Scott Miller's Starting 9: From Email to Starbucks, You're Fired!

Scott Miller@@ScottMillerBblNational MLB ColumnistMay 25, 2016

FILE - In this April 13, 2016, file photo, Atlanta Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez, right, with general manager John Coppolella sitting at left, talks with the media before a baseball game against the Washington Nationals at Nationals Park, in Washington. The Atlanta Braves have fired manager Fredi Gonzalez, who couldn’t survive the worst record in the majors.  Braves general manager John Coppolella confirmed the firing of Gonzalez, in his sixth season, Tuesday, May 17, 2016.  (AP Photo/Alex Brandon, File)
Alex Brandon/Associated Press

Psst, may I have your Delta frequent flier number before we begin, please?...

1. Of Emails, One-Way Flights and Fredi Gonzalez & Friends

Knives are never sharp enough when the suits decide to ax the manager, but what the Atlanta Braves did with a painfully dull piece of cutlery last week was major league awkward.

Gene J. Puskar/Associated Press

John Hart, the Braves' president of baseball operations, and John Coppolella, general manager, summoned Fredi Gonzalez last Tuesday morning to sack him.

Except, late Monday night, a Delta airline ticket popped up in the soon-to-be-former manager's email account notifying him that his flight from Pittsburgh back home to Atlanta the next day was all set.

Being that the Braves were playing a four-game series in Pittsburgh that didn't end until Thursday, Gonzalez didn't need a private detective to piece together the clues.

Some firings are handled better than others, but let's be clear: rarely are they bloodless.

Take Ned Yost's. Wait, make that World Series Champion Ned Yost.

His dismissal by Milwaukee with just 12 games left in the 2008 season was classic. The Brewers, fighting to qualify for the postseason for the first time since 1982, were fading fast. Milwaukee had lost seven of eight games to sink into a tie with Philadelphia for the NL wild-card spot when it landed in Chicago to play the Cubs. No manager of a contending team had ever been fired so late in the season.

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KANSAS CITY, MO - NOVEMBER 03:  Manager Ned Yost #3 of the Kansas City Royals waves to the crowd during a parade and celebration in honor of the Kansas City Royals' World Series win on November 3, 2015 in Kansas City, Missouri.  (Photo by Jamie Squire/Get
Jamie Squire/Getty Images

"We had an off day in Chicago," Yost told B/R. "I'd gotten up early and gone down to Starbucks, it was about 8:30, the phone rang and it was Doug [Melvin, then-GM]. Doug said, 'Hey, I'm at the hotel. Can you come up and see me?'

"I said 'Sure, I'm at Starbucks, give me 15 minutes.' So I walked back to the hotel and went up to his room, knocked on the door, and when he opened the door, he was standing there with [Milwaukee owner] Mark Attanasio.

"I'm thinking, 'What's going on here?' And the first thing Doug says is, 'We're going to make a change.' And I'm like, 'What?'

"So I was in shock at that point."

He wasn't alone. When the deed was done, Yost phoned his wife, who immediately thought he was joking. The conversation, as he recounted, went something like this:

"Hey, I just got fired."

"Come on. What are you going to do today?"

"Seriously, I just got fired."

"You did not."

"Yeah, I did."

"So I packed all of my stuff up and I was probably out of there two hours after the meeting with Doug," Yost said.

He drove north to Milwaukee, packed his stuff there, and then was on the road for his Georgia home the next day.

So as the Brewers were battling through the final 12 games under interim-manager Dale Sveum, Yost and his wife spent three days at the beach near Panama City and Destin, Florida.

"One day she came in and had tears in her eyes," Yost said. "I said, 'What's wrong with you?' And she said the Brewers just made the playoffs.

"And I said, 'That's good.' She was still upset about the whole ordeal."

In 1996, the Houston Astros finished 82-80, six games behind St. Louis in the NL Central, but it wasn't enough to save Terry Collins' job.

Frank Franklin II/Associated Press

"The last day of the season, the owner of the team told me I was going to be the manager," said Collins, who managed the New York Mets against Yost's Royals in last year's World Series. "We were going to have a meeting four days later. He said, 'When you get in this meeting, be ready. We want to know what you got, how we can get to the next level because we've finished second [three] years in a row.'

"So the day of the meeting I called to find out what time the meeting was. I called the GM, and he was busy. I called the president and he was busy. I called the owner and he was busy.

"I turned to my wife and said, 'They're having a meeting and I'm not in it. I'll be fired tomorrow.' And I got fired the next day."

Clint Hurdle's experience in Colorado was like Yost's in Milwaukee: Beware of the off day.

"My firing came at about 9 o'clock the next morning after an off day," Hurdle, who now manages the Pittsburgh Pirates, said. "I got a call at 8 o'clock in the morning from my general manager. He asked if I could come over and meet him at his house.

"I knew I was getting fired, because I'd been invited over to his house many other times, but it was never at 8 o'clock in the morning without my family. We talked. We had a conversation. He told me reasons why. He asked me my thoughts. I shared my thoughts. He asked me how I wanted to handle the exit. I said I'd love the opportunity to go in this afternoon, address the coaching staff first, address the team, and then we'll have a news conference and I'll take the walk and we'll be done."

Always, it is an odd, odd night, that first evening at home when the club a guy has poured his guts into plays its next game and the now-former manager is sitting at home.

"A little surreal because you're at home during a time you're normally not at home," Hurdle said. "It wasn't that bad. Fortunately for me, personally, I've been through enough life experiences. I've been released. I've been traded. I've been fired before.   

"I look at failure as an event and not a person. I felt the organization was in a better place when I left than when I had the opportunity to enter. It was a quiet night, but it was an OK night. It wasn't a bad night by any means. There wasn't mourning and gnashing of teeth."

Gene J. Puskar/Associated Press

Hurdle's firing came on Friday, May 29, 2009. The Rockies were 18-28 and had played in their first World Series less than two years earlier. Jim Tracy took over for Hurdle, who challenged the players in that final meeting with them to play well for Tracy. Then Hurdle went home, spent the summer in Denver and rooted for the Rockies.

"The best experience I've probably had was about the third to fourth day into it," Hurdle said. "I'm at home, about 1 o'clock in the afternoon, and my wife catches me, she goes, 'What are you looking at?" I'm like, 'What, what?'

"She said, 'You've looked at your watch every day, 15 times a day; you have nowhere to go. Clint, you can't go down there. Your swipe card doesn't work anymore, honey. You're kicked out. You've got nowhere to go.'

"She goes, 'Find a way, baby, to unplug. You've got a summer off. It's your first summer vacation in 35 years. Let's have a blast with it. Let's have fun with it.' And it was almost like a light switch went off. You're right.

"I worked my backside off for the summer vacation. And we took advantage of four months of not having to go to work. Doing family things. It helped me to re-program, re-plug, and the next year I caught a coaching job with the Rangers, which gave me a whole different perspective, and then I caught a manager's job again.

"It really put me in a good place for this next opportunity. The firing part of it? It wasn't a ton of bricks. It was almost like I knew in my mind. I had this saying: As long as God wanted me in the manager's chair, I would be in it, and when he didn't, no man could keep me in it. And that was my day. I was out."

2. Fowl Ball: Chicken Bone a Tough Out

PHILADELPHIA, PA - MAY 21: Erick Aybar #1 of the Atlanta Braves high fives with his team after hitting a sacrifice fly in the top of the fourth inning against the Philadelphia Phillies at Citizens Bank Park on May 21, 2016 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. T
Mitchell Leff/Getty Images

So, last week with the Atlanta Braves:

Monday night, a premature email from Delta Air Lines lands in manager Fredi Gonzalez's inbox all but revealing he would not be long for the job.

Tuesday morning, the Braves fire him and name Brian Snitker, their manager at Triple-A Gwinnett, the interim manager.

Thursday, Snitker has to rewrite his lineup for that night's game in Pittsburgh because shortstop Erick Aybar got a chicken bone lodged in his throat and had to have Braves medical personnel sedate him to remove it.

Yeah, you might say it's been a rough go for the Braves and, especially, Aybar, this season. As of Wednesday, Aybar ranked dead last (182nd) in the majors among qualifiers in OPS (.423) and in on-base percentage (.217).

One Braves player told Dave O'Brien, longtime beat man for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, that he saw blood coming out of Aybar's mouth and that the bone was so deep that the shortstop couldn't lift his shoulder because of the discomfort.

"That poor guy had to be scared to death," Snitker told reporters.

Aybar returned to the lineup the next night. Presumably, boneless chicken breasts will be on his menu for the near future.

3. White Sox Are Chicago's Other Hot Team

Nam Y. Huh/Associated Press

In one-on-one exit meetings last season with the Chicago White Sox brass, player after player lobbied to keep last year's team together as much as possible. We're better than that 76-86 fourth-place finish, they said. We can bounce back, they said.

Rick Hahn, White Sox general manager, did some serious listening.

And then he blew off what the players wanted.

"Obviously, we weren't comfortable going that route," Hahn said during a conversation this spring.

Hahn's preference for 2016 was twofold: Upgrade the talent where he could. And, within that, acquire players who played on winning teams and had winning character.

The White Sox of the past couple of years, Hahn and his staff had concluded, were too passive. The clubhouse lacked energy. And that had to change.

In importing third baseman Todd Frazier (trade with Cincinnati), shortstop Jimmy Rollins (free agent), catcher Alex Avila (free agent) and center fielder Austin Jackson (free agent), it has been mission accomplished for Chicago's "other" team, as the Sox play in the shadows of the Cubs' fast start.

Even after losing six of eight heading into this week's big series with AL Central-rival Cleveland, the White Sox, at 27-20, were off to their best 47-game start since 2006. The White Sox have led the division since April 23. And they're the first team to record two triple plays in its first 40 games since the 1978 Houston Astros of Bob Watson, Art Howe and Enos Cabell.

With ace Chris Sale pitching like a Cy Young winner, Jose Quintana hot and Carlos Rodon dominating in spots, the Sox's staff ranks second in the AL with a 3.31 ERA, improved from 3.98 last year.

The addition of Jackson, a true center fielder, has helped improve Chicago's defense tremendously. Bumped over to right field, Adam Eaton, who at times struggled in center last summer, leads the majors with 14 defensive runs saved, per FanGraphs.

The last time the White Sox and Cubs met in a World Series, it was 1906, and the Sox won it all in six games. Clearly, it's way too early to know how 2016 is going to play out, but a dream is beginning to take root in Chicago.

4. Dodgers Have The Blues (When Kershaw Isn't Pitching)

David Zalubowski/Associated Press

Whatever the Los Angeles Dodgers envisioned under new manager Dave Roberts, losing five out of seven games to the Angels and San Diego last week wasn't it. Yet here the Dodgers are, long on depth and short, so far, on game-changers.

No small part of Roberts' problem as the Dodgers have slipped to 4.5 games behind San Francisco in the NL West is that whichever reliever he turns to in the eighth inning, things have turned ugly. The Dodgers rank 13th in the NL—and 27th in the majors—in eighth-inning ERA at 4.79. Only Texas (5.48), San Diego (5.55) and Cincinnati (7.43) have been worse.

Chris Hatcher, Pedro Baez, J.P. Howell, Yimi Garcia…the Dodgers are still searching. And they likely will be through the Aug. 1 non-waivers trade deadline, unless 19-year-old phenom Julio Urias comes to the rescue. Stay tuned.

After Monday's win over Cincinnati, the Dodgers were 9-1 in games started by Clayton Kershaw this year and 15-22 in games others start.

5. Baltimore and the Beltway

Gail Burton/Associated Press

One answer to the Dodgers' eighth-inning relief woes could have been veteran Darren O'Day, who instead signed a four-year, $31 million deal with Baltimore. In large part, that was because O'Day's wife, Elizabeth Prann, is a reporter for Fox News and is based in Washington.

Over the weekend, Bill Shaikin, the national baseball writer for the Los Angeles Times, asked O'Day whether his wife has ever interviewed presidential candidate Donald Trump.

"No," O'Day told Shaikin. "But he called her an idiot on Twitter."

6. Should the Angels Trade Mike Trout?

No. That's stupid. Stop it, all you sports talk hosts and newspaper columnists.


7. Weekly Power Rankings

1. Budweiser: Changes name to "America" through November election. Maybe poor Minnesota should change from "Twins" to "White Sox." If it's that easy, we're talking instant contenders.

2. Clayton Kershaw: Modern-day Sandy Koufax.

3. Jerry Dipoto: Following a winter's worth of rearranging, Dipoto's Seattle Mariners have charged to the top of the AL West. Meanwhile, Arte Moreno's Angels are still paying Josh Hamilton.

4. Jackie Bradley Jr.: How cool would it be for someone to make a serious run at Joe DiMaggio's 56-game hitting streak? You go, Jackie (28 consecutive games through Tuesday night versus Colorado).

Wilfredo Lee/Associated Press

5. Kentucky Fried Chicken edible nail polish: Seriously, it's a thing. But shhh, don't tell Erick Aybar.

8. Chatter

• Atlanta's next full-time manager? The Braves could do far worse than Terry Pendleton, Bud Black or Mark DeRosa. Pendleton currently is Atlanta's first-base coach and is smart and personable. DeRosa, currently an analyst for MLB Network, would fit the latest trend of hiring a recently retired player who commands respect in the clubhouse. Black also is well-respected and has ties to Atlanta's current front-office: John Hart, Atlanta's president of baseball operations, hired Black as a special assistant after Black retired and Hart was GM in Cleveland. And John Schuerholz, Atlanta's president, was Kansas City's GM when Black started pitching for the Royals in the 1980s.

 If Detroit does reach a point where it replaces manager Brad Ausmus, Lloyd McClendon, managing the Triple-A Toledo Mud Hens, is a near-slam dunk to replace him.

 The Braves are 12-32, and Matt Wisler and Williams Perez are their only starting pitchers with more than one victory. They have two each.

 Kershaw-esque: Even after Chris Sale suffered his first loss Tuesday, the Chicago White Sox are 9-1 in games in which their ace starts versus 18-19 when others start.

Matt York/Associated Press

 Horrible Idea of the Week: Tim Lincecum signing with an American League team, the Angels. At 31, following a hip procedure and working to recapture past glory, Lincecum would be far better served pitching in the NL, where lineups are weaker, there is no DH and a handful of bad teams are rebuilding (Braves, Brewers, Padres).

 The Red Sox have a whopping 21 more doubles than anybody else in the majors. Through Tuesday, Boston had 117; St. Louis was next with 96.

 Losing Alex Gordon, who is expected to be out three to four weeks with a broken bone in his hand, per Rustin Dodd of the Kansas City Star, is an enormous blow to the Kansas City Royals.

 Carlos Beltran became just the fourth switch-hitter ever to produce 400 or more homers, following Mickey Mantle, Eddie Murray and Chipper Jones. Hall of Fame bound? The guess here is yes.

9. And, Still, the Yankees Have Won 5 In a Row

Stats By STATS @StatsBySTATS

PINEDA THE PINATA: #Yankees' Pineda is 0-5 with a 6.05 ERA in last 7 starts, allowing batters to hit .345. #Athletics

9a. Rock 'n' Roll Lyric of the Week

To the managers who have been fired, or will be fired, here's wishing you continue to get what you want, though the chorus sure fits a lot of us, doesn't it?

"You always get what you want

"And you don't even try

"Your friends hate it when it's always going your way

"But I'm glad that you've got luck on your side

"You're saying definitely maybe

"I'm saying probably no

"You say 'You sleep when you're dead,' I'm scared I'll die in my sleep

"I guess that's not a bad way to go

"I wanna go out but I wanna stay home

"I wanna go out but I wanna stay home"

—Courtney Barnett, "Nobody Cares If You Don't Go to the Party"

Scott Miller covers Major League Baseball as a national columnist for Bleacher Report.

Follow Scott on Twitter and talk baseball.

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