Gonzalez and general manager John Coppolella have been addressing rumors about Gonzalez’s job status for weeks, since the Braves were losing their first nine games of the season on the way to a 9-28 record through Monday. So when he got the email, it had to be a bad sign for Gonzalez.
The Braves had made the decision to fire him and booked his commercial flight home Tuesday, but didn’t plan to tell him he’d been fired until Tuesday morning, after president of baseball operations John Hart flew to Pittsburgh to join general manager John Coppolella.
Later Monday night after getting the email, Gonzalez eventually had confirmed by Braves top officials what he already was certain about by then: He was fired.
When Gonzalez spoke to the AJC on Tuesday after leaving Pittsburgh, he declined to discuss details of when and how he found out he’d been fired, though he did talk about the decision that many around baseball had thought was inevitable after the franchise-worst 18-loss April.
“I don’t think there’s a perfect time to do it,” Gonzalez said of the firing. “I think you do it when they feel like the time is right, so they did it. … I will tell you this, through all this stuff my team played hard. They busted their asses. They had to answer questions that they shouldn’t have to answer about the manager, and per man they all handled it with class and they played their asses off.”
Gonzalez, 52, talked with several players before he left Pittsburgh on Tuesday morning, either by phone or in person.
“I’ve spoken to half a dozen of them, saw a couple of them in the lobby when I was checking out,” he said. “It was nice to manage Freddie Freeman for six years and see him grow up to become an established major league player, and grown up and mature and become a father here soon. To watch him go through that process, and Julio Teheran and those guys, it was nice.”
It’s the second time Gonzalez was fired as manager, the first by a fickle Marlins owner in June 2010.
“You know going in, that’s the business that we’re in,” he said. “We knew we weren’t going to win 120 games (this season), but we thought would be a little bit more competitive, and when you start the way we started, you knew there was always a possibility (of being fired). …
“I think if you’re going to do it you do it now. If you’re not going to be here (as manager) in 2017, you’d rather do it sooner than later, for me. I’m OK with that. It’s a tough grind. Winning ballgames in the big leagues is tough when you’re winning, can you imagine when you’re losing and going through this?”
Gonzalez has a 710-692 record in 10 seasons as a major league manager, including 434-413 in five-plus seasons with the Braves after replacing his mentor, Bobby Cox, when the legendary former Braves manager retired following the 2010 season.
Cox texted Gonzalez on Tuesday morning after the AJC broke the story of his firing. “He texted me, so I called him,” Gonzalez said. “He didn’t know anything about it. … He felt terrible. He said, ‘I never saw this coming. We’ll talk more when you come home.’”
The Braves have been in rebuild mode since November 2014, trading away established players and rebuilding the farm system in an effort to have sustained long-term success beginning — they hope — soon after they move into a new ballpark in 2017.
They had a 400-332 record under Gonzalez through July 7, 2015, and 34-81 since.
“I’m really proud of my record, and it took a beating these last two years going through this,” he said, then repeated, “It took a beating.”
If the Braves weren’t going to pick up the option on his contract for 2017 — and it’s been apparent for some time they weren’t — or give him a vote of confidence for at least the remainder of this season, then Gonzalez understood the point of firing him now rather than continuing to operate with his status hanging over the team.
“What would have sucked is if you’d dragged it all the way out to the weekend before the season ended, and then got whacked,” he said. “There’s no perfect timing, but in this situation I think sooner than later was better.”
He added, “I think I’ll be OK. I’ve already talked to a bunch of baseball people, they texted me, offering support. Maybe I’ll take a week or two off, a month off, ride the motorcycle around before it gets too hot.”