Where there’s smoke, there’s fire. These days the trail of smoke following Fredi Gonzalez is akin to the invariable dust cloud surrounding the Peanuts character Pig-Pen. Currently in Atlanta, the airwaves, social media and news columns are circling like vultures calling for Fredi Gonzalez to be fired. This week the smoldering fire was fanned further when several news outlets linked former San Diego Padres manager Bud Black to the not-quite-open managerial post in Atlanta. The question now is not if, but when the other shoe drops.
It is somewhat unclear as to the depth of the conversations between the Braves and Black, but those close to the team have speculated the two sides are close to an agreement, naming Black the new manager starting in 2017. It has also been rumored that well-liked bullpen coach Eddie Perez could step in for Gonzalez on an interim basis and attempt to steer the rudderless ship for the remainder of 2016. A team already facing an impossible uphill battle must now face the constant questions surrounding the fate of their manager. The Braves front office has butchered the roster construction for this year’s team and now they are proving to be equally incapable of handling the imminent dismissal of the manager who was hand-picked by Bobby Cox.
Through his first three years as Atlanta manager, Gonzalez posted a 279–147 record while collecting two 90-win seasons, and a pair of postseason appearances. Unfortunately for Gonzalez, as the errors of former general manager Frank Wren began to creep up on the team, his on-field success also began to wane. Following the 2013 postseason, when Gonzalez famously left Craig Kimbrel in the bullpen during a Game 4 loss against the Dodgers, he has posted two straight losing seasons. This year the losses have been piling up in a manner that hasn’t been seen in Atlanta for nearly three decades.
While Gonzalez certainly has had a bumpy ride during his Atlanta tenure, most notably a historic September collapse in 2011, he has been placed in a no-win situation. The Braves front office has pulled the rug (and talent) out from underneath Gonzalez, leaving him with a team not even Joe Torre could make a winner. The Braves brass is equally responsible for this season’s debacle, as they have given Gonzalez a team bereft of talent. Never known for his in-game managerial prowess, Gonzalez’s shortcomings have been further magnified as he is tasked with filling out a daily lineup composed primarily of players that would not be on the 25-man roster of any other major league team.
Rebuilding efforts in professional sports are an ugly task which often takes much longer than the team officials would ever admit. It’s looking increasingly more likely that Gonzalez will be the next fall guy for a mess he certainly did not create. Many will agree that Gonzalez is not the man who should lead the Braves next year as they head into the new Sun Trust Stadium. What should not be disputed is that he deserves to be treated in a professional manner and not have to listen to the whispers of his replacement being in place while he is still on the job.
For now, Gonzalez will do what he has done for the past five-plus seasons as Braves manager. He will handle himself with dignity, put a lineup on the field he thinks will best help his team win and stand defiantly in the face of criticism. You can question whether Fredi Gonzalez is a good manager, or if he should continue to lead a team that management constructed with the goal of losing. What you cannot question is how Fredi Gonzalez has represented the Braves and the Atlanta community with pride and rectitude from day one and will continue to do so until the day he is forced to clean out his locker.