UPDATE: The Braves have scheduled “a major announcement” for 2:15 p.m. today after Bobby Cox’s already scheduled valedictory at Turner Field. Sounds like Fredi will be introduced today, as opposed to tomorrow.
The last time the Braves held managerial news conferences on consecutive days — one to bid farewell, the next to say hello — it didn’t work out so well. They fired Joe Torre in the press lounge of the old stadium in October 1984, and the next day we were back to greet …
Who lasted 121 games.
Yes, there’s a huge difference this time. Fredi Gonzalez has been a big-league manager; Haas never had. (And, after being canned by the Braves, never would again.) But the Braves back then were so certain Haas, who’d been their Class AAA manager, would be the man to improve on what Torre had started that I developed a kneejerk response to kneejerk promotions. I’m leery of Perfect Choice successions because they so rarely turn out to be.
Everyone in baseball was so convinced the Braves would anoint Gonzalez as Cox’s successor that it had to be either the worst-kept secret or the best-constructed ruse in the history of the world. Turns out it wasn’t the latter. And clearly the Braves have their reasons: He did meritorious work here before leaving to manage the Florida Marlins, who might just be unmanageable. That said …
He never quite lifted the Marlins to the playoffs — got them over .500 in both 2008 and 2009, though — and this year’s team was thought to be (at least by owner Jeffrey Loria) of playoff caliber. And that’s why Gonzalez was fired after 70 games. And before you say, “Well, Loria wouldn’t know a baseball from the back end of a buffalo … ” let’s consider that Loria did hoist the World Series trophy in 2003 after changing managers in midseason.
But my quibbling about Gonzalez has less to do with his Florida days than with his background: The Braves are essentially hiring from within, and after having the same manager from June 22, 1990 to Oct. 11, 2010, this was their chance to look outside and tap someone who wasn’t immersed in The Braves’ Way Of Doing Things. Other clubs are much heavier into statistical analysis. (Terry Pendleton, the hitting coach, was actually surprised earlier this season when I mentioned that his club led the league in on-base percentage.)
The Braves’ Way worked largely because players loved playing for Bobby Cox. I’m not sure they’ll love playing for Gonzalez quite so much. That’s not a knock on the new man. It’s simply to say that there is — or was; got to get used to using the past tense — only one No. 6.
Please understand: Fredi Gonzalez is not Eddie Haas, who was overmatched from Day 1. Fredi Gonzalez is a solid hire made for logical reasons — the Braves know him and like his way of doing business. But I was hoping for someone who wasn’t a Cox acolyte. I was hoping for someone like Jose Oquendo, who’s the third-base coach in St. Louis and who has apprenticed under Tony La Russa. And, apart from their love of stray animals, Cox and La Russa have as much in common as chalk and cheese.