Gonzalez deserved better from Marlins

Chris Ruddick, MLB Editor

Rounding Third Logo Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - Perhaps when the Florida Marlins solidified plans for their new ballpark recently, they should have gone with a circus tent to cover the field rather then a retractable roof. It would fit with the overriding theme surrounding the team, because Marlins owner Jeffrey Loria is quickly becoming the biggest clown in the game.

Despite the Marlins being just two games under .500, Loria on Wednesday fired the winningest manager in club history, Fredi Gonzalez.

"We believe we can do better and be better," Loria said. "We owe it to our fans to put this team in the best possible position to win. Everyone knows how I feel about winning. That's the reason we're making this change."

Let's be honest here. Despite Loria's proclamation this spring that his club was a playoff team, the Marlins were not expected to do anything this season. They certainly were not going to be better than Philadelphia, and most people thought the Atlanta Braves and New York Mets were better than the Fish.

Are they underachieving? Maybe a little, but they are not exactly the Pittsburgh Pirates.

Doesn't Gonzalez deserve the benefit of the doubt? The Marlins have been better in each of the last three seasons and his 276 wins were the most in team history. At the very least, he earned the right to finish the season.

Fredi Gonzalez's 276 wins were the most in team history.
Not to mention that he has won at a steady clip while being handicapped with one of the lowest payrolls in the game. On Opening Day the Marlins ranked 26th of 30 teams with a $57 million payroll, last in an NL East that also includes the Washington Nationals, a franchise that was owned by Loria when it was in Montreal.

The Washington Nationals have a higher payroll than the Marlins, and Loria thinks his club was a playoff team?

I gave Loria a pass when he fired Joe Girardi after one season, a year in which he won the National League Manager of the Year. I didn't agree with it, but there was obviously a personality conflict that could not be overcome even for the sake of the team.

But upon reflection, with decisions like that and the Gonzalez firing, it almost makes sense that the Expos went belly-up on Loria's watch.

Perhaps Loria should let star shortstop Hanley Ramirez run the team, since you could argue that he's running it now. It was Ramirez who publicly ripped Gonzalez after the manager had the gall to bench him for not hustling in a game against Arizona on May 17, then sitting him out the next day. Ramirez stated that he had lost respect for Gonzalez, making it a point to mention that he had never played in the big leagues.

Maybe Ramirez didn't get Gonzalez fired with that indictment, but do you think Gonzalez would be gone if Ramirez was in his corner?

Reports circulated last May that Loria was talking to Bobby Valentine, and those same rumors started again this past winter. My guess is that he will be the guy down there at some point. And an even better guess is that the immense egos of Loria and Valentine will clash at some point.

As for the future of Gonzalez, I like to judge moves like this on just what kind of demand there is for the fired party. In Girardi's case, he instantly went to the top of the list for just about every team that was looking for a manager in 2007.

In Gonzalez's case, I expect the same thing to happen.

I wouldn't feel so bad for Gonzalez, who should end up with plenty of options that will look much better than the job he is exiting. Bobby Cox is retiring at the end of the year. Gonzalez was his third base coach for years, and most thought he was being groomed to one day succeed Cox anyway. I would be shocked if he is not named some sort of advisor, or placed directly on Atlanta's staff, in the coming weeks. Such a move would put Gonzalez in position to take over the team at the end of the year.

Remember that Girardi sat out a year, took the job he always wanted, and won a World Series. Hopefully the same happens for Gonzalez. And if it happens in Atlanta, think how much sweeter the champagne will taste, knowing that Gonzalez had to step on Loria and the Marlins to get there.

Comments? Criticism? Applause? Contact Chris Ruddick at cruddick@sportsnetwork.com.
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