Fredi Gonzalez had been tap dancing on a trap door almost from the beginning of his five-plus seasons as Braves manager. His very first season (2011) set a dolorous tone, when his team, leading St. Louis by 8 ½ games for the wild card at the start of September, collapsed.
That would not be the last time Fredi’s fellows folded. In 2014, the Braves were tied for first in the division at the All Star break, only to go 28-40 from there and fade from view. Even last season, the Braves losingest since 1990, they were a respectable 42-42 near the midpoint, and then began the tire fire that smolders still.
It generally reflects very poorly upon management when your team – regardless of the lack of talent, regardless of the vagaries of injury – routinely unravels as the months pass. Too often, Gonzalez was the shepherd of a flock that wasted away from spring to autumn.
Gonzalez will not make another September. The trap door has been sprung. Many hands were on the lever.
His bosses did him no favors, constructing around him a mismatched set of punchless players who are only keeping a position warm until some prospect can step up and claim it. No manager could have made chicken salad of today’s Braves. This team would have made John McGraw look like a simpleton.
His players failed him, from the big-ticket flops like B.J. Upton and Dan Uggla to, more currently, the inconsistent bulwark performers like Julio Teheran and Freddie Freeman. No one stepped up to lead from within.
And there was his own hand on that lever, for as much as Gonzalez was victimized by the Braves rebuilding, for as much as his juggled his lineups to try to find one that might work, he never did seem to push the button that would make a meaningful difference.
The Gonzalez era will be an oddly formless one. The Braves had a measure of regular season success, winning 94 and 96 games in 2012 and ’13. And in those two seasons, Gonzalez actually finished among the top four vote-getters for National League Manager of the Year. (Not that necessarily means much – three of the past six NL managers of the year have since been fired, and a fourth slipped into retirement).
None of that meant anything when October arrived. They were ousted in a 2012 wild card game that became an excruciating clinic on the infield fly rule, and brushed away like dander by the Dodgers in a division series the next year.
Gonzalez’s teams never pleasantly surprised at the end, never wildly exceeded expectation, never inspired the fan base with their guileful play. The manager was a very good man, a steady hand in difficult times but one who seldom lifted a team beyond its means.
His team today is horrible. His teams of the recent past were unremarkable in many ways.
Not really a flattering summary of his five-plus seasons at the head of the Braves dugout, but flattery has not come easily the past year or so given the great number of high-profile ousters (Falcons, Georgia football, Georgia Tech basketball and now this).
I don’t know that even now I can say for certain what kind of manager Gonzalez is, or could have been, had he been given a little more time or been able to engage in the chess match using more than just pawns.
The best I can conclude is that Gonzalez was not a bad manager, but rather one who was just not good enough. Especially for the vision the Braves have for that new ballpark just across the Cobb County line.