When last the Atlanta Braves started 0-7, they fired the manager. Technically, it didn’t happen for another five weeks — they were 12-27 by then — but it happened. Not wanting to can Chuck Tanner in Pittsburgh, where he’d won a World Series in a previous posting, then-GM Bobby Cox waited until the team completed a weekend series at Three Rivers and flew to Chicago. And there, in a hotel along the Magnificent Mile on the night of May 22, 1988, the deed was done.
(Historical note No. 1: Tanner’s replacement was Russ Nixon, who lasted until June 22, 1990. Nixon’s replacement lasted two decades.)
(Historical note No. 2: Of all the lousy days in Atlanta sports history, May 22 ranks high/low. That same Sunday, the Hawks lost to the Celtics in Game 7 at the old Boston Garden. Dominique Wilkins scored 47 points in vain. Then Tanner, who’d famously promised a parade down Peachtree when his Braves won a title, was given the gate. Only in the A-T-L, kids.)
This is a backhanded of way of saying the Fredi Gonzalez Watch is officially on, not that it has lately been off. To lay all seven losses at the feet of Fredi G. would be incorrect; his team is, as 0-7 might indicate, spectacularly awful. (And awful by design.) That said …
Since July 7 of last year, the Braves are 25-60. Since Opening Day 2014, they’re 146-185. Yes, Fredi’s first three seasons here saw his teams win 89, 93 and 94 games, but that seems a long time ago. If he was the right manager to follow Cox — similar to the Hall of Famer without being a shameless imitator — he wouldn’t appear the right manager for what the Braves have become.
There’s a catch in that: For what the Braves have become, nobody in the history of baseball — not Casey, not Sparky, not Torre, not La Russa — would be ideal. Who’s great at running a terrible team? But the one thing upper management has to fight is the notion of this thrown-together team giving up so soon. Losing 100 games is bad. Losing 120 would be historic. (Just imagine if Opening Day at SunTrust Park isn’t a sellout.)
And if there’s one thing we’ve learned about Fredi’s teams, it’s that they save the worst for last. Over five full seasons, his Braves were 40 games above .500 before the All-Star break; they were .500 thereafter. Only once have they had a winning September.
Almost never is it entirely the manager’s fault, and it certainly isn’t with this sorry club. (When Eric O’Flaherty, who has nothing anymore, is your get-out-the-lefty lefty, you’re in a world of hurt.) But when a season that was expected to be bad starts even worse, somebody invariably takes the fall. As the saying goes, you can’t fire 25 players.
Although, come to think of it, that’s not a bad idea.