Wednesday, September 5, 2007
Fredi's Dream Job Has Been Nightmarish
Marlins Manager Fredi Gonzalez
Fredi Gonzalez knew his first major league managing job wouldn't be easy. Nothing achieved in profesional baseball ever is. From all those long bus rides, staying in cheap motels and living off a diet of fast food, the 25 year journey from a minor league ballplayer to now the managing the Florida Marlins has been a long whirlwind ride.
From the time he signed his first pro contract upon graduation from Miami's Southridge High School in 1982, Gonzalez's life has been baseball. Back then Gonzalez was an overachieving catching prospect with hopes and dreams of becoming a major leaguer. The dream of reaching the major leagues as a player never came. But when the Marlins fired Joe Girardi, General Manager Larry Beinfest decided to hand over the managing job to an upbeat Atlanta Braves third base coach who had been waiting for this moment his whole life. Finally Fredi Gonzalez was a major league manager.
But so far Fredi's dream job has hardly been rosey. He inherited a team filled with promising young talent and higher expectations than his predecessor Girardi. Last year the Marlins were considered an overachieving team while riding the arms of four rookie pitchers (Josh Johnson, Anibal Sanchez, Ricky Nolasco and Scott Olsen) a brilliant young shortstop (Hanley Ramirez), an unlikely rule 5 hero second baseman (Dan Uggla) and one of the National League's best sluggers (Miguel Cabrera). All that young talent helped Girardi become the National League Manager of the Year. But his frosty relationship with Beinfest and the team's ownership ultimately earned him a pink slip.
Already Gonzalez had one strike against him. He had to replace a popular manager both with the players and the small Marlin fanbase. Strike two came when his young pitching staff started dropping like flies. Josh Johnson began the season on the disabled list and has yet to fully recover. Sanchez and Nolasco have also been shuttled back and forth from the mound to the doctor's office. Olsen continued to have his temper issues, one resulting in an arrest for drunk driving and resisting arrest. Dontrelle Willis, who's struggled all had went an etire month without winning a game. The Marlins patchwork merry-go-round bullpen continued to surrender away leads starting with Jorge Julio to Armando Benitez.
And despite the stellar offensive numbers of Hanley Ramirez and Miguel Cabrera, the Marlins have slid all the way down to the basement of the National League East. They currently sport a 60-79 record--the worst in the National League. Only the Tampa Bay Devil Rays have a worse record.
Watching the Marlins play this season will test the most loyal baseball fan. So the logical assumption is the manager is doing a poor job. Not necessarily in this case. Personally, I think baseball managers have the least amount of impact on a game than coaches in other sports. For example, Jack McKeon made some of the most bizarre and crazy moves during the 2003 season. But yet somehow, all his moves worked and the Marlins went all the way despite Grandpa Jack's medling.
But watching the Marlins lose game after game, you have to feel bad for Gonzalez. No matter what he does, everything goes against him--most of it out of his control. He can't control a crippled pitching staff or the tight budget the team is working under. You can't make chicken salad out of chicken crap. Through it all, Gonzalez has managed to keep a positive attitude. It's seasons like this that can really test the patience of a man. But if you've been waiting and endured as long as Fredi Gonzalez to become a major league manager, this a piece of cake.
Whatever Marlin fans are left, need to stick with Fredi. I'm willing to give him a scholarship on this season. For once, I'd like to see what he can do with a healthy ballclub and athletes playing to their potential. Let's hope he gets that chance.