The 1990s are over. I know that’s hard for many to believe. But the 1990s are over.
‘Seinfeld’ and ‘ER’ aren’t coming on TV Thursday nights. Britney Spears doesn’t have a hit song. Our cell phones no longer flip.
What does that mean if you are a Braves’ fan? Well, first of all, it means rain delays are spent watching ‘Driven’ instead of ‘The Andy Griffith Show.’ It means Bobby Cox is no longer shouting playful nicknames from the dugout. Ernie, Pete and Skip are no longer calling games. And Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine and John Smoltz aren’t walking through that door anytime soon.
We are clinging to the 1990s, when the Braves were good. They were great, actually. They won five pennants and one World Series. Yes, they should have won more, but they didn’t. It was a remarkable decade of success that made fans of ‘The Big Red Machine’ envious.
But it’s over. No great John Schuerholz trade is going to get the Braves out of the mess they are in now. No great weekend series of future Hall of Famers on the mound will snap any losing streak. That’s history. That’s the past. That’s over.
It was unusual to see some of the negative reaction to Tuesday’s firing of manager Fredi Gonzalez. He was a likeable guy, someone obviously that people who worked with him or around him regularly enjoyed being around. But you would have thought the Orioles had fired Earl Weaver, or the Reds had fired Sparky Anderson with the way some behaved.
No, it’s never all the manager’s fault when he is fired. Unless he picks the groceries, as Bill Parcells once said, the manager doesn’t pick the players. He manages.
Gonzalez wasn’t good at it, and what many don’t understand is it just didn’t start this season. Is there any accountability for what happened in 2011? Remember that? The Braves collapsed. What about when Gonzalez left Craig Kimbrel in the bullpen so he could watch David Carpenter blow Atlanta’s season? What about that underperforming team in 2014 when the Braves went 79-83?
John Hart and John Coppolella, the two men who took over the front office from Frank Wren after the 2014 season, gave Gonzalez a pass. They did it partly out of respect for Bobby Cox, who believed Gonzalez deserved another chance. But he really didn’t. He was never that good of a manager.
Gonzalez was a good man. People liked him. But he wasn’t a good manager. He won one playoff game in five-plus years. His bullpen management was awful, and his lineup construction was just not very good. Yet you would have thought Connie Mack was told to turn in his suit and leave when Gonzalez was let go Wednesday.
Gonzalez was a scapegoat, some people claimed. What? So the front office did this to make themselves look better? Really? Well, that front office has fixed this organization. It was a mess when Hart and Coppolella took over in October, 2014. Sure, it’s a mess in Atlanta now with a bad record, but it is nothing compared to how bad the entire organization looked 19 months ago.
And that’s the problem. This is a rebuilding process. It takes time. Perhaps the front office made the awful mistake of expecting this year’s team to be better than last year’s 67-95 squad. Wait, why would it not believe this team, this roster could have perhaps won 5-7 more games? That wasn’t unreasonable.
They wanted the 2016 Braves to be better than the 2015 Braves, and then they wanted to 2017 Braves to be better than the 2016 Braves. There was no worst-to-first scenario expected.
Those who try to paint this picture that the front office believed this roster could get the Braves immediately back to .500 are just being foolish. It never said that. It expected improvement, which technically would have been a 68-win season. Instead, we got a team that was on pace for 40 wins.
What was Gonzalez’s attributes to make him worthy to escape any accountability for what’s gone on? He hasn’t won any championship, or any series for that matter. Managers come and go all the time, but you would have thought Gonzalez was someone special the way some have written about him.
This front office didn’t pick Gonzalez. Frank Wren did. Just like Bobby Cox didn’t pick Chuck Tanner, who was hired a week before Cox was in October 1985. Tanner was never Cox’s guy, just like Gonzalez was never Hart or Coppolella’s guy. Gonzalez was hired by Wren, and he was supported by Cox. It was likely the only thing Wren and Cox ever agreed on in their years together.
Hart and Coppolella made the tough decision to break this down, to the bone. When they took over, minor league middle relievers were rated in the organization’s top 15 prospects. Now, in the current prospect list, there are legit prospects.
While some are blaming the front office for Gonzalez’s dismissal, count one who will take up for what’s going on and what the front office is doing. This is a rebuilding process. It takes time. When Cox took over, his process took five years. We’re in month 19 in this situation, and the Braves are in much better shape at this point than the Braves were way back then.
There are no potential Hall of Famers in the system, at least with what we can tell. But no one believed kids named Glavine or Smoltz would wind up in Cooperstown either. The depth that has been accumulated now is tremendous, and it’s why the Braves are no longer a bottom five organization with prospects. They now have one of the best farm systems in baseball and are primed to get even better.
But this is all new to so many people. Just think. Of the current fan base, think of how many people were not even alive the last time the Braves went through this. Then think of the ones who might have been too young to remember. You have to be pushing 40 years old or older to have clear memories of what went on the last time the Braves were rebuilding.
So many current Braves fans jumped on the bandwagon in the 1990s, so they missed the hard part that some had to endure while watching bad baseball. Braves fans, for the most part, have been around good baseball for 25 years. What’s going on now is just shocking to so many.
This is what a rebuild is all about. It takes time. It takes patience. That’s why we need to stop living in the 1990s. That is history, ancient history really. The Braves haven’t won a playoff series in 15 years. The run of division titles has been over for a decade. This is not the same Braves team that had Chipper and Andrew and Fookie.
You know what this year’s Braves team is really all about? It’s about the 2020s. Yes, the 2020s is the next decade. We’re four years away from it. And with the prospects the Braves are accumulating, we need to start thinking of what this franchise will look like when the next decade – the 2020s – roll around.
Gonzalez should have been fired when Wren was let go. The Braves gave him a life raft and more time. There was no way he was ever going to be the manager when the Braves open the new stadium, and after the way the team had played in the first 37 games it was just time to let him go.
We can only hope the Braves can one day have half the success they had in the 1990s. But this is not your dad’s Braves. It’s time to look toward the future and realize that despite the angst some have over the decision to fire a bad manager, this organization does have hope. It’s not the steaming mess some make it out to be; it’s simply a team in transition.
There is still baseball to be played this season, however. That’s why they had to make a change. Over three-quarters of the season is still left, and while there is a lot of work to do for the future, this season is important. The Braves didn’t need a daily managerial issue lingering. The team didn’t need a manager to need wins to save his job. They need to worry about the future, to play hard and to get ready when this team will be good again.
And it will happen. Maybe not as much as they did in the 1990s, but the Braves will win one day again. There are lessons to be learned from the past, but there’s too much hope and excitement to be bogged down in it. The future is very bright, and those who were blamed for doing something wrong Tuesday should instead be given our full thanks for fixing what was terribly broken just 19 months ago.
Listen to “The Bill Shanks Show” from 3-6 p.m. weekdays on WPLA Fox Sports 1670 AM in Macon and online at http://www.foxsports1670.com/. Follow Bill at twitter.com/BillShanks and email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.