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Marlins fire Girardi, hire Braves coach Gonzalez

10/4/2006 - MLB Florida Marlins

MIAMI -- Thanks to a managerial shuffle Tuesday,
Florida Marlins owner Jeffrey Loria can now yell at umpires with the
skipper's approval.

The Marlins fired Joe Girardi, and five hours later introduced
as his replacement Fredi Gonzalez, third-base coach for the Atlanta
Braves the past four years. Girardi's departure after only one
season had been expected after his rift with Loria boiled over two
months ago in an on-field confrontation over the owner's heckling
of an umpire.

Gonzalez, 42, interviewed with the Marlins a year ago after Jack
McKeon resigned but finished runner-up to Girardi. Born in Cuba and
raised in Miami, Gonzalez became the first manager in the Marlins'
organization when they hired him to run their first minor league
team in Erie, Pa., in 1992.

"It's a long way from Erie, man," a smiling Gonzalez said at a
news conference. "I hope I'm here for a lot of years."

Gonzalez said he has no problem with the owner razzing umps.

"If he wants to yell, he can yell," he said. "He paid for the
team. He has the most expensive seat in the stadium."

The Marlins decided to fire Girardi not because of the umpire
incident, but because he failed to mesh with others in the
organization, general manager Larry Beinfest said.

"Joe is not returning because it was not a good fit," Beinfest
said. "I will take some of that blame. I'm in charge, and it's my
job to make sure everything runs as smoothly and efficiently as
possible."

The cost-conscious Marlins wanted Girardi out so badly they were
willing to let him go with two years left on a guaranteed
three-year contract, which may cost them as much as $1.5 million.
Florida made the move even though Girardi's considered a strong
candidate for NL manager of the year.

The Marlins had baseball's youngest team and lowest payroll at
$15 million, but Girardi led them to a 78-84 record, and they were
in contention for a playoff berth until a late-September fade.

Girardi said he was fired during a short, unemotional meeting in
his office with Beinfest, assistant general manager Mike Hill and team president David Samson.

"They came in and said, 'We're going to make a change,' " Girardi said. He said no reason was given, and he didn't ask for one.

Loria did not attend the meeting but later spoke to Girardi by
phone, a spokesman for the owner said. Several of Girardi's coaches
will be considered for Gonzalez's staff, Beinfest said.

Girardi, an Illinois native, Northwestern graduate and former
Chicago Cubs catcher, becomes a potential candidate to replace
Dusty Baker, whose four-year tenure with the Cubs ended Monday. Two
other teams are also looking for managers -- Washington parted with
Frank Robinson, and San Francisco cut ties with Felipe Alou.

Girardi said he has no idea what he'll do next season, and plans
to discuss options with his wife. His voice broke when he began
discussing his dismissal with reporters in his office, but he was
soon smiling and cracking jokes.

"I'll land on my feet," he said. "I talked to one of my
mentors last night and I said, 'I've never been fired before.' And
he said, 'Welcome to the club.' "

Girardi declined to identify the mentor. New York Yankees manager Joe Torre, who served as a mentor to Girardi, said he talked to his former catcher Sunday.

"There was no anger," Torre said. "He understood that
managing is not always based on how well you do. There are certain
things you need to do, and people you need to please."

Beinfest said the decision to fire Girardi was cemented two
weeks ago. Aware that other managing jobs would likely come open,
the Marlins first contacted Gonzalez on Sept. 25 and had an
agreement with him by midweek last week, Beinfest said.

"We knew Fredi was our guy, and we wanted to beat our
competition to him," Beinfest said. "Interviewing while you have
a sitting manager probably isn't the greatest thing, but we went
through proper channels with the commissioner's office and the
Atlanta Braves."

Gonzalez becomes the fourth manager hired by the Marlins since
Loria bought the team in 2002. The latest change seemed inevitable
after the rift between Girardi and Loria erupted at a game Aug. 6.

The owner berated an umpire while sitting behind the plate. From
the dugout, Girardi asked Loria to stop.

"The gist of the conversation to Jeffrey was, 'I preach to my
players about not arguing with umpires, and this is not going to
help us,' " Girardi said.

Loria angrily left his seat and confronted Girardi after the
game during a 90-minute clubhouse meeting. The owner has refused to
comment on the episode or respond to published reports that he
fired Girardi that day, then changed his mind.

Girardi declined to elaborate on what happened, or discuss his
differences with Loria and Beinfest.

"Obviously, the things I did, whether they were perfect or not,
the players responded. We won," Girardi said.

Beginning in spring training, Beinfest clashed with Girardi over
personnel decisions, and during the second half of the season the
general manager was rarely seen in the clubhouse or manager's
office.

The power struggle had no apparent effect on the team. The
Marlins were widely projected to lose more than 100 games, but
instead they rallied from an 11-31 start and trailed in the NL
wild-card race by only two games on Sept. 12 before fading.

The Marlins became the first team to climb above .500 from 20
games under. They also became the first team to have four rookie
pitchers win 10 games, and they set a record for most home runs by
rookies with 112.

"People thought we were going to lose more games than any team
in baseball, and we didn't," Girardi said. "And that's because of
the players."