Fredi Gonzalez: The best choice as manager, or the easiest?

From one manager to another. (AJC photo by Curtis Compton)

From one manager to another. (AJC photo by Curtis Compton)

“Good organizations don’t make changes just to make changes,” Fredi Gonzalez said. Then, scanning the room: “All the faces are the same.”

And that’s the part that worries me. Fredi Gonzalez is a good baseball man, but he’s a product of The Braves’ Way Of Doing Things. “This organization, the past 25 years, they win,” Gonzalez said Wednesday, but even Bobby Cox, the man Gonzalez succeeds, was moved to correct the new manager.

“We haven’t won as big as we’d have liked recently,” Cox said.

Over 14 completed seasons the Braves finished nowhere but first. Since 2005 they’ve made the playoffs once as a wild card. They haven’t won a playoff series since 2001, haven’t graced the World Series this millennium. The Braves we see now aren’t quite the Braves we beheld.

In many ways Gonzalez is the ideal person to follow Cox: He’s a former Braves’ third-base coach who still lives in Marietta and who happened to be out of work when this job came open. Frank Wren, the general manager, started serious talks with Gonzalez on July 2 at a cabin in Wedowee, Ala. One hundred three days later, Wren hired Gonzalez without having interviewed another candidate.

With a chance to hire the first manager from outside the organization since Chuck Tanner in October 1985, the Braves waited not two full days after being eliminated in the Division Series to unveil the new man, who really isn’t new at all. John Schuerholz, the team president, would surely cite this as another in a series of seamless Braves’ transitions. But it was Stan Kasten, who as Braves president hired Schuerholz as GM, who said: “If you’re going to make a change, make a change.

Going Cox-to-Gonzalez is almost like promoting the chief assistant when the head coach finds a better job. It’s the thing to do, but it’s not always the wisest course. And continuity is the least of the Braves’ problems. If anything, this “great, grand organization” — Schuerholz again — suffers from its insularity.

Asked how he’d differ from Cox — if, say, he’d delve heavier into statistical analysis — Gonzalez said: ” I just joined those guys [meaning the Society for American Baseball Research, or Sabermeticians].” Then this: “I’ll use all the numbers you give me, but for me to sit here and say I’m always going to go by numbers, I’m not going to do that.”

What will Gonzalez trust? His “gut”, he said. And that’s fine: On some level, every decision is made at a visceral level. But it was Cox’s gut that persuaded him to stick with Derek Lowe one batter too long in the last game he ever managed. Other organizations, the Red Sox chief among them, have come to rely on data as a guide for the gut.

The Braves’ way has been old-fashioned. Indeed, hitting coach Terry Pendleton expressed surprise earlier this season when informed his club was leading the National League in on-base percentage. (This might help explain why Pendleton was reassigned to being the Braves’ first-base coach Wednesday.)

Wren had known since Sept. 23, 2009, that he’d have a managerial opening come 2010. Over the winter he compiled a list of candidates numbering in the teens. (Gonzalez headed the list even though he was employed by the Marlins.) Wren wound up hiring his No. 1 choice without ever speaking to Nos. 2, 3 or 4.

Maybe Gonzalez will work out. He’s an impressive guy whom Wren has known since before either man came to work for the Braves. Still,  I can think of three others I’d have at least interviewed — Jose Oquendo, the Cardinals’ third-base coach; Scott Ullger, the Twins’ third-base coach; and Dave Martinez, the Rays’ bench coach — before deciding. But this GM, as we know, is forever in a hurry.

Not to put too fine a point on it, but the Braves at the major-league level haven’t exactly been cutting-edge in their approach. “I’m not going to come in here and change the whole culture,” Fredi Gonzalez said, but he’d better be ready to change some things. Because the Bobby Cox Method won’t work for anyone but Bobby Cox.

243 comments Add your comment

Erica

October 13th, 2010
5:12 pm

You’re always bitchin about something.

Bravissimo

October 13th, 2010
5:13 pm

I like the choice of Fredi. Even if the Braves had hired one of the afor mentioned guys, do you really think they would make radical changes MB?
As a side….losing the LDS got rid of the philly fans thank god. I hope SF stomps their buttski’s

Bat Masterson

October 13th, 2010
5:13 pm

As always time will tell. Good work, Bradley

Aaron

October 13th, 2010
5:13 pm

If we don’t make the playoffs in the next two years, fire him, and there’s your answer if hes the best choice.

LOL

October 13th, 2010
5:13 pm

Erica was first and used that space to complain about you. Now that’s funny.
That said, what is your deal with Fredi? Who did you think they should get?

Mark Bradley

October 13th, 2010
5:14 pm

Time invariably does, Bat Masterson.

jdubb

October 13th, 2010
5:15 pm

I couldnt be happier. Perfect choice.

ha – @ Ericka. that was actually kinda funny. And i like you and Schultz, Bradley.

Benjamin

October 13th, 2010
5:18 pm

Who would’ve been more ideal, Mark? Just curious.

I like the selection, for the record. He did a great job with Florida — their owner is proof, in my opinion, that even millionaires can be at least a little idiotic — and I think he’ll do even better here with a better roster to work with. I hope he’s here for fifteen seasons.

Benjamin

October 13th, 2010
5:19 pm

Who would’ve been more ideal, Mark? Just curious.

I like the selection, for the record. He did a great job with Florida — their owner is proof, in my opinion, that even millionaires can be at least a little idiotic — and I think he’ll do even better here with a better roster to work with. I hope he’s here for fifteen seasons…

Good Choice

October 13th, 2010
5:19 pm

Fredi is a good choice. Still big shoes to fill but he’ll do just fine and will keep us in the playoff hunt consistently.

Benjamin

October 13th, 2010
5:19 pm

[Sorry for the double comment -- computer messed up.]

Matt

October 13th, 2010
5:19 pm

Hmmmmmm….well Mark, given your track record with predictions lately, I think Mr. Gonzalez will do quite well seeing as how you are not necessarily sold on him. (Again, please pick the Thrashers to NOT make the playoffs this season. They need all the help they can get.)

Kane337

October 13th, 2010
5:20 pm

LOL funny Erica.

I think Fredi is a good hire. If Fredi fails then it’s time to make a drastic change from the Braves norm. I just don’t think the time to make a drastic change is right after Bobby leaves because if that failed Frank Wren would have egg on his face for not doing it the Braves way.

Ryan's Dad

October 13th, 2010
5:21 pm

I think Fredi is a great choice for the organization. We pretty much know what we are getting and that rarely happens in pro sports. When you talk about making a change…a real change, that could only happen with a change in ownership. The Braves best success came when we had the likes of Shuerholz, Cox and Ted Turner. When the budget was cut, so was the success. Any combination short of good management plus money for players is only going to give you a “long shot” at championships!

Cletus

October 13th, 2010
5:23 pm

Fredi is an awesome hire. Anyone that says otherwise is simply typing words he does not believe.

No one else you mention has ever managed a team.

And Fredi probably has a better record against the Nationals than Cox does. Hell, he probably has a winning record against the Braves.

LuisG

October 13th, 2010
5:23 pm

Pendleton 1st base coach… what is Hubbard going to do now? Play second base?

El Bravo

October 13th, 2010
5:24 pm

I do think he is the ideal candidate and Mark you should as well. You praise Bobby Cox as the best manager we have ever had and yet when we hire someone in the same mold but with, perhaps, a bit more fire you change your tune. If the main argument everyone has against Bobby Cox is that he can’t make it happen in the post-season because of his unwavering loyalty to his players then it seems to me that a slight departure from that modus operandi is the right move; not a total overhaul…

Michael"

October 13th, 2010
5:26 pm

Good move on Fredi.
Erica, you stole my thunder, lol..

Gen Neyland

October 13th, 2010
5:28 pm

I say, Good hire. Been in the organization,knows it’s ropes, familar with it’s farm system, can crunch up on it’s current player personnel. It’ll be Fredi-ball now. I get a feeling we’ll see a little swat and smack at the top of the lineup with some speed on the base path is coming soon…

kappellmeister

October 13th, 2010
5:28 pm

Wish Hubbie had been at 2nd in game 3!

Brave New World

October 13th, 2010
5:29 pm

Mark: Your point about Bobby’s gut allowing Lowe to stay one batter too long needs to be tempered by Bobby’s gut getting more than anyone could expect from the 2010 Braves. When every one was calling for Glaus to be benched in April, Bobby’s support paid dividends when Troy basically carried the Braves in May and June. Bobby’s gut believed in Martin Prado long before he was an all star. Bobby’s gut got us into the playoffs this year when we had no right to be there. Bobby taught us something about loyalty for the many years we were lucky enough to have him at the helm. Bobby’s gut says that Fredi is the right choice for manager, and that’s good enough for me.

UGABugKiller

October 13th, 2010
5:29 pm

Mark,

You’re going to get unfairly killed here for playing Devil’s Advocate.

But here’s the real low down on Fredi Gonzalez.

He handles his clubhouse in much the same manner as Bobby Cox. This is good. This is what led the Braves to 14 straight division titles.

But in the dugout, he is NOT Bobby Cox. His Marlins teams did EVERYTHING they could to manufacture runs. They stole bases. When’s the last time a Brave did that? 1993? They hit and ran. They bunt. They sent guys up with ORDERS to get the ball into the air for a sac fly. Even with no out. Fredi Gonzalez as a manager will do anything and everything the manufacture runs for his team. You CANNOT say that about Bobby Three Run Homer Cox. This team hasn’t had the kind of homer hitters for Cox’s style of laid-back offense.

This team, with Prado, Infante, and Heyward, CAN run. All of those guys are capable of AT LEAST 25 steals a year. Expect them to get there.

So, Fredi is like Bobby Cox in the clubhouse, which is good.

He is also NOT like Bobby Cox in the dugout, which is even better.

Mark, we may finally have a guy in the dugout who can WIN a postseason game with his ability, as opposed to “not lose” a postseason game, as Cox was wont to do… on many, many, MANY unfortunate occasions.

Graham

October 13th, 2010
5:30 pm

No-brainer appointment in my opinion. Gonzalez will bring new ideas to the club, and will introduce them in a positive way. I don’t buy into there being a Bobby Cox method in a baseball sense, it’s more an ability to motivate and improve players. To use a boxing analogy, he can get players to punch above their weight. That brings about the best in players regardless of the sport. If Fredi has some of these skills and brings in improved coaching to the club, it will bring us closer to the Phillies.

Bobby

October 13th, 2010
5:30 pm

To answer the question posed in the headline, “The best choice as manager,or the easiest?” BOTH!!! Ya gotta luv it when a plan comes together!

Milt Famey

October 13th, 2010
5:32 pm

Both-best and easiest choice. Who do you think his batting coach might be?

Michael"

October 13th, 2010
5:34 pm

I love Bobby.
That being said, great post BugKiller.

shawn

October 13th, 2010
5:35 pm

“Because the Bobby Cox Method won’t work for anyone but Bobby Cox.”
A great column Mark. I could not agree with you more…

shawn

October 13th, 2010
5:36 pm

Pendleton 1st base coach… what is Hubbard going to do now? Play second base?

priceless

Ryan's Dad

October 13th, 2010
5:37 pm

As happy as I am to see Fredi, it won’t matter who manages unless you have team speed or team power. Without at least one of these elements, there isn’t a lot of strategy anyone can employ.

[...] The title of this article is not about Fredi’s belly, it’s about his decision making. Mark Bradley wrote a terrific article about Gonzalez and asked whether the hire was “the best choice or the easiest?” [...]

5150 P.O.A.D

October 13th, 2010
5:40 pm

Uga VIII’s real name is Big Bad Bruce. People you can’t make this stuff up. Big Bad Bruce get Collard on Saturday for Homecoming against Vandy. LOL Comedy writers can’t come up with stuff this good.
Will the say Big Bad Bruce with a lisp?

Educated Idiot

October 13th, 2010
5:42 pm

Agreed. Fredi will keep the rules in the clubhouse like Bobby. Players will be asked to work hard and be on time. However, his managing style was and will be different than Bobby’s.

Not that Bobby’s was bad. But it was Bobby’s. I’m excited to see what Fredi will do and I think it’s wrong of us to pull the typical Atlanta sports card and find something to complain about.

Erica

October 13th, 2010
5:43 pm

Your reason for Freddi not being the right hire is that he is a disciple of Bobby Cox and learned everything from Bobby and might possess some of his traits. WOW thats horrible. None want a chance to go to the playoffs 14 years straight. (sarcasm on)

Ross

October 13th, 2010
5:44 pm

If you look at the team stats, the Marlins ran much more often than the Braves and played more small-ball, just what the post-Cox Braves need to rediscover. Had Cox had any Herzogian guts, the Braves would have at least three titles instead of one.

Reid Adair

October 13th, 2010
5:44 pm

Mark, “The Braves Way Of Doing Things” isn’t bad. At least, it wasn’t before Frank Wren came along.

I am glad that John Schuerholz and Bobby Cox were heavily involved in thie process to get Fredi Gonzalez to Atlanta; if they hadn’t been, who knows who Frank Wren would have hired. It disappoints me to see the Atlanta media falling for this idea that Wren did this completely on his own; there’s no way that happened.

Frank Wren is solely responsible for bringing the following players to the Braves: Nate McLouth, Kenshin Kawakami, Troy Glaus (forget May and early June, the rest showed the true Glaus); Derrek Lee, Melky Cabrera and Rick Ankiel (nice HR in NLDS Game 2 but .210 as a Brave).

When you look at that, it’s a miracle, frankly, that Cox, his staff and that bunch of players won as many games as they did, let alone made the playoffs.

Bama Brave

October 13th, 2010
5:45 pm

great hire. now lets get a legit batting coach.2. we need some speed in the outfield.3.we need some hitters.

teewest

October 13th, 2010
5:45 pm

Um…yea that is…um… spot on Marcus ol buddy ol pal!!! Hey Marcus did i tell you who would be the next great DB at UGA?? Let it be written, Let it be said that.. on 10-13-10 at 5:36 pm you heard it here first Shawn Wiliams will make the Bulldawgnation proud!! It will be Him that sets the example of how to play in the secondary!! he will be the WARRIOR we desperately need to spearhead our defense watch what i tell you…. yeah yeah Marcus…um… new coach…go braves

JD

October 13th, 2010
5:47 pm

Fredi won’t do any better than Bobby without some pop in the lineup. I’ll say it again, do the throwback thing and let Chipper be a player/coach and let him work as a hitting instructor/coach while they transition him. Even if he plays 2 more years, the guy knows hitting development cold.

But we have to fix the CF/LF holes and find a real 3rd baseman that can fill Chipper’s shoes and who knows if FW can pry the money away after the Kawakame debacle….

Steven

October 13th, 2010
5:48 pm

@ UGABugKiller — Prado and Infante are not capable of stealing 25 bases. Do you even watch the games??

dawg4u

October 13th, 2010
5:49 pm

I like it that Fredi took the batting coach position away from Pendleton but hated to see Hubbard have to hit the road. It’ll be interesting to see how he handles the pitching staff. This hire did seem to be really a bang-bang thing with no one else even considered for the job. Hope it works out because the last quick hire I remember of a sports team here in Atlanta was when the Falcons hired Bobby Petrino and we all know how that worked out!

Keith

October 13th, 2010
5:52 pm

Bradley,

Good point about how it worked because Bobby was who he was. As a therapist, I can apprecaite the fact that some people can only pull off certain ways of doing things. I like the intricacies of people. Like even better that you were astute enough in those matters to mention it. Good work.

Having said that, I like what Fredi said about manufacturing runs and talking about doing it on the basepaths. Man, I wish we had enough $$ to sign Crawford. That would make me very happy….at least till next year’s season.

GO FALCONS!

Need Power Hiiters

October 13th, 2010
5:54 pm

JD says – “Fredi won’t do any better than Bobby without some pop in the lineup”

Exactly 100% on target.

Bring in some lumber and Fredi will get it done!!!

Keith

October 13th, 2010
5:56 pm

Re: Steven

I believe Infante could do that if they ran him (he had 7 this year and didn’t start for a while and didn’t try that much; had 13 in 2004). I doubt Prado could.

Keith

October 13th, 2010
5:57 pm

Re: Need Power hitters

I wouldn’t mind to see Werth in a Braves uni, but I’d rather have Crawford. Have a true CF with speed, good DEF, and ability to drive in runs. I doubt we can afford him. :)

Coach (2011 or Bust)

October 13th, 2010
5:57 pm

Frank Wren didn’t even bother interviewing anybody else?

WOW.

As much as I like Fredi Gonzalez, this smacks of nepotism. The Bobby Cox way worked in the regular season and failed miserably in the post season. For the Braves sake and especially for the fans, I dearly hope Fredi brings it big time. He’s gotta manage with intelligence and motivate his players to play the game of baseball the right way, which has been lacking in recent years.

But still, Frank Wren didn’t even consider anybody else? talk about running around with blinders on…..geesh!

skydawg

October 13th, 2010
5:58 pm

Your wrong Mark about the Braves being “old fashioned”. The Braves were one of the first organizations to start utilizing computers and statistics mostly for fielding alignment and such. The Braves are still doing it til this day. Just because the manager chooses to go by his gut doesn’t mean the info and technology behind it isn’t there.

Baseball... YAWNNNNNNNNN

October 13th, 2010
5:58 pm

Can we all just forget about kissing Bobby Cox’s butt now? He was a perennial loser like Lenny Wilkins. Get a life Braves blowhards!

Dirty Dawg

October 13th, 2010
5:59 pm

Actually, Hubbard was let go because he was the one that convinced Bobby Conrad could play second…

Packer Ed-an avid Braves fan since 1957

October 13th, 2010
6:01 pm

Mark Bradley and all Braves fans, get Arthur Blank or someone like him to purchase the Braves and get rid of cost cutting Liberty Meida as the owner of the Braves. The Braves have not won a playoff series since 2001 because the Braves do not have the money to make moves in mid season. The lack of money is the problem, start addressing that by campaining for a new owner that has the ability to spend needed money to win. A local owner with a big ego would be great for the Braves, actually the best thing for the Braves. Wish Jerry Jones was from Atlanta!

Sean

October 13th, 2010
6:01 pm

I love Bobby for the same reason everyone else does and maybe doesn’t know it: he’s the great father figure in the dugout to the players and the fans.

However, when it comes to winning the whole damn thing, this piece is spot on and I think time will show that Bobby stayed 3-4 years too long. It’s no different than any other man who’s an owner or president of a business he built and just can’t summon the courage to say it’s time to go. How could you when your equals in the front office are still around? Last year’s performance was so un-Braves-like that his hand was finally forced.

I’m fine with FG. His age is a factor. No “player’s manager” daddy worship is going to continue here. He can be like Cox in every other way as long as he does two things:

1. pays attention to the numbers.
2. make these guys condition in spring training for a 162-game schedule. Bobby’s Braves could never last the whole season.