Not just new, Fredi Gonzalez is also different (which is good)

Fredi Gonzalez had nothing to do with this banner, either. (AJC photo by Curtis Compton)

Fredi Gonzalez likewise had nothing to do with this banner. (AJC photo by Curtis Compton)

First thing you notice is that coaches no longer have lockers in the main section of the Braves’ clubhouse. And you think: “Aha! An example of how Fredi Gonzalez has changed things! He’s sequestering players from coaches!”

Er, no. Said Gonzalez: “That’s a design thing. I had nothing to do with it. They needed some room [in the main clubhouse] for all the call-ups, and rather than have them double up, they put lockers in the coaches’ room.”

Here Gonzalez smiled. “I wish I could take credit,” he said. “Might make me sound like Bill Belichick.”

The Atlanta Braves, as you’ve heard, are under new management. Fredi Gonzalez, once Bobby Cox’s third-base coach, occupies Bobby Cox’s office, which has also changed. Although Gonzalez had nothing to do with this re-do, either.

Before he left for spring training, a lady from the front office told him she’d been given license to redecorate. “She had a budget,” Gonzalez said, speaking before Wednesday’s exhibition game. “You know how it is with women and budgets — she was in hog heaven.” (And here Gonzalez stressed to two female reporters he meant no offense. None taken, they said.)

He returned to Turner Field on Monday to find new carpet, new furniture, a new blue coat of paint and a new photo wall of honor, with his predecessor’s likeness smack in the middle of luminaries including Aaron and Spahn and Maddux and Mathews and Murphy. “Real nice,” was the new occupant’s verdict.

So these alterations, both cosmetic, weren’t of Gonzalez’s doing. But he has made changes, and some of them could enhance his team’s performance. As much as he seeks to pay tribute to his bound-for-Cooperstown Hall of Famer, the new man isn’t bound to the past.

“It’s like following Bear Bryant,” said Gonzalez, who was reminded that the coach who followed Bryant — Ray Perkins, an Alabama grad — roiled the Tide by removing Bryant’s famous tower from the practice field.

“This ain’t broke,” Gonzalez said. “You don’t want to go in a different direction and ruffle feathers. The changes we’ve made, we didn’t go out and advertise them. But it’s not like we’re changing the color scheme or taking the logo off the helmet.”

One change: The Braves’ manager will throw batting practice. Another: The Braves will stretch on the field. (Cox thought teams stretching on the field looked silly.) Yet another: The Braves will take 10 or 15 minutes of concentrated infield practice before BP. Still another: The manager has a laptop open on his (new) desk; indeed, he’d already done digital reconnaissance on the Washington Nationals, whom his Braves will face in Thursday’s season opener.

That Gonzalez knows what he wants — he has managed before, you know — is a good sign. That he’s unafraid to tweak is even better. The Braves don’t need someone who’s forever asking, “What would Bobby do?” They need someone who, without quite tearing down the figurative tower, has a method of his own.

Gonzalez’s rationale behind stretching: “It’s more for me than for [the players]. I’m not going to lead the stretch, but I can walk around. You can go days without talking to a long reliever, a Christhian Martinez, and this gives me a chance to say, ‘How are you doing? How are your mom and dad?’ ”

On the infield work: “Taking infield during batting practice can be dangerous. You’re ducking line drives and throwing over screens. This is a way to get your work in … I got this from Edgar Renteria [when the shortstop was a Brave]. He’d come out around 4:15 and take ground balls by himself, and then Kelly Johnson started doing it. I liked that. Edgar told me that’s the way they did it in St. Louis.”

(Note: That alone would have scotched the notion for Cox, who would never have borrowed from Tony La Russa.)

The belief here was that the Braves might have been better served looking outside the extended family for Cox’s replacement, but that belief is undergoing renovation. Fredi Gonzalez has readied himself do exactly what needed doing: He’s bringing a new approach to an organization that had, for more than two decades, known only one approach. He might be following Bear Bryant, but he’s no cowardly cub.

By Mark Bradley

75 comments Add your comment

elvisaintdead

March 30th, 2011
1:06 pm

boom! head shot!

king of mean

March 30th, 2011
1:09 pm

SOUTH GA DAWG FAN

March 30th, 2011
1:14 pm

UGABugKiller

March 30th, 2011
1:16 pm

As long as Freddi isn’t an October Choker like Cox, realizes that that you can’t manage the post season like you do an April 15th game unlike Cox, and isn’t a complete tactical dunce like Cox…

… then I think the Braves are in great hands.

SOUTH GA DAWG FAN

March 30th, 2011
1:17 pm

I am really going to try and follow baseball this year .

Rimfire

March 30th, 2011
1:20 pm

gravidy

March 30th, 2011
1:25 pm

Mark:

Exactly what are you getting at when you say Cox would have never borrowed from La Russa? Are you suggesting that there was/is some animosity between those two?

GT Alum

March 30th, 2011
1:25 pm

Well, and this is a different situation than when the Hawks hired from within. For one, as you pointed out, Fredi has experience being the main man before, which Drew lacked. Another difference is this isn’t a team that had tuned out their previous manager and needed a new voice. This is a team that loved their old manager and played hard because of that love for him. In this situation, I think a manager who’s a Cox clone but not a Cox disciple was a good choice. For the Hawks, I think they needed someone the players would respect, even if that wasn’t necessarily someone the players would like.

GT Alum

March 30th, 2011
1:26 pm

Whoops. Strike that and reverse it. Fredi’s a Cox disciple but not a Cox clone.

collegeballfan

March 30th, 2011
1:34 pm

I went to the Braves website and clocked on Active Roster. here is what I got on pitchers:

Atlanta Braves Active Roster
Atlanta Braves Active Roster
# Pitchers…… B/T. Ht.. Wt… DOB
37 Brandon Beachy R-R 6′3″ 215 Sep 3, 1986
48 Tommy Hanson R-R 6′6″ 220 Aug 28, 1986
15 Tim Hudson R-R 6′1″ 175 Jul 14, 1975
49 Jair Jurrjens R-R 6′1″ 200 Jan 29, 1986
46 Craig Kimbrel R-R 5′11″ 205 May 28, 1988
19 Scott Linebrink R-R 6′3″ 220 Aug 4, 1976
32 Derek Lowe R-R 6′6″ 230 Jun 1, 1973
50 Cristhian Martinez R-R 6′1″ 185 Mar 6, 1982
58 Peter Moylan R-R 6′2″ 225 Dec 2, 1978
34 Eric O’Flaherty L-L 6′2″ 220 Feb 5, 1985
52 George Sherrill L-L 6′0″ 230 Apr 19, 1977
39 Jonny Venters L-L 6′3″ 195 Mar 20, 1985
13 Billy Wagner L-L 5′10″ 180 Jul 25, 1971

What’s up with the last guy, #13 Billy Wagner? He the new closer?

Just asking.

GT Alum

March 30th, 2011
1:36 pm

Wags’ retirement papers apparently still haven’t gone through, and the Braves apparently haven’t needed to make room on the 40 man by dropping him, so he’s still officially on the roster. There’s been a lot of speculation about why his retirement isn’t official yet, but he’s been adamant he’s retired.

Chi Town

March 30th, 2011
1:39 pm

Barners are going down.

Hike!!!

March 30th, 2011
1:44 pm

UGABugKiller

Dead on…Cox did not make changes in the post season and I think he cost us another WS or two.
When we were up 2 games against the Yankees Torre flat out out coached Bobby. He would make pitching change one after another, while Bobby always “stuck” with his man. Bobby’s loyalty to his veteran players, which endeared him to his players, was also his biggest shortcoming. Like allowing Glavine to continue pitching until the game was out of reach. Any novice could see that the better umpires, who had to be graded to qualify for the post season, also normally call a tighter “strike zone”…and if Glavine wasn’t getting the called strikes with pitches just off the plate…he either walked the batter or served it up right across the plate. Bobby never got that. So, I am looking forward to new management…and that bilingual ability can’t hurt either.

T-Bone

March 30th, 2011
1:44 pm

Wow. A manager who says “this gives me a chance to say, ‘How are you doing? How are your mom and dad?’ ” Maybe Bobby did as well, but that’s pretty cool. Thanks, Fredi.

And, great article, MB. [and what's a callow cub?]

Mark Bradley

March 30th, 2011
1:46 pm

A callow cub would be Ryne Sandberg as a rookie.

S'paw_99

March 30th, 2011
1:46 pm

If I was in charge of the Braves, there would only have been one person on my list to replace Bobby. That person would be Fredi Gonzalez, because he’s someone that knows Bobby and the players, but has the managerial experience. I think that he did a great job keeping Florida competitive with one of the lowest payrolls in MLB. Even if they hadn’t fired him, I’d tried to pry him outta there, I’m sure he’d rather manage the Braves mid of the bunch payroll than the Fish’s lowest in the game.

Sonny Clusters

March 30th, 2011
1:46 pm

We was wondering about that callow cub business. As long as Fredi isn’t a nose picker the change is good.

T-Bone

March 30th, 2011
1:47 pm

Hike, I’m not sure that all post-season umps called a tighter zone. Remember Eric Gregg!

GT Alum

March 30th, 2011
1:47 pm

Any novice could see that the better umpires, who had to be graded to qualify for the post season, also normally call a tighter “strike zone

You mean like Eric Gregg?

Mark Bradley

March 30th, 2011
1:48 pm

About Billy Wagner: Frank Wren just told us that Wagner is no longer on the Braves’ roster — though he IS still Braves’ property through the end of this season. Should Wagner decide this season he wants to play again — and there’s no indication he does or will — he can only play for the Braves.

This all came about because Wagner retired with a year still remaining on his contract. Should Wagner not play this season, he moves to the “retired” list.

T-Bone

March 30th, 2011
1:52 pm

MB, does Wags then still take up a place on the 40-man?

Mark Bradley

March 30th, 2011
1:54 pm

Wagner is no longer on the 40-man roster.

Mark Bradley

March 30th, 2011
1:57 pm

Please be advised that ol’ MB isn’t too mulish to take a hint: “Callow cub” is now “cowardly cub.”

“Callow” and “cub” pretty much mean the same thing, I have decided (via your prompts). Thank you for guiding me to what I hope will prove a better choice of words.

nique

March 30th, 2011
1:57 pm

I like the approach of stretching and fielding seeing as how we want to avoid injuries and play good defense. Seems like a no-brainer.

nique

March 30th, 2011
1:58 pm

Maybe working out would be a good idea too…..

T-Bone

March 30th, 2011
1:59 pm

Dink

March 30th, 2011
2:09 pm

Mark, just bought a new Cubbies T-shirt… guaranteed to fade by August

moorman

March 30th, 2011
2:10 pm

i love bobby cox, love him to death, but the braves have been slipping bad in recent years in the fundamentals that got them were they were, pitching and above all DEFENSE. the pitching picked up but the defense been shaky for a while. good to see fredi going back to the basics. another thing, with all the injuries the braves seem to have, stretching on the field is a good thing too. the braves gonna be in good hands.

Mark Bradley

March 30th, 2011
2:10 pm

Good line. Not entirely new, but good.

Mark Bradley

March 30th, 2011
2:10 pm

Wouldn’t disagree, moorman.

Walker, Texas Ranger

March 30th, 2011
2:16 pm

Mark, I don’t think the Braves every officially waived Pat Rocket and Gil Gerido. Should give us some depth at shortstop

Walker, Texas Ranger

March 30th, 2011
2:18 pm

Nique, maybe there are more injuries because they workout too much. Back in the day, they didn’t touch weights and didn’t seem to get injured as much.

Mark Bradley

March 30th, 2011
2:20 pm

Bobby Cox did, I should note, encourage his players to stretch on their own before games. But there was no team stretch.

CajunStorm

March 30th, 2011
2:20 pm

Just another example on why this Braves team will have a chance to hang a banner or two in the next 5 years. Youth, veteran leadership, high level talent, great pitching, and the perfect fit at manager. I’m ready to sweep den Nationals. Let’s go Braves.

GT Alum

March 30th, 2011
2:23 pm

moorman -

I think the issues you’re talking about are more due to the front office and player development than managing.

When we started replacing Maddux and Glavine with Russ Ortiz, Paul Byrd and whoever we got to fill in when Hampton was hurt was when our pitching started to decline. Bobby was just using the players he had. Now, Bobby apparently had a say in who was acquired, so I think he and JS have to share responsibility for that.

You’ll notice the first thing Wren did when he took over the team was rebuild the pitching staff. He completed the trade to get Jurrjens for Renteria (although that happened so soon after he took over, I wouldn’t be surprised if JS had started those conversations), acquired Javier Vazquez in trade, and refused to overpay Smoltz coming off arm surgery, although, as a result, he ended up overpaying Lowe to solidify the rotation. Of course, he also benefited from the fact that Hanson’s the best starting pitcher to come up through our system since Avery.

If you look at the roster, some of the players on it just aren’t great defenders – Uggla, Chipper, Conrad, McLouth. Sea Bass is supposed to be really good, but was probably average at best last year after he came over. And continuing on to last year’s roster, Melky wasn’t very good defensively, nor was Glaus, and even Lee isn’t the player he once was.

It seems like FW’s priorities were 1) fix the pitching 2) fix the offense. Hopefully, now he’ll start on priority 3) fix the defense.

5150 UOAD

March 30th, 2011
2:23 pm

I hope we can win on the road early. We don’t need to start the season in a hole. The pitchers need confidence fast.Why do we have so many game away before the home opener?

Walker, Texas Ranger

March 30th, 2011
2:26 pm

GT Alum, saying the Braves aren’t great defenders is like saying Dolly Parton has out grown her training bra

MN Possum

March 30th, 2011
2:28 pm

Think of “callow cub” as an AB type kenning and all is well.

Mark Bradley

March 30th, 2011
2:31 pm

Bad news: Braves lose to the Twins 2-0.

Good news: It doesn’t count.

moorman

March 30th, 2011
2:34 pm

gt alum, i agree, bobby managed with the players he had, but he DID have input, you know he did. whether the blame goes to the gm or to bobby, the result is all that mattered, the braves got away from what made us proud of them back in the early 90s when they started their run. there were 3 things that got the braves over the top: pitching, defense and speed at the top of the lineup. the braves havent had speed in soo long at the top that could actually STEAL a base, that ive written that off as a wash with them, and concentrated on their lack of pitching and defense, the two areas that will still keep you in a game. anyway, good to see wren address the pitching and apparently, even if its just practice for now, at least make the players you have NOW, practice their defense until you get the exact players you want in there.

Alan

March 30th, 2011
2:35 pm

Nice job, Mark. I’m surprised, however, that you used the words “callow cub” without referring to the legendary Cub — er, Cab — Calloway!

phil

March 30th, 2011
3:06 pm

As soon as Fredi struggles, ole Bradley will be the first calling for his head, as he has done for so many over his long career as an AJC writer….

First, couldn’t be a better choice…change is good, blah, blah, blah….

then, time to go….i knew it all along….blah, blah, blah…

wasn’t bradley a marion campbell advocate when he came back in ‘88 or so?

Lank

March 30th, 2011
3:11 pm

Looks like the weather in Washington may be ok for baseball. only a 10% chance of rain between 7AM and 4PM tomororw

5150 UOAD

March 30th, 2011
3:50 pm

100% chance the House and Senate will keep screwing up the country with Hope and Change still in charge.

Mark Bradley`s Booster

March 30th, 2011
4:06 pm

in response to S. Clusters comment about nose picking:
I read on one of the AJC blogs just yesterday that boogers have great protein value for the human body.

Mark Bradley`s Booster

March 30th, 2011
4:11 pm

Mark: Good article about the differences in managerial styles of BC and FG. We will soon see the effects of what the changes will have on the team preformance on the field. So far so good since we have heard positive feedback from the players.

Jo Bling

March 30th, 2011
4:13 pm

Fredi has been handed the keys to a brand new Porsche. Good god I hope he doesn’t wreck it.

The Original WDE

March 30th, 2011
4:23 pm

Cheesy final line.

Paddy

March 30th, 2011
5:05 pm

GT Alum…love Fredi’s approach, he will be fine with this team.. You said it very well about Drew. You don’t have to be liked by your players to win, only respected. Many great coaches and managers were disliked by their players but still won! Trying to have the players like you is a hugh gamble. It most often backfires.

Dawgdad (The Original)

March 30th, 2011
5:08 pm

Infield practice is a necessity and why Cox eschewed it is beyond me. Maybe not everyday, but with players coming and going and moving around the infield they all should practice at the positions they expect to play. This should help our defense.