Former Braves coach will step into shoes of retiring Cox
By Mark Bowman / MLB.com
ATLANTA — What might have initially been viewed as a setback proved to be an opportunity. As soon as the Marlins fired Fredi Gonzalez on June 23, Braves general manager Frank Wren took joy in the fact that he now had a clear path to recruit the man that he viewed as Bobby Cox’s ideal successor.
“It was kind of an upheaval in his life when it happened, but at the same time, it worked out really well for us,” Wren said. “Even if we had asked (the Marlins) permission to talk to (Gonzalez), I’m not sure we could have gotten it. But he was a guy we clearly wanted to talk to.”
A little more than a week after Gonzalez was relieved of his managerial duties in Florida, he was back at his family’s residence in suburban Atlanta and in position to experience what was a six-hour philosophical meeting with Wren at a cabin in Alabama. A few days later, he met with Braves president John Schuerholz.
Three months later, with their season complete and Cox preparing to begin his retirement, the Braves did what was long expected and hired Gonzalez’s as their new manager.
“It’s an honor and a privilege to manage a club like the Atlanta Braves and I am really looking forward to getting going,” Gonzalez said after being introduced as Cox’s successor during a Wednesday afternoon press conference at Turner Field.
Before guiding the cash-strapped Marlins to two winnings seasons and a 276-279 record during a 3 1/2-season stint as their manager, Gonzalez spent four seasons as the Braves third base coach. During that span, he developed a strong bond with Cox, the players and members of the front office including Wren, who was actually first introduced to his new manager while the two were with the Marlins organization in the 1990s
“On so many levels it’s perfect for us,” said Wren after introducing Gonzalez as his new manager Wednesday. “He can’t be Bobby. There’s not going to be another Bobby Cox. Bobby is very unique. Fredi needs to do them just as he did them in Florida, even if it’s different than the way we have done things for the past 20-some years here. Fredi needs to do it his way.”
After beginning a 20-year-tenure as the Braves manager midway through the 1990 season, Cox established himself as one of the greatest managers in Major League history and one of the most influential men in Braves history. He led the organization to 14 consecutive division titles, five World Series and the only world championship captured by any of Atlanta’s major professional sports franchises.
Cox simply laughs when he hears that the task of serving as his successor could prove daunting. But he is certainly serious about his belief that Gonzalez was the right fit to move the organization forward.
“Fredi is a great pick to lead this organization forward,” Cox said. “He knows the game inside and out. He’s got a great personality with players. His communication skills are excellent. Anything you’d want in a young manager, Fredi possesses. It will be an easy transition. We haven’t won a lot in the past couple years. We’ve come close. Fredi is younger. He’s got more ideas, better ideas maybe and can get this team going again.
“About replacing me, that’s crazy. You know (Dodger legendary manager Walter Alston) was replaced by Tommy Lasorda, who was a scout and then a Minor League manager. He did a great job and they forgot all about Walter Alston. That’s what’s going to happen here.”
Long before Gonzalez gained great notoriety and widespread respect when he pulled Hanley Ramirez from a game because of lackadaisical play this year, Gonzalez was widely respected within the Braves organization. He served as Triple-A Richmond’s manager in 2002 and then spent the next four years as Atlanta’s bench coach.
Along the way the 46-year-old Gonzalez studied Cox’s approach and developed a friendship with the veteran skipper that remained while he was with the Marlins. The two have shared many baseball experiences together while sitting in dugouts and in the suburban Atlanta coffee shop they routinely visit together during the offseason.
“Nobody can replace (Cox),” Gonzalez said. “Our goal is simple, just keep putting flags on that (left field) façade up there. I don’t think there is a person alive that can replace Bobby. We just want to continue a winning tradition and go from there.
“You’ve got to be yourself. I think if somebody has to be fake or has to put up a front to be the guy who was here before, people see right through that. You just have to be comfortable under your own skin. What you see is what you get. There’s no ego here. When we win, it’s about the team. I will tell the team that on the first day.”
While there is certainly a need to find an outfielder who could help generate some offense, Wren spent the past couple of months recognizing his managerial search as one of this offseason’s top priorities. Thus when the Cubs and at least four other clubs began showing interest in Gonzalez, he and Schuerholz set up another interview in September.
Fortunately for the Braves, Gonzalez was as interested in them as they were in him. He spent the past few months routinely watching the Braves on television and occasionally scouting some prospects at Minor League games. Atlanta had remained his family’s hometown while he was employed with Florida and in an attempt to prevent them from wasting time and money, he informed interested clubs that this is where he wanted to remain.
“For me, it was a really easy decision,” Gonzalez said. “As the meetings went along, the more comfortable you felt. Then you started watching games in a little different light and started watching the Minor Leagues. It’s a helluva organization and it’s a good fit.”
Gonzalez coaches will include three holdovers from Cox’s staff. Pitching coach Roger McDowell and third base coach Brian Snitker will remain in their same roles. Former hitting coach Terry Pendleton will now serve as the first base coach.
Carlos Tosca will handle the same bench coach role he held while with Gonzalez in Florida. The Braves will spend a couple more weeks evaluating potential hitting coaches.
Wren said the desire to give Gonzalez a chance to put some of his own guys on his staff led to former first base coach Glenn Hubbard and former bench coach Chino Cadahia being relieved of their duties. Neither was offered a chance to remain in the organization in some capacity.
Mark Bowman is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.Read More
- Jeff Fletcher – Infielder Brooks Conrad, whose third error of the day in Game 3 handed the Giants a victory, was out of the Braves‘ lineup for Game 4, with little-used Troy Glaus at third and Omar Infante moved to second.
Conrad has made eight errors in his past seven games, including the final four games of the regular season. He said after Sunday night’s game that he would not ask manager Bobby Cox to be out of the lineup.
“It’s something where I just need to play baseball,” Conrad said. “It’s pretty stupid. Obviously I let a lot of people down, but I’m not going to ask (out of the lineup).”
Glaus, a longtime everyday third baseman, has played the position sparingly over the past two years. He was hurt most of last year, and he played first base most of this season. He went down to Triple-A to reacquaint himself with third base in August, and he started a critical double play in Game 2 on Friday. He played just two innings at the position in the regular season.
Still, Cox felt a change had to be made — for the benefit of the team and Conrad.
“I talked to Brooksy a lot this morning. He needs a day off. He needs to get away for a day,” Cox said. “He was the darling of the fans all year. This shouldn’t happen to anyone. I told him to hold his head high and pinch-hit and win a game.”
It isn’t just the Braves themselves who have come to Conrad’s defense. The Turner Field crowd gave him an impromptu standing ovation as he stood in the outfield during batting practice Monday afternoon.