Wednesday, October 13, 2010
Fredi Gonzalez to manage Braves
ATLANTA -- The Braves didn't even wait 48 hours to introduce Bobby Cox's replacement.
No need. Fredi Gonzalez was Atlanta's manager-in-waiting almost as soon as Cox announced that 2010 would be his final season.
In what was nothing more than a formality, Gonzalez took over Wednesday as the team's new manager, succeeded the fourth-winningest skipper in baseball history.
New Atlanta Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez, left, speaks at his introductory news conference with former manager Bobby Cox on Wednesday. Gonzalez was fired by the Florida Marlins in June.
Gonzalez said he's not worried about following in Cox's large footsteps. The Braves' manager since 1990, he led the team to an unprecedented 14 straight division titles and the 1995 World Series championship. After missing the playoffs the last four years, Atlanta returned as a wild card this season.
Cox's managing career ended Monday night when the Braves, devastated by injuries, lost to San Francisco in Game 4 of the NL division series.
"Our goal is simple: We want to keep putting flags on that facade up there," Gonzalez said. "I don't think there's a person alive that's going to replace Bobby Cox. We just want to continue the winning tradition and go from there."
Gonzalez's return to the Atlanta, where he served as Cox's third-base coach from 2003-06, has been widely expected ever since he was fired in June by the Florida Marlins.
"This is perfect for us on so many levels," said general manager Frank Wren, who didn't even bother interviewing another candidate.
When Cox decided late last season to retire in 2010, the Braves came up with about 15 possible candidates and had the 46-year-old Gonzalez at the top of the list right from the start -- even though he was managing the Marlins.
"He was on our radar before he was available," Wren said. "We thought there may come a time when we were going to have to ask the Florida Marlins for permission to talk to their manager. We really thought Fredi was the best candidate for us."
Gonzalez apprenticed under Cox before leaving to take over as Florida's manager, a post he held for 3½ years. He had a record of 276-279 with the Marlins, one of baseball's lowest-spending teams.
Fredi Gonzalez has history with the Braves
• Richmond Braves manager in 2002
• Braves 3rd-base coach from 2003-06
• Marlins manager from 2007-10
• 276-279 as Marlins manager (fired June 23)
Florida fired Gonzalez on June 23, a month after he benched star shortstop Hanley Ramirez for a lack of hustle -- a move that many believed angered owner Jeffrey Loria.
The Marlins said they changed managers because the team needed a boost, but the switch to Edwin Rodriguez didn't help much. Florida was 34-36 when Gonzalez was dismissed and ended up 80-82, third in the NL East.
Gonzalez said he never thought that disciplining Ramirez would become such a big deal, perhaps contributing to him losing his job but drawing praise from around baseball.
"That's the way I was brought up," he said. "I know the way the game should be played. If you don't do something, you're going to lose those 24 other guys. For me, it was just a simple thing to do."
Cox kicked off the changing of the Braves guard by holding a farewell news conference of his own at Turner Field, reminiscing about a career that will surely earn him a spot in Cooperstown. He plans to work on his golf game and do a little traveling, but he's mainly looking forward to not having to live by a schedule.
"I don't really have a bucket list," he said.
Cox will remain with the team as a consultant and looks forward to spending time at spring training, but he's going to be mostly in the background -- just as he was at Gonzalez's news conference, sitting to the left of the new manager at the end of the table.
This is Fredi's team now.
"I don't feel any outside pressure because I'm the next guy after Bobby," Gonzalez said. "It never crossed my mind to shy away from being that guy. Somebody's got to do it. I'm honored they asked me to do it."
Less than two weeks after Gonzalez was fired by the Marlins, he was at Wren's lake cabin in east Alabama for a daylong interview. A few days later, team president John Schuerholz met with Gonzalez. Finally, in September, the top two Braves officials held one more formal interview with Gonzalez and knew they had the right guy.
"He's got a great personality," Wren said. "Players gravitate toward him. They like playing for him. It's important that guys like playing for you, because they'll usually play even better. We've seen him over the course of time. Managing at the major league level is different, but we saw what he did at Florida. He ran a good game."
Cox chimed in, saying it's not going to be that tough for Gonzalez to put him own stamp on the job.
"Walter Alston was replaced by Tommy Lasorda," Cox said. "Tommy did a great job and they forgot all about Walter Alston. That is what's going to happen here."
Gonzalez turned down the chance to talk with four other teams that need or were considering new managers, most notably the Chicago Cubs. He doesn't even have to worry about moving; he kept his home in suburban Atlanta, where his wife and two children continued to live while he was with the Marlins.
He's home again.
Gonzalez said he'll do a few things differently than Cox. Perhaps the most noticeable change will be having the players stretch on the field before batting practice, something his predecessor never asked the Braves to do.
Also, the Braves shook up Cox's coaching staff just a bit, firing first-base coach Glenn Hubbard and bench coach Chino Cadahia. Carlos Tosca, who was with Gonzalez in Florida, will take over the bench coach duties and hitting coach Terry Pendleton will shift over to Hubbard's post.
The Braves plan to hire a new hitting coach after struggling at the plate this season. Three other members of Cox's staff will remain in the same posts: pitching coach Roger McDowell, third-base coach Brian Snitker and bullpen coach Eddie Perez.
"There's not going to be a lot of crazy changes," Gonzalez said. "The players might not even notice it. But whoever comes in has their own little way of doing things."
Cox recalled the advice he gave Gonzalez when he first took the Florida managing job in 2007.
"You are who you are. You've got to be yourself," the now-retired manager said. "Fredi's got the right makeup to be a great manager. He has all the respect around baseball that you can get. I just want to be in the background. There's always going to be new starts, and Fredi is getting a new start here."