The difference in perception is stark.
Tony LaRussa is entirely safe in his job with the Cardinals despite underachieving for much of the year and looking finished in the playoff race three weeks ago. Had the trend continued; had the Braves played even mediocre baseball, no one would’ve said a word about LaRussa or Braves’ manager Fredi Gonzalez and their respective job securities.
LaRussa’s job is safe no matter what and the Cardinals—despite their best efforts to open the door for the Braves to clinch with inexplicable losses to the Mets, Cubs and Astros—are tied for the Wild Card lead.
The Braves are reeling, shocked and desperate.
This could all be moot in 16 hours if the Braves win and Cardinals lose.
If the Braves lose tonight, they have no one to blame but themselves…and their manager.
Stability was one of the reasons that Bobby Cox lasted as long as he did with the Braves.
That and he won.
What’s going to happen if the Braves gack up this playoff spot that should’ve been wrapped up two weeks ago?
Gonzalez’s strategic mistakes and injuries to the team’s starting rotation are independent of one another. Their offense is not good.
But Braves fans are notorious frontrunners and nostalgic toward history.
What if a firing is necessary in the interests of placating the angry?
Are Cox’s batteries recharged after a year out of the dugout?
And would GM Frank Wren—with whom Cox had a somewhat stormy relationship—be on board if upper management says that Gonzalez has to go and Cox is willing to come back?
Jack McKeon provided a new ceiling for managers when he won a World Series at the age of 72 with the 2003 Marlins; then again this season when he took over at mid-season at the age of 80 and acquitted himself well without it showing up in the standings.
Cox is 70 and will be 71 next May.
He might be willing to go back on the field, but would he be okay with replacing his friend and hand-picked successor Gonzalez?
If the Braves frame it correctly by saying “listen Bobby, Fredi’s gone whether you take the job or not,” it wouldn’t be seen as Cox pushing Gonzalez out of the way, but taking an open position.
Cox might’ve lost in the playoffs and World Series every year but one, but his teams never came apart like this and those losses weren’t because of managerial missteps.
Making the playoffs will render this speculation meaningless, but if the Braves complete this collapse will they be willing to stay the course and run the risk of this happening again a year from now? Of having the endless criticism from inside and outside the industry as to what they’re thinking in entrusting a strong young team with a manager that’s costing them games?
Collapses take years to get over and not before significant alterations are made in personnel or management.
All of that young talent is not accompanied by a guarantee of contention on an annual basis, especially in the NL East.
Suffice it to say that the Braves had better make the playoffs—getting swept in the first round would be better than this embarrassing crumble. And if they make it, who knows? Maybe they’ll straighten themselves out, play relaxed and run the table.
But they have to make it.
Jobs may be riding on it.