It’s never easy to fire someone. As much as we believe the decision to fire Fredi Gonzalez was easy for the Atlanta Braves, it likely wasn’t. The last time a manager had been fired by this organization was 1990, so this is not something that happens all the time.
But it was the right move. Gonzalez wasn’t all to blame for what was going on, but he didn’t help matters, either. The fact is, the Braves were not supposed to be this bad this season. Sure, they were supposed to be bad, but not this bad.
They were awful under Gonzalez, and the last glimpse of that came Monday in Pittsburgh. The team was lifeless, with a number of awful defensive plays and a glaring lack of effort by some players.
Gonzalez was simply terrible at managing a bullpen, whether there were good pitchers in his bullpen or not. He was terribly inconsistent in his decisions, and the lineup construction was downright humorous.
He was never going to be the Braves’ manager in 2017, when the sparkling new SunTrust Park opens. Atlanta’s performance in the first 37 games this season was simply the final nail in Gonzalez’s managerial coffin.
It’s about accountability, and while it’s never all a manager’s fault when something like this happens, the blame usually falls right at his door. There was plenty to pin on Gonzalez during the past five-plus seasons.
Gonzalez’s overall resume was just not that impressive. What about the September collapses in 2011 and 2013? What about his bad decision to not use Craig Kimbrel in the playoff game against the Los Angeles Dodgers in 2013? What about the underperforming 79-83 team in 2014?
Since last season, when the Braves started 42-42, the team had gone 34-81, a dreadful .296 winning percentage. That’s the worst stretch in the 51-year history of this franchise.
So now the Braves move on. The angst about when Gonzalez will be fired is now over. For now, Brian Snitker will be the manager. Yes, that’s the same Brian Snitker who managed the Macon Braves in 1992 and 1997-98.
This was the best decision the Braves could have made. Snitker is the perfect choice to lead this team for the remaining 125 games. They could have gone with Eddie Perez, the bullpen coach. But Perez wants to be a manager. The Braves didn’t need someone to lobby for the job all summer.
They need someone to steady this sinking ship. They needed Snitker.
Snitker is a Braves lifer. He first signed with the team as a non-drafted free agent in 1977. Snitker played for the Braves in the minors for three years, and then he turned to coaching. Hank Aaron and the late, great Bobby Dews were instrumental in developing Snitker into a fine baseball man.
Snitker was in his 20th season as a Braves minor league manager when he got the call late Monday night to head to Pittsburgh. He has been on the Atlanta coaching staff several times, first in 1985 under Eddie Haas, then in the late-1980s under Russ Nixon. Bobby Cox brought Snitker back to the big leagues in 2007 to be his third-base coach.
Frank Wren, the since-fired general manager, demoted Snitker to Triple-A after the 2013 season. It was a power-play between Wren and Gonzalez, as Wren wanted his own man in the clubhouse. But Snitker, the organizational man, took it professionally and did what he needed to do for the organization.
Much is made about the phrase, “The Braves Way.” John Schuerholz loves to mention it. I even used it in a book about the team a decade ago. It’s now being tossed around again as something the Braves need to get back to. Well, Snitker is “The Braves Way.” He’s all about what this organization stands for, and not many have been around longer to appreciate what it means to wear that uniform.
Snitker is a good communicator. Players always have had good things to say about the way he treats them in a clubhouse. He always has gotten good marks on developing pitchers, and you can believe Snitker will treat these young starting pitchers, who have given us a reason to watch, carefully during the next four-plus months.
He learned from Aaron, coached for Cox and now will get his chance. Maybe Snitker is only up for the rest of the season, but no one will ever be able to take this away from him. He will do what’s best for the Braves, for the organization and not what’s best for himself.
Sure, he’ll want to win. But this will be all about getting these players ready to win down the road. It will be about development, not about a record to try and save a manager’s job.
Maybe the players will respond. Maybe they will play harder and be better. Maybe Snitker will leave his starting pitchers in longer and have better lineups. But anything will be better than what the Braves have gone through the past 37 games.
Listen to “The Bill Shanks Show” from 3-6 p.m. weekdays on WPLA Fox Sports 1670 AM in Macon and online at www.foxsports1670.com. Follow Bill at twitter.com/BillShanks and email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.