When you have nothing to say, sometimes it’s best to say nothing at all. By firing Fredi Gonzalez earlier this week, the Braves simultaneously said something and, at the same time, implicitly admitted that it would have been far, far better to say nothing at all. Because what, really, was the point of what happened this week? When you choose to enter the year with a manager in place—particularly a manager who, as is the case with Gonzalez, has been around for a while—you’re making a statement about your confidence in that manager’s ability to see you through the season in the way you’ve designed the season to be played. If you weren’t confident in the same, you would have made a change in the offseason.
And yet, just a little over a month into a campaign in which literally nobody—least of all the people who drew up the godforsaken roster, who are the selfsame people who just made a move—expected Atlanta to contend, the Braves are making a change, and in doing so allowing Gonzalez to be the fall guy for a team that was always going to be terrible, and by design. Did he hit someone? No. Shoot them? No. Show up to work naked and run screaming through Fulton County? No, although to be fair to the Braves’ brass I haven’t finished checking the police blotter. In fact, Gonzalez just happened to be in the dugout while the Braves sucked on the field in front of him. Firing him changes nothing about the long- or short-term trajectory of this team. And yet it happened.
The only reason I can think of for the move isn’t too comforting: that the Braves’ front office made this move when it did to Show Its Fans That It Cares About The Team, and take some pressure off of the hapless players to win in the short term. Except, firing Fredi doesn’t do anything to help the team in any meaningful way. It’s just noise. With one fell swoop, then, the Braves unwittingly divided their fans into two camps: those actually too stupid, or disconnected, to understand what The Plan is all about, and who therefore genuinely believe that firing Gonzalez will help; and—on the other hand—those fans who the Braves believe are too stupid to understand what The Plan is all about. The team has thus appeased one group with a move that’s basically a placebo pill to wash down poisoned water, and condescended brutally to everyone else who supports their team.
That’s not a good look, and it’s especially not a good look when it comes hot on the heels of the team announcing, with great fanfare and an ineffable aura of rich condescension, that it’s leaving its not-old-enough-to-drink-yet stadium for a richer, whiter ballpark in the suburbs. Both moves speak to a certain degree of corporate tone-deafness that’s infected a franchise that, for many years, was run like a family, and a successful family at that. It’s the same tone-deafness that’s led the Braves to subscribe to a version of The Plan that isn’t even all that likely to work.
After being sold the idea, for many years, that the goal of each individual baseball season was to win a World Championship, fans across the league have now, for the most part, basically reconciled themselves to the idea that most teams are routinely not trying to do that, and instead saving themselves up for a run every five or six years, if the plan comes together. Where once the goal was, “Let’s give it a shot this year,” every year, now the goal is “Let’s give it a shot once the kids leave home for college.” As with marriages, this only sometimes works, and it mostly works only when teams truly commit to the process. Which can be hard to watch.
But still, a fair number of baseball fans (including many who read this site) have accepted the idea that this sort of long-term sacrifice may be more rewarding for the fans overall. Flags fly forever, or so they say. And so if sacrificing Gonzalez was necessary to keep the knuckleheads of Atlanta away while the Braves truly committed to their part of the bargain, it might have been an understandable and maybe even a defensible move. Unfortunately for its fans, the Braves appear to have decided that a long-term rebuild will harm the “making money” part of the equation too much in the short term. And so they chose a weird half-route to a rebuild wherein they hold on to Freddie Freeman, sign Nick Markakis, and pretend that the rest of the Braves can play baseball.
They thought fans might come out to watch it happen, what with Freeman being relatively well liked in town. But they didn’t, and so the team found itself both not making very much money and not moving itself any closer to a golden future. To each fool his own return. In the long run, indeed, The Plan probably won’t work in Atlanta, not with another half-dozen teams trying to do the same thing all at once, and the Braves not even really committing themselves to the idea of selling off good players for parts, or losing quite enough to get truly elite draft talent. So there’s no short-term plan in Atlanta, and maybe no-long term plan either, and for these sins somebody had to lose their job. And so, this week, the Braves fired Fredi Gonzalez. Look what a difference it’s made. Maybe it’ll look better in Cobb County.
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