His first season as Braves manager, the team finished with a 69-93 record...good enough for 6th place in the division. His second season as Braves manager, the 66-94 record brought another 6th place finish. The next two seasons the Braves finished over .500 only once, and never placed higher than 4th in the division. After four seasons, he was fired.
The person I'm talking about is Bobby Cox.
Yes the same Bobby Cox who then went to Toronto and turned the Blue Jays into a perennial winner during the 80s and 90s. The same Bobby Cox who was named NL Manager of the Year in 1985 as the Blue Jays Skipper. The same Bobby Cox who returned to the scene of his early crimes in Atlanta, and managed the Braves during their most successful era ever.
Bobby Cox - dubbed one of the greatest baseball managers of all time - who managed MLB clubs for eight seasons before he ever guided a team to the playoffs, and who didn't win a world series title until his fourteenth season as a manager.
So maybe the "Fire Fredi" chants are a bit premature, you think?
In his first four years as a manager, Fredi Gonzalez was suffering with the Florida Marlins during their "market correction/rebuilding" years. Yet, he managed a .497 winning percentage, and nearly got the Marlins a wild card berth in 2009. He was fired less than halfway through the 2010 season.
In Bobby Cox's first four years as a manager, he only compiled a .457 winning percentage, and his teams never finished higher than 4th.
Fredi Gonzalez took over a Braves team that had missed the playoffs four of the last five seasons. He brought them within one game of making the playoffs in 2011, despite fighting a seemingly insurmountable number of injuries throughout the season.
Yes, the 2011 September collapse was dreadful...but is Gonzalez to blame for it? Were any of the players grumbling about where they hit in the lineup or about a lack of playing time? Was Gonzalez the one who gave up late inning runs during games that the Braves should have won? Was it Gonzalez who scheduled the final series of the year against the Phillies, who were playing their best ball of the season at the time?
In short, Fredi is not to blame for the Braves failures last September. He was never out-managed by an opposing manager, and he didn't make any drastic moves that caused the late season free-fall. It just happened, as these things sometimes do.
You can't explain a losing streak anymore than you can explain a winning streak, and it's very easy to give a manager too much credit for one, and too much blame for the other.
The Braves have gotten off to a slow start in 2012, having been swept on the road in New York by a Mets team that isn't projected to do much this season except finish last. Having watched all three games I can say without question, Fredi Gonzalez did nothing to contribute to those losses. He managed the team and put them in a position to win. The players simply didn't perform.
It's true that managers have been fired in the past because of poor performance by good players under his charge, but I think Fredi Gonzalez is a long way away from that. He's a young manager, early in his career, and he's already showing success. This year Fredi has to contend with the retirement of Chipper Jones, who may or may not last the entire season, something that Bobby Cox was able to sidestep.
Braves fans need to relax, and let the memory of Bobby Cox be just that...a memory.
Fredi Gonzalez is never going to be Bobby Cox. True, he comes from the Bobby Cox coaching tree, but he has his own style, his own way of doing things. And I don't think it's a bad way, it's just different. People fear change, it's only natural.
"It's a long season, and you've got to play them one game at a time" the old cliche goes. Keep that in mind, and let Fredi Gonzalez and the Braves play them out.
So if the All-Star break rolls around and the Braves are 9 1/2 games back in the division, just remember, that's where Bobby Cox and the Braves were in 1991. I think that season turned out pretty well.
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