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Florida Marlins owner Jeffrey Loria has discarded another good man, Fredi Gonzalez apparently being no better at whipping up a good chicken salad than Joe Girardi was.
Five months after the league and the players’ union rebuked Loria for putting his own franchise at a competitive and economic disadvantage, and a month after Gonzalez stood amid speculation his job was in jeopardy and benched a jaking Hanley Ramirez(notes), Loria fired his manager.
So the Florida Marlins trudge onward. Loria – and his baseball staff – has for the moment handed the field duties to Triple-A manager Edwin Rodriguez and provided him with interim bench (Brandon Hyde) and hitting (John Mallee) coaches.
Loria, who one recent afternoon made a fine show of hugging Gonzalez behind the batting cage and declaring Gonzalez’s tenuous job status a non-issue and media concoction (when actually it became an issue when it was reported Loria had reached out to Bobby Valentine), is getting better at judging leaders. Those 3½ years after firing the manager of the year (Girardi), he canned Gonzalez, who last season merely finished seventh in the voting and the season before finished third.
“It’s never easy to make a change in managers,” according to a statement by Loria, who nonetheless makes it appear so.
The decision comes after consecutive wins by the Marlins and three wins in four games. It also comes with the Marlins two games under .500 and straining to keep pace in the National League East, but relevant in spite of their $47-million payroll, smallest in the division and 26th among big league teams.
“We believe we can do better and be better,” Loria said. “We still have a long season in front of us, and plenty of time to turn things around.”
Gonzalez finishes 276-279 in south Florida, the most wins in team history, and likely will spend the rest of the season as the leading candidate to replace Bobby Cox in Atlanta. Cox, the Braves manager since 1990, plans to retire after the season. Gonzalez was under contract through 2011.
“What are you going to do?” Gonzalez told the Palm Beach Post on Wednesday morning.
You run, Fredi.
You find an organization that does not play the financial martyr, that does not adeptly scout, draft and develop players for other teams, and that does appreciate the limits of the man – any man – on the top step.
Gonzalez nearly was fired after last season, when 87 wins (squeezed from a $37-million payroll) weren’t enough to win the East. And the drumbeat restarted in spring, when Loria insisted the Marlins were playoff ready in 2010. For 70 games, however, they did not pitch between their starters and their closer, they did not defend adequately, and they waited on Ramirez’s game and head. Finally, Gonzalez’s head would have to do.
So now the Marlins will get their Bobby V or whomever, and they’ll sell promises for their new ballpark, scheduled to open in 2012, and they’ll continue to believe in a substandard product over a superior leader.