Hidden in this week’s big sports week of the United States World Cup triumph and then later heartbreaking disappointment, the NBA Draft and the longest match ever in tennis history, was the Marlins firing of Fredi Gonzalez. To those that have been following the Marlins a bit, this does not come as a shock. Owner Jeffrey Loria seems to have been chopping at the bit to fire Gonzalez as early as last offseason. However, Gonzalez deserved better on multiple fronts.
Gonzalez went 276-279 in about three and a half seasons with a club that had a payroll near the bottom of the league., finishing over .500 the past two seasons, including a second place finish in 2009. Yes, the Marlins were underachieving a bit this season but that was also a result of the teams that compete against them getting better, making improvements or getting healthier. There was plenty of time for Gonzalez to turn the season around if ownership was willing to do so, and giving him some help might not have killed him either.
What is really disappointing, is this comes a month after Gonzalez received wide spread praise around baseball for benching Hanley Ramirez after he didn’t hustle after a ball that he had kicked down the left field line. It could be interpreted that the firing was done to placate Ramirez, which would not send a good message to the Marlins clubhouse. Gonzalez did something that we never see in sports anymore; the authority figure stood up to the multi-million dollar superstar. Too often superstars are coddled and babied but not in this instance and that was with the fact that Gonzalez job was already in jeopardy.
The real person to blame here is Marlins owner Jeffrey Loria. He ran Joe Girardi out after one season where he overachieved big time with a Marlins club that was expected to finish dead last in the National League East and won the 2006 NL Manager of the Year Award. Gonzalez was nearly fired in the offseason because Loria felt his club should have made the playoffs despite his refusal to spend a little more on his club as the other teams in the division were doing. The rumors that his job was in jeopardy this off-season seemed to also create the mirage that this should not have come as a shock.
Loria is now reportedly turning to Bobby Valentine, he of the Groucho Marx disguise and near .500 managerial record of 1117-1072 in 15 seasons. Valentine has been to the playoffs two times in his 15 years, so the question is if Loria thinks his team is a playoff team, why hand it over to someone who has failed to get his teams to the playoffs over 80% of the time? Frankly, I think Valentine is an overrated manager and at best, a short term fix for the Marlins, before Loria will tire of his act. The only good that comes from this is that if gets Bobby Valentine off ESPN, because he was nearly as brutal to listen to as Steve Phillips was.
We shouldn't feel too bad for Fredi, though. He will make out quite alright in the long run. He has a tremendous amount of respect around baseball and will certainly resurface this offseason as a managerial candidate and will almost definitely land in a better situation, with a owner who isn’t a jackass. The smart money is on Gonzalez succeeding Bobby Cox in Atlanta, given his ties to that organization as a coach under Cox and in the minor leagues for the Braves prior to his managing the Marlins as well as the fact that he still resides near the Atlanta area.
The bottom line is the Marlins did the rest of baseball a favor by firing a solid, young manager, and Gonzalez will certainly make the Marlins and more specifically, Loria, pay for their mistake.
Georgia On My Mind-Ray Charles