Steady Fredi should have been on top manager ballot

Steady Fredi should have been on top manager ballot

On Sept. 1, at Turner Field, the Braves lost to the Phillies. It was their 10th defeat in 14 games. It was also when Fredi Gonzalez demonstrated why he deserves to be considered for the National League Manager of the Year Award.

Remember that, a year earlier, Atlanta saw an almost-certain playoff spot slip away when it went 8-18 down the stretch? Everybody in the Braves' clubhouse did. It would have been easy for here-we-go-again doubts to set in.

Except that Fredi remained steady. There was no finger-pointing or back-stabbing. From that point until the end of the season, Atlanta went 20-9 and locked down a Wild Card spot.

That's not easy. Just ask former Mets general manager Omar Minaya, now senior vice president of baseball operations for the Padres. In both 2007 and '08, his teams couldn't hold onto a lead in September. Willie Randolph, the manager in '07, was replaced by Jerry Manuel midway through the following season.

"It's very hard," Minaya said. "Going through it in 2007, I know that we almost got it done in 2008. We came close. But the challenges after losing in a tough year is hard. Because it's in everybody's memory and you have to find a way to block that out. Whenever there's a losing streak, you tend to say, 'Here we go.' It stays in the back of your mind. So for Fredi to keep that team focused the way he did after one of those collapses, it's a credit to him.

"I'm always impressed with the job he does. I think he does a great job. He's just a well-rounded baseball guy. He lets the players play. I've always been impressed by him. He's got that player's manager attitude and that's very important."

When the results of the voting by the Baseball Writers' Association of America are announced Tuesday night, Gonzalez won't win. He wasn't among the three finalists. But that doesn't make his ability to keep his players on an even keel through adversity any less impressive.

Staying the course doesn't mean he didn't make significant changes, either.

"What I was most impressed with was how he took the circumstances of 2011 and turned those into, not necessarily an advantage, but learning from them and refusing to make the same mistakes again," said Braves general manager Frank Wren.

"And when I say mistakes, I mean mistakes in his mind. Not necessarily in my mind. [Gonzalez] said, 'We're not going to do the same things over and over that we did in 2011 that led to our September.' And he was intentionally different in the way he approached the game. I think he managed the game a lot when it mattered with his head instead of his heart. Which showed growth and his maturity as a manager. That he was going to put what was best for the team above all else. And I think that's really the difference for me."

Gonzalez showed flexibility by occasionally using lights-out closer Craig Kimbrel in tie games on the road, which went against standard baseball methodology ... and was a reversal of his previous philosophy.

With shortstop Andrelton Simmons on the disabled list, Gonzalez began using Martin Prado at that crucial infield position instead of the slumping Paul Janish, even though short is considered Prado's weakest position. Favoring offense over defense is a little unorthodox, especially for teams with good pitching.

Gonzalez benched struggling Dan Uggla the first week in September and openly said he didn't know how much the All-Star second baseman would play the rest of the way. As it turned out, the exile lasted only three games before Uggla earned his way back into the lineup. But the point had been made.

Beginning Sept, 1, with All-Star catcher Brian McCann's batting average hovering around .230, Gonzalez started David Ross behind the plate in 12 of the final 30 games. Even more wrenching, Ross started Atlanta's Wild Card playoff game against the Cardinals.

McCann, obviously, was disappointed. But it's a credit to Gonzalez that he didn't complain. And even though St. Louis won the game, Uggla walked in the second inning and Ross followed with a two-run homer to give Atlanta an early lead.

So, yes, Gonzalez had a pretty good season ... even if he won't have the NL Manager of the Year Award to show for it.

Paul Hagen is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.