Days before the one-year anniversary of his dismissal as Braves manager, Fredi Gonzalez stood at Marlins Park on Thursday and searched for the right word to describe the months that followed his firing. He sent inquiries to every team that had not fired him and didn’t get so much as a courtesy call, though he did at least get a few emailed rejections. Of those, he was appreciative.
“I think I was kind of — what’s the word, not humbled but …” he said, trying to come up with the right word for rejected and confused. He’s the Marlins’ third-base coach now, and as he spoke of being fired and not getting offers for months, Braves players trickled out of the visiting dugout, one by one, to come say hi and see how their former manager was doing. Gonzalez joked and chatted with each, then got back to his uneasy 2016 summer.
“Like, I didn’t get a phone call. From anybody,” he said. “Whether to be coaching or managing. (Marlins owner) Jeffrey (Loria) was the only one who called me. I reached out to 29 other teams. This was the only team that — no, I take that back, the Giants had something if (Phil) Nevin would have gotten the Diamondbacks (managerial) job, there would have been a possibility I could have joined (Giants manager Bruce) Bochy’s staff. But that was a long shot.”
A Giants coaching position might’ve been available if Diamondbacks Triple-A manager Nevin was hired as Arizona manager and brought a friend from San Francisco’s staff, as he planned to do. But Nevin didn’t get the job, so the Giants possibility dried up in the first week of November.
Gonzalez did have one option, one that previously would’ve seemed the most unlikely destination: a coaching position with the Marlins, the team that fired him in June 2010 despite a 276-279 record, which made him the Marlins leader in games managed (555) and gave him a better winning percentage (.497) than any of six managers they’ve had since.
He still is the last to manage the Marlins to a winning season: 85-79 in 2009, a year after they went 84-77 and Gonzalez was named manager of the year by Sporting News. The Marlins had baseball’s lowest payroll in that two-year span.
Fired May 17 after a 9-28 start with the Braves, he had a 434-413 record in five-plus seasons with the Braves after replacing his mentor, Bobby Cox. But connections and a .506 winning percentage in 10 seasons as manager didn’t seem of much value on the job market after he was dumped by the Braves.
“I sent letters out to general managers and presidents of teams that I would do anything — it didn’t have to be managing or coaching — anything where I could help the organization, I was open to doing,” Gonzalez said. “I didn’t mind being an assistant to the general manager or a special assistant, just to get the feel from that perspective, anything where you can get better at, more well-rounded, I was willing to do.”
Don’t call us, we’ll call you. Only they didn’t call.
“I don’t know if it’s humbling or if it’s like, man, oh man, what did I do?” Gonzalez said. “Did I do something wrong?”
He spent much of his free time with his then-fiancee and now wife, Patricia, at her home — now their home — outside Philadelphia. He had a lot more time to talk to his two children by his first wife, and to get to know Patricia’s three children, one a high school junior and others aged 24 and 30. He took rides on his Harley-Davidson Road Glide through the rolling hills of Pennsylvania. He dabbled in TV, doing some studio work for MLB Network.
But as the season wore on, Gonzalez still didn’t know what he was going to do for permanent employment.
He probably never thought he’d be so thankful to hear again from Loria, the owner who fired him in 2010. Loria called about one week before the 2016 season ended to see what Gonzalez was up to and if he might consider returning as a coach. When the Giants possibility ended, Gonzalez accepted the Marlins’ offer to coach third base, a position he held in 1999-2000 after starting out in the organization as a minor league manager in 1992.
Beyond the obvious — it was the only job offer he got — the position appealed to Gonzalez because Miami is his hometown, where he was raised after his parents left Cuba with him when he was 3. His parents live in suburban Miami and having a chance to spend time with them would be special.
He sold his second Harley, the one he’d brought to Florida, at the urging of his mother after riding one day from Marlins Park to her home in Cutler Ridge and seeing she was mortified that he rode a motorcycle among notoriously careless South Florida drivers. Truth be told, Gonzalez agreed — he didn’t feel particularly safe riding through Miami intersections — so last week he gave a guy a deal and parted with the Harley Road King for $5,000.
On a team day off Thursday, Gonzalez and Patricia went to Gulfstream Park in nearby Hallandale Beach for the first time either had been to see horse racing. Patricia bet $10 on the first race she saw and won $18. “She’s hooked,” Gonzalez said, laughing and explaining how she wanted to bet on the next race because she liked the jockey — or, more specifically, she liked his last name.
Gonzalez missed Saturday’s second game in the Braves-Marlins series so he could go to his son Alex’s graduation from Ole Miss. He had a 6:30 a.m. flight to Memphis on Saturday, then a drive to Oxford, Miss., then a quick turnaround so he’d be back for Sunday afternoon’s series finale. It figured to be an easier trip than he made once when his daughter, Gigi, graduated from Georgia Southern and Gonzalez left a Braves series in San Francisco to get to Statesboro.
“Really, really proud of him,” Gonzalez said, smiling.
As for his own situation, he concedes he misses the action of managing, particularly the first and last pitches of games and also all the decisions made in-between. But when asked if he’s happy, if he’s in a good place, Gonzalez didn’t hesitate.
“Really good place,” he said. “Professionally, really good place, and family-wise, really good place. And proud of Alex. He graduates and both (children will have graduated). He’s the first male Gonzalez (from the family) to graduate from college. My sister did it and Gigi did it, but he’s the first male.”