was something LITERALLY NO OTHER manager in baseball would have done and Fredi needs to own up to it and the countless other totally head scratching moves he made and didn’t make that directly led to the collapse. He’s a nice guy, but if he’s really that much worse of an in-game manager than Bobby (one of the worst of all time himself) then we’re really in for it in the future.

Sonny Clusters

January 27th, 2012
8:19 pm

This Grinch fellow knows his baseball. We was thinking about when McCann “fell down at the swimming pool” and got those two black eyes and big bruises consistent with a bar fight. Now, we know the Braves wouldn’t sanitize something like that just like they didn’t when Chipper had a fight with a “fan” in Philadelphia. Now, we remember Chipper saying it was going to be a knock down drag out fight with the Phillies but that never happened.

Busch Leaguer

January 27th, 2012
8:20 pm

The Braves would be better off going with their young arms in their rotation this year. Put Jurrjens in a deal at the end of spring training to a contender that needs a starting pitcher’The Braves could maximize his value by trading him before the regular season starts.JJ does not fit into the Braves long term plans ,he will be too expensive to keep after this year .
The Braves should not fall into the trap of trying to win one for Chipper and mortgage their future by trading their best prospects to make a last ditch run ,that will more than likely fall short of a World Series appearance. The Braves don’t have the money or the front office expertise to compete with the big boys ,Phillies , Cards, Giants and D-Backs.

Sonny Clusters

January 27th, 2012
8:22 pm

Who would win a fight? Beeg Boy and Hank Aaron? Chipper and Zambrano? Venters and Fielder?

Calipari

January 27th, 2012
8:56 pm

Fredi: Just do what I do. Cheat.

Rickie Pitino

January 27th, 2012
9:05 pm

Fredi: I can tell you how to forget about all that. Just get a girlfriend, take her to a restaurant, and fornicate.

Skeezix

January 27th, 2012
9:20 pm

Well I can’t put it behind me. I am still angry that they started Lowe in the next to last game. I believe they did it because they knew they were going to shop him and FW was hoping he’d have a good outing so he could up his market value. That is what happens when a large corporation owns the team and they have a lackies like FW working for them. Right now I got the Braves at #3 in the division. Of course, I would love for them to prove me wrong. I think both the Washingtonians and the Miami Fish will be improved. Also, I think the Phillies may have peaked–not in terms of pitching, but the offense is weakening-but, they are still the ones to beat if you want to finish #1 in the NL East.

extremus

January 27th, 2012
9:21 pm

That’s a wonderful headline, Mr. Schultz; where’s he going???

Octoman

January 27th, 2012
9:42 pm

If Fredi is moving on, the town of Clemmonsville, SC has an opening for someone to coach the girls softball team.