The morning after another loss and taking out his aggressions on an office towel rack — even several swings of a fungo bat couldn’t knock it off the wall, a fitting parallel to the Braves’ slugging percentage — Fredi Gonzalez climbed aboard his Harley and went for a ride.
Gonzalez rode his motorcycle for a couple of hours north of his home, rolling down back roads, winding through small towns. Off days are good for this, especially when nobody is aware that’s baseball’s most maligned manager in the lane next to them.
“I wore a full face helmet (shield) so nobody would recognize me,” the Braves’ manager said Tuesday. “Darkened shield. Took the license plate off the back. I didn’t want anyone looking me up and following me home.”
Later came a relaxing lunch in a Roswell cafe. He passed on a table outside, despite the sun-kissed spring day.
“Sat inside. In the back. In the dark by the kitchen.”
Then Tuesday, Gonzalez returned to work. It turned out he still had a job waiting for him. The odds favor this being a mere stay of execution because the Braves are 7-24 after losing the opener of a three-game series to Philadelphia 3-2, and certain people in the front office are just itching for somebody else to pin this on, other than themselves.
But Gonzalez is handling this better than most. You weren’t going to hear any sense of doom from him Tuesday. Well, other than a few jokes.
On whether he has been reading any books about crisis management: “No. I read Dr. Kevorkian’s book.”
On the “Fredi must go” contingent of fans and media: “There’s only one of those, right?”
On dealing with daily crises: “You feel like the guy in the circus with the balls or the plates up in the air. There’s always one in the air.”
On being so angry after Sunday’s 5-3 loss to Arizona (nauseating punctuation: two home runs by career .185 hitter Chris Herrmann) that he took several cracks at his office restroom towel rack with a batting practice bat, only to crack the bat but leave the rack in place. The concussed walls left dust all over his desk but no media members who entered into his office a few minutes later even noticed: “I hit the rack so hard, I gave up. I think I hurt myself.”
Is he going on the disabled list?
Pause for effect.
Desperate times have brought Gonzalez to his comedic peak. Do there’s that.
Don’t misinterpret the one-liners. He knows this is serious stuff. This is his livelihood. He lives and dies with every loss in the dugout — which, yes, is worse than living and dying with every loss on Twitter. The Braves project to finish with one of the worst records in major league history (37-125). They’re now 1-16 record at Turner Field, meaning six home opponents — the Nationals, Cardinals, Dodgers, Mets, Red Sox and Diamondbackss— have registered more wins in Atlanta than … Atlanta. And the Phillies (1-0) are now tied with them.
There’s a warm-and-fuzzy goodbye to downtown.
But Gonzalez has been here before. He was fired in Florida by a maniacal owner (Jeffrey Loria) despite overachieving with a stripped down Marlins roster. The odds overwhelmingly favor him getting canned in the near future by the Braves, despite being handed a punchline of a roster. New spin on an old line: It’s easier to fire the manager than the 20-some minor-leaguers. (Tuesday’s call-up of pitcher Ian Krol from the Gwinnett shuttle means the Braves have already used 39 players, including 21 pitchers.)
“There always instances when you can point a finger when something’s going really, really bad, but this is not the case at all,” Kelly Johnson said. “We’ve had bad luck and just poor play on the players’ part. I take as much blame as anybody, and I think most guys feel that way. We’d all like to take a mulligan on the first part of the season.”
Johnson on Gonzalez: “He’s handled everything great. He’s been positive. He’s managed the same way.”
Gonzalez is trying to avoid all forms of media. He’s relying on friends and family members for comfort. Among: Bobby Cox, his mentor. The two speak and text frequently.
“We spoke Saturday,” he said. “He sees what’s going on. He knows the hurting you go through.”
I asked Gonzalez if he wondered if he had managed his final game for the Braves when he left the stadium Sunday.
“I don’t worry about that stuff,” he said. “You can’t, for your own health. Go home. Take a shower. Ask yourself, ‘Did I do everything I can to help us win a game?’ There are times when I’ve said no and we still won because your players bailed you out. But you try to leave it at the stadium.”
There has been a lot of baggage to let go of. There will be more before he’s done.
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