Jump to content


More on Fredi from the Sun-Sentinel


Eddie Altamonte
 Share

Recommended Posts

http://www.sun-sentinel.com/sports/basebal...-sports-marlins

 

MARLINS

 

Fredi was ready

 

After 2 decades in many jobs, many places, Fredi Gonzalez tries on a new hat: Marlins manager.

 

 

 

By Mike Berardino

South Florida Sun-Sentinel

 

October 9, 2006

 

 

 

It was November 1987. Mark Connor had just been hired as baseball coach at the University of Tennessee, and he needed a sharp young assistant.

 

A former Yankees pitching coach, Connor's first call was to a barrel-chested catcher who had been knocking around the Yankees' minor league system for six years, never sniffing the big leagues except as fodder for spring training.

 

That was Fredi Gonzalez, then a 23-year-old dreamer with a career batting average of .192 and no idea he would one day become a big-league manager with a yet-unborn franchise called the Marlins.

 

"I talked to him about getting his feet wet in the coaching industry," recalls Connor, now the Texas Rangers pitching coach. "I remember Fredi balking about it, so I finally told him he was never going to make the big leagues as a player. It was time."

 

Such harsh reality might not have been what Gonzalez wanted to hear, and the idea of leaving Miami for Knoxville wasn't all that appealing.

 

For starters, he and former Miami Southridge High classmate Pamela Miller were planning their wedding, which was two months away. Both their families were still in the area, and Gonzalez wasn't sure he was ready to quit playing just yet.

 

"Fredi was like, `What do you think?'" says Pamela, his wife of 18 years and the mother of their two teenagers. "I told him, `Honey, I'd follow you to the end of the earth. You want to play minor league ball, we'll play minor league ball. You want to go be a Volunteer, we'll be Volunteers.' He made the right decision."

 

They married that January, packed up and drove to Tennessee the next morning. Their brief honeymoon took place in a snow-covered Gatlinburg cabin that had a fireplace and little else.

 

"That's all you needed," Pamela says.

 

That leap of faith ignited a second career that last week, nearly 19 years later, landed Gonzalez back in his hometown as Joe Girardi's successor.

 

It's not the easiest situation to step into considering Girardi's popularity with the fans and the players. But those who have known the Cuban-born Gonzalez the longest insist he will be up to the challenge.

 

"Not to slight anyone else, but I think Fredi is more qualified than any manager that has come into the major leagues for the first time in the past 10 years," says new Marlins bench coach Carlos Tosca, who managed Gonzalez his first three years in pro ball (1982-84). "He's done everything. He's been at every level. And the icing on the cake is being with [braves manager] Bobby Cox the last four years."

 

Coaching third base for the Braves provided a sort of finishing school for Gonzalez, who spent a decade with the Marlins as a minor league manager and big-league coach. It also elevated his reputation to the point where he could not be ignored any longer.

 

He interviewed with the Twins after the 2001 season and the Cubs a year later but lost out to Ron Gardenhire and Dusty Baker, respectively. Last fall, Gonzalez had a great interview with the Marlins but lost out to Girardi, a longtime favorite of owner Jeffrey Loria.

 

Despite his upbeat personality, Gonzalez took the last of those setbacks hard.

 

"He thought he was going to be a professional interviewer," says Pamela, who spent 13 years working in human resources administration in South Florida.

 

There were several conversations about this with Tosca, who had recommended Gonzalez to former Marlins farm director John Boles as the first minor league hire in franchise history. According to Tosca, Gonzalez had grown "very discouraged about what was going on."

 

Was he just being interviewed to fulfill Commissioner Bud Selig's minority hiring guidelines?

 

"I just kept telling him, `Fredi, you've got to be patient,'" Tosca says. "You're going to manage in the big leagues. It's just a matter of time."

 

Tosca knew that from the first day he saw Gonzalez walk into the Gulf Coast League as a 16th-round draft choice.

 

"For a high school kid coming into that environment, he was very, very impressive," Tosca says. "He was very enthusiastic, very eager to learn and had a good feel for the game. Not only did I like him instantly as a player, but I knew there was something more there."

 

His teammates saw it, too.

 

"Fredi had a different presence about him," says Indians scout Doug Carpenter, a former outfielder who roomed with Gonzalez in 1983 at Class A Greensboro. "I wouldn't say he was more mature, but he was more grounded. The focus was obviously there."

 

As he slowly climbed the ladder, Gonzalez caught future major-leaguers Al Leiter, Brad Arnsberg and Steve Rosenberg, not to mention Ozzie Canseco. Gonzalez also drove his coaches crazy with constant questions and, as time passed, strong opinions.

 

"We used to have great talks and arguments about baseball," Connor says.

 

Once, Connor recalls, Gonzalez told a stunned room of elders that if he ever managed in the big leagues and he had Barry Bonds at the plate with runners on first and second and nobody out, he would give the bunt sign.

 

"That was his big thing: You do whatever it takes to win," Connor says with a chuckle. "We'll see what happens next year in that situation with [Miguel] Cabrera up."

 

Actually, the test has already come. Gonzalez and former Marlins third baseman Mike Lowell still joke about the time the fill-in manager, who had a 14-game trial over two seasons (1999-2000) while Boles battled health issues, gave him the bunt sign when he was batting cleanup.

 

And for all the talk about Gonzalez's warm personality and classy nature, woe unto the player who fails to execute the proper fundamentals.

 

"Don't let him fool you," Carpenter says. "He's a competitor. He doesn't want to lose. His fire can light just like anybody else. He's got the Cuban blood in him."

 

Adds Tosca: "He has a gift of being relaxed and comfortable with the players, and yet when it's time and he needs to be stern, he has that side of him, too. Most people either have to be one way or the other."

 

Any stories?

 

"I haven't seen him snap, but I have seen those eyeballs get big and heard him get very stern with his tone," Tosca says. "He's been like, `I'm not goofing around here. This is the way it's going to be.'"

 

Gonzalez began developing those leadership skills during his two years as a Tennessee assistant, working with catchers, running camps and helping recruit South Florida and the West Coast.

 

"I threw him right into the fire," Connor says. "He learned a lot. His communication skills got a whole lot better."

 

Even though future big-leaguers Mike DeFelice and Greg McMichael were at Tennessee at the time, those teams went a combined 13-41 in the Southeastern Conference. When Connor returned to the Yankees in 1990, Gonzalez landed as a coach with the independent Miami Miracle of the Florida State League.

 

By season's end, he was a rookie professional manager, replacing former big-leaguer Mike Easler for the final 20 games.

 

Despite a roster that included future big-league infielder Mike Lansing and a bunch of misfits, Gonzalez improved the Miracle from 44-93 in 1990 to 63-67 in his first full season. They finished a strong second in the first half, and Gonzalez was on his way.

 

"He was always on top of things," Tosca says. "He was always ahead of the game and wasn't caught by surprise."

 

Fluency in Spanish sped Gonzalez's rise and no doubt made him more attractive to a team like the Marlins, with their heavy Latin clubhouse flavor. But that's just one element in an impressive package of attributes.

 

"Fredi could communicate with an Eskimo or anybody else," Connor says. "He just has that way about him. He makes people feel good around him, and he's got a great sense of humor. His personality is exuberant."

 

Last Tuesday, Connor and his wife watched the news conference announcing Gonzalez's hiring on their computer back home in Knoxville. Tears flowed as they remembered the phone call that started it all.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Once, Connor recalls, Gonzalez told a stunned room of elders that if he ever managed in the big leagues and he had Barry Bonds at the plate with runners on first and second and nobody out, he would give the bunt sign.

 

"That was his big thing: You do whatever it takes to win," Connor says with a chuckle. "We'll see what happens next year in that situation with [Miguel] Cabrera up."

 

Actually, the test has already come. Gonzalez and former Marlins third baseman Mike Lowell still joke about the time the fill-in manager, who had a 14-game trial over two seasons (1999-2000) while Boles battled health issues, gave him the bunt sign when he was batting cleanup.

:|

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Once, Connor recalls, Gonzalez told a stunned room of elders that if he ever managed in the big leagues and he had Barry Bonds at the plate with runners on first and second and nobody out, he would give the bunt sign.

 

"That was his big thing: You do whatever it takes to win," Connor says with a chuckle. "We'll see what happens next year in that situation with [Miguel] Cabrera up."

 

Actually, the test has already come. Gonzalez and former Marlins third baseman Mike Lowell still joke about the time the fill-in manager, who had a 14-game trial over two seasons (1999-2000) while Boles battled health issues, gave him the bunt sign when he was batting cleanup.

:|

 

yeah man, i hate winning too.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

^^Oh C'mon, Are you seriously comfortable reading that? A 5 year old wouldn't make the clean-up guy bunt with men on 1st and 2nd and no outs.

 

oh, i missed that 1st and 2nd and no outs.

 

but if it was a close game and there was a guy on 3rd with one out, i'd make the cleanup guy bunt.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

but if it was a close game and there was a guy one 3rd with one out, i'd make the cleanup guy bunt.

 

wtf

"close" as in it would tie or win the game.

you would make your cleanup guy bunt with a runner on 3rd base and one out to win the game instead of allowing him to try and drive him in himself?

Link to comment
Share on other sites

but if it was a close game and there was a guy one 3rd with one out, i'd make the cleanup guy bunt.

 

wtf

"close" as in it would tie or win the game.

you would make your cleanup guy bunt with a runner on 3rd base and one out to win the game instead of allowing him to try and drive him in himself?

hell yeah i would.

 

if you let that guy hit, and he doesn't, you're f***ed.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Guest FlummoxedLummox

hell, thats the way i think.

 

baseball or not.

 

Let's pray people's lives aren't in your hands. Yikes.

 

 

 

On another note, that Gonzalez quote will give me nightmares tonight.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Once, Connor recalls, Gonzalez told a stunned room of elders that if he ever managed in the big leagues and he had Barry Bonds at the plate with runners on first and second and nobody out, he would give the bunt sign.

 

"That was his big thing: You do whatever it takes to win," Connor says with a chuckle. "We'll see what happens next year in that situation with [Miguel] Cabrera up."

 

Actually, the test has already come. Gonzalez and former Marlins third baseman Mike Lowell still joke about the time the fill-in manager, who had a 14-game trial over two seasons (1999-2000) while Boles battled health issues, gave him the bunt sign when he was batting cleanup.

:|

 

:lol :lol :lol

 

Yay.

 

Girardi sukzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz

Link to comment
Share on other sites

hell, thats the way i think.

 

baseball or not.

 

Let's pray people's lives aren't in your hands. Yikes.

 

 

 

On another note, that Gonzalez quote will give me nightmares tonight.

I KILL PEOPLE WITH MY REDICULOUS THOUGHTS. YOU'RE NEXT.

it really is a ridiculous thought

Link to comment
Share on other sites

hell, thats the way i think.

 

baseball or not.

 

Let's pray people's lives aren't in your hands. Yikes.

 

 

 

On another note, that Gonzalez quote will give me nightmares tonight.

I KILL PEOPLE WITH MY REDICULOUS THOUGHTS. YOU'RE NEXT.

it really is a ridiculous thought

i don't get why a garunteed win is worse than risking a loss.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

hell, thats the way i think.

 

baseball or not.

 

Let's pray people's lives aren't in your hands. Yikes.

 

 

 

On another note, that Gonzalez quote will give me nightmares tonight.

I KILL PEOPLE WITH MY REDICULOUS THOUGHTS. YOU'RE NEXT.

it really is a ridiculous thought

i don't get why a garunteed win is worse than risking a loss.

since when is getting a bunt down guaranteed? especially with someone who shouldnt be bunting

Link to comment
Share on other sites

hell, thats the way i think.

 

baseball or not.

 

Let's pray people's lives aren't in your hands. Yikes.

 

 

 

On another note, that Gonzalez quote will give me nightmares tonight.

I KILL PEOPLE WITH MY REDICULOUS THOUGHTS. YOU'RE NEXT.

it really is a ridiculous thought

i don't get why a garunteed win is worse than risking a loss.

since when is getting a bunt down guaranteed? especially with someone who shouldnt be bunting

if the guy can't bunt, pinch hit with the guy for someone who can. getting the win is the most important thing is what i'm thinking.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

hell, thats the way i think.

 

baseball or not.

 

Let's pray people's lives aren't in your hands. Yikes.

 

 

 

On another note, that Gonzalez quote will give me nightmares tonight.

I KILL PEOPLE WITH MY REDICULOUS THOUGHTS. YOU'RE NEXT.

it really is a ridiculous thought

i don't get why a garunteed win is worse than risking a loss.

since when is getting a bunt down guaranteed? especially with someone who shouldnt be bunting

if the guy can't bunt, pinch hit with the guy for someone who can. getting the win is the most important thing is what i'm thinking.

where did you get the idea in your head that bunting a man in from third is any less risky than letting a guy swing away?

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Guest FlummoxedLummox

PopTard, do you really think that a successful squeeze is more likely than a sac fly or a run-scoring groundball?

 

Meanwhile, you're taking the bat out of your best hitter's hand. Then you advocate taking him out for the rest of the game, if he's not a good bunter, in favor of someone who can ge the bunt down? I don't know, but I'm just not seeing the logic here...

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Join the conversation

You can post now and register later. If you have an account, sign in now to post with your account.
Note: Your post will require moderator approval before it will be visible.

Guest
Reply to this topic...

×   Pasted as rich text.   Restore formatting

  Only 75 emoji are allowed.

×   Your link has been automatically embedded.   Display as a link instead

×   Your previous content has been restored.   Clear editor

×   You cannot paste images directly. Upload or insert images from URL.

 Share

×
×
  • Create New...