Sports Outside the Beltway

Braves Name Fredi Gonzalez New Manager

As widely rumored, Fredi Gonzalez has been hired to manage the Atlanta Braves, following the retirement of the beloved Bobby Cox.

Cox held a farewell news conference at Turner Field, reminiscing about a career that left him as the fourth winningest manager in baseball history and a likely Hall of Famer. As soon as he was done, the Braves introduced Gonzalez as their new manager, with Cox as his side.

“This is perfect for us on so many levels,” general manager Frank Wren said.

Gonzalez served as the Braves’ third-base coach from 2003-06. He then took over as Florida’s manager, a post he held for 3½ years. He had a record of 276-279 with the Marlins, one of baseball’s lowest-spending teams.

When Cox decided 2010 would be his final year, the Braves immediately thought of Gonzalez as their No. 1 candidate — even though he was managing another team.  “He was on our radar before he was available,” Wren said. “We thought there may come a time when we were going to have to ask the Florida Marlins for permission to talk to their manager. We really thought Fredi was the best candidate for us.”

That became a moot point when Gonzalez was fired by the Marlins on June 23, a month after he benched star shortstop Hanley Ramirez for a lack of hustle — a move that many believed angered owner Jeffrey Loria.

Gonzalez said he never thought his decision would become such a big deal, perhaps costing him his job but drawing praise from around baseball.  “That’s the way I was brought up,” he said. “I know the way the game should be played. If you don’t something, you’re going to lose those 24 other guys. For me, it was just a simple thing to do.”

In early July, Wren took the unemployed Gonzalez to his lake cabin in east Alabama for a daylong interview. A few days later, team president John Schuerholz met with Gonzalez. Finally, in September, the top two Braves officials held one more formal interview with Gonzalez and knew they had the right guy.  The Braves didn’t even bother interviewing anyone else, and Gonzalez turned down the chance to talk with four other teams that need or were considering new managers, most notably the Chicago Cubs. “He’s got a great personality,” Wren said. “Players gravitate toward him. They like playing for him. It’s important that guys like playing for you, because they’ll usually play even better. We’ve seen him over the course of time. Managing at the major league level is different, but we saw what he did at Florida. He ran a good game.”

Gonzalez said he’s not worried about following in Cox’s large footsteps. The Braves’ manager since 1990, he led the team to an unprecedented 14 straight division titles and the 1995 World Series championship. After missing the playoffs the last four years, Atlanta returned as a wild card this season.

Cox’s last hurrah ended with a four-game loss to the Giants in which every contest was decided by one run.

“Our goal is simple: We want to keep putting flags on that facade up there,” Gonzalez said. “I don’t think there’s a person alive that’s going to replace Bobby Cox. We just want to continue the winning tradition and go from there.”

Cox chimed in, saying it’s not going to be that tough for Gonzalez to put him own stamp on the job.  “Walter Alston was replaced by Tommy Lasorda,” Cox said. “Tommy did a great job and they forgot all about Walter Alston. That is what’s going to happen here.”

He recalled the advice he gave Gonzalez when he first took the Florida managing job in 2007.  “You are who you are. You’ve got to be yourself,” Cox repeated. “Fredi’s got the right makeup to be a great manager. He has all the respect around baseball that you can get. I just want to be in the background. There’s always going to be new starts, and Fredi is getting a new start here.”

Gonzalez said he’ll do a few things differently than Cox. Perhaps the most noticeable change will be having the players stretch on the field before batting practice, something his predecessor never asked the Braves to do.

Also, the Braves shook up Cox’s coaching staff just a bit, firing first-base coach Glenn Hubbard and bench coach Chino Cadahia. Carlos Tosca, who was with Gonzalez in Florida, will take over the bench coach duties and hitting coach Terry Pendleton will shift over to Hubbard’s post.  The Braves plan to hire a new hitting coach after struggling at the plate this season.

“There’s not going to be a lot of crazy changes,” Gonzalez said. “The players might not even notice it. But whoever comes in has their own little way of doing things.”

As adamant as I’ve been that my Dallas Cowboys should never have hired Wade Phillips, this struck me as the obvious move as soon as I heard Gonzalez’ name mentioned.  He’s got a working relationship with the organization and a personality as close to Cox’ as you’re likely to find.  Indeed, the Ramirez benching reminds of me Cox stopping a game to pull a young Andruw Jones out of a game for failing to hustle in the outfield.   That worked out pretty well.

I haven’t followed the Braves as closely as I used to in recent years, partly because baseball’s new rules don’t allow TBS to show every game, ruining the continuity of the season for those of us not in the viewing area, and mostly because family obligations make it tough to justify spending the time.  But, while the team has fallen off a bit from the glory days of 15 straight division titles, there’s still a Braves Way of doing things.   And it looks like they’ve decided to continue it.

AJC’s Mark Bradley disagrees, figuring the Braves should have at least interviewed some assistants from clubs that have been hot lately.  And maybe get more into SABREmetrics.  But that only makes sense if you’re making a change at GM.  The manager has to manage people first.   He’s right that the Braves haven’t made it to a World Series in a long time.   But that’s a function of having fallen to the middle of the pack in spending for a number of years.  And, frankly, getting a little long in the tooth.   The team has a lot of young talent again and appears to be back in contention.

AP Photo


Former U of South Carolina baseball star Hank Small dead at 56

He held the school’s career homerun mark for over three decades. Small also played very briefly in the major leagues with the Atlanta Braves. RIP.

Hank Small, whose 48 career home runs from 1972-75 stood as the USC record for more than three decades, was 56. David Small said his brother fell Tuesday night while moving into his new home in Griffin, Ga.Hank Small

Hank Small lost his balance on the steps in front of the house, fell backward and struck the back of his head on the pavement, according to his brother. He lost consciousness and never regained it due to massive trauma, David said.

Small was the first true home run hitter at USC. In the nine-year period leading to Small’s first season, USC hit 42 home runs. Small hit six more than that the next four years himself.


Former MLB Manager Bobby Bragan dead at 92

He made his Major League debut with the Philadelphia Phillies where the recently deceased Stan Benjamin was also a player. Later on Bragan would manage three franchises, and be the first skipper of the Atlanta Braves after the team moved from Milwaukee. RIP.

FORT WORTH, Texas — Bobby Bragan, who earned the nickname “Mr. Baseball” and was dedicated to seeing baseball blossom in Fort Worth, died at his Fort Worth home on Thursday night. He was 92.Bobby Bragan

“We are dealing with the loss of one of the great ones,” former Rangers manager Bobby Valentine told “He was a true renaissance man. He was amazing, so incredibly special. He had such great knowledge of baseball, such retention. He could talk baseball on one hand, recite poetry on the other. There was no one else quite like him.”

Bragan, a native of Birmingham, Ala., arrived in Fort Worth in 1948 as a player and manager after parts of seven seasons in the majors, ending up with the Brooklyn Dodgers. He was a backup catcher for the Dodgers before spending two years in the military. He returned for the 1947 season. The Dodgers went on to lose the World Series that year to the New York Yankees, and Bragan had a pinch-hit double in his only World Series plate appearance.

The next season he was in Fort Worth helping the Cats become a winner. He stayed through the 1952 season and his teams won regular season titles in 1948 and 1949, never finishing below .500 during his tenure.

Bragan went on to manage in the majors for Pittsburgh (1956-57), Cleveland (1958), Milwaukee (1963-65) and Atlanta (1966). Bragan was the first manager of the Braves after they moved from Milwaukee to Atlanta. He managed Hall of Famers Hank Aaron, Eddie Mathews, Bill Mazeroski, Roberto Clemente, Bob Lemon and Warren Spahn, compiling a 443-478 career record.

Bragan also was a major league coach for the Los Angeles Dodgers and Houston Colt .45s. His minor league managerial stops also included the Hollywood Stars of the Pacific Coast League.


Texas Rangers trade P Kevin Millwood to Baltimore

Baseball’s winter meetings are under way and that means it is trade time. From ESPN-

The Texas Rangers have traded veteran starting pitcher Kevin Millwood and $3 million to the Baltimore Orioles for reliever Chris Ray and a player to be named later, the club announced Wednesday.


Millwood, who turns 35 later this month, earned that vested option after pitching more than 180 innings in 2009. He was 13-10 with a 3.67 ERA in 198 2/3 innings pitched. He did have lower back and gluteus muscle soreness in September but returned to finish the season.


Ray was a former closer for the Orioles before surgery to repair ligament damage in his right elbow set him back. He was 0-4 with a 7.27 ERA in 46 appearances in 2009. Ray, 27, has 49 career saves for the Orioles. Ray’s best season was 2006, when he sported a 2.73 ERA and had 33 saves.

Texas made this trade strictly for financial reasons. Acquiring Ray in light of recent health and performance. The worth of Millwood to the Orioles, who will be his fifth MLB team, isn’t likely to be a whole lot more in light of Millwood’s age and lack of durability. This could end up as a nothing for nothing deal.


Atlanta Braves sign Reliever Billy Wagner

The 38-year-old Southpaw pitched for Boston last year. From ESPN-

The Atlanta Braves have agreed on a one-year contract with veteran left-handed reliever Billy Wagner.

The deal will pay Wagner $7 million in 2010 and includes a $6.5 million club option for 2011, as well as a $250,000 buyout. The option would become guaranteed if Wagner finishes 50 games next season.

“We feel this is a great start for us to put together a championship-quality team for 2010,” Braves general manager Frank Wren said in a statement. “Billy has been at the top of our list as a player we wanted to acquire for some time, and we’re excited to have him anchoring our bullpen.”


The Boston Red Sox offered salary arbitration to Wagner, so they’re entitled to draft-pick compensation when the deal with Atlanta becomes official.


Wagner, 38, ranks sixth on baseball’s career list with 385 saves, second among left-handers behind John Franco (424). He posted a 1.72 ERA and struck out 26 batters in 15 2/3 innings with the Mets and Red Sox last season after returning from Tommy John surgery.

The Wagner signing looks like a reasonable if pricey gamble to me. Based on this 2009 stats, I think Wagner can still help a team.


Florida Marlin Ricky Nolasco strikes out 9 consecutive batters

He also finished the night with 16 strikeouts, a team record. From AP-

Florida Marlins pitcher Ricky Nolasco struck out nine consecutive batters against the Atlanta Braves on Wednesday night, one short of the major league record.

The streak ended with a leadoff double by Adam LaRoche in the sixth inning, and Nolasco finished with a club-record 16 strikeouts. After throwing more than 120 pitches, he was lifted by manager Fredi Gonzalez with two outs in the eighth. The Marlins were leading 5-2.

The big league record for consecutive strikeouts in a game is 10 by Hall of Famer Tom Seaver for the New York Mets on April 22, 1970, against San Diego.

Seaver struck out 19 in that game at Shea Stadium, including his final 10 batters in a 2-1 victory.

The Mets were my favorite team while I was growing up on Long Island. I watched that 1970 game on television. The 19th strikeout was a outfielder named Al Ferrara.


P Mike Hampton has a torn rotator cuff

Another setback for the veteran lefty has he tries to re-establish himself in the major leagues.

Houston Astros left-hander Mike Hampton has a partially torn rotator cuff and hopes to pitch again this season.

Hampton (7-10, 5.30 ERA) went on the 15-day disabled list on Tuesday. He left his last start on Aug. 13 with shoulder soreness. An MRI taken Wednesday revealed the extent of the injury, the team announced.

The Astros said Hampton will not have surgery to repair the injury.

The 36-year-old has started 21 games this season, his most since 2004. He missed the 2006 and 2007 seasons after separate elbow surgeries.

I always thought this type of injury required surgery. If Hampton is operated on at some future date, I think his playing career will be at an end. He was a good pitcher but his career has been downhill ever since his signing with Colorado before the 2001 season.


St. Louis Cardinals sign P John Smoltz

He was released by the Boston Red Sox less than two weeks ago. From AP-

John Smoltz agreed to a deal with the St. Louis Cardinals on Wednesday, giving the 42-year-old former ace a chance to rejuvenate his career in the middle of a pennant race.

Smoltz joined the NL Central leaders shortly after he cleared waivers, following his release by Boston. He was 2-5 with an 8.33 ERA in eight starts for the Red Sox.

General manager John Mozeliak said Smoltz likely would start Sunday at San Diego, and probably would get at least a few turns in the rotation. Mozeliak said Smoltz didn’t ask to start as a “negotiating ploy.”

“He had very little demands,” Mozeliak said on a conference call. “He had no demands. From everything he had heard about this club, he was excited to take this opportunity. The reason for the start was just to get him work and know what we have.”

The Cardinals hope Smoltz either can fill a void as the fifth starter or provide right-handed relief in the bullpen.

The Cardinals are six games up in the NL Central, so they can spare a game too in the standings. That said, I don’t understand this move. Why put yourselves at risk with a pitcher who looks finished career wise?


Tampa Bay Rays acquire Reliever Russ Springer

There must be a ‘I need another ancient relief pitcher’ virus going around the offices of MLB teams at this moment. From the St. Petersburg Times-

The Rays had interest in adding veteran Russ Springer to their bullpen anyway. After going through two extra-inning games in four days, they believed it was even more important to make a move.

The 40-year-old right-hander was claimed on waivers from Oakland, with the Rays assuming the nearly $1 million remaining on his $3.3 million contract.


Springer was 0-4 with a 4.10 ERA in 48 games with Oakland but had a 1.61 ERA over 25 games since early June.

The addition of Springer required Tampa to make another personnel move.

The Rays’ decision to designate IF Joe Dillon for assignment to make room for Springer wasn’t cut-and-dried. Ultimately, the Rays decided to go with eight relievers and three bench players in large part because they had played two extra-inning games this week.

Though Dillon rarely got off the bench, Maddon said he didn’t like having to cut him loose. In addition to being a fan of Dillon’s approach to the game, Maddon will have to be especially creative with the way he uses his bench.

That’s an understatement. Only three bench players severely limits a manager’s options. One of those backups has to be a catcher, the most likely player to get injured in any given game. Managers are a cautious lot, and will be cautious in using their only backup catcher. That limits a team’s strategy moves with only three bench players even more.

Springer, like the recently traded David Weathers, has been all over the major leagues for fifteen plus years. He is a decent reliever, but for the reasons I already stated, I don’t understand why Tampa needed this guy.


Colorado Reliever Alan Embree’s right leg broken by line drive

The injury has to be considered career threatening. From AP-

Colorado Rockies left-hander Alan Embree is out for the season after a line drive fractured his right tibia on Friday night.

Embree will have surgery Saturday.

“There will be some type of compression screw put in there,” Rockies manager Jim Tracy said.

Atlanta’s Martin Prado hit a 3-2 fastball from Embree back up the middle in the seventh inning Friday night. The ball ricocheted off Embree’s right shin to third baseman Ian Stewart.

“It sounded awful,” Rockies catcher Chris Iannetta said. “I couldn’t even track the ball it was hit so hard. It sounded really bad.”


Embree, who signed as a free agent with the Rockies this past offseason, was 2-2 with a 5.84 ERA in 36 appearances.

Embree is 37-43 lifetime in a career that started in 1992. Other than 4 games he started in 92 for the Cleveland Indians, he’s been exclusively a left handed relief specialist for 10 MLB teams. I have always liked Embree, he was a key part of a winning Star tournament team of mine, but his career looked to be in decline before this injury. If he reestablishes himself as a quality pitcher in 2010, I’ll be greatly surprised.


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