Fredi Gonzalez's firing as Atlanta Braves manager was no surprise. Gonzalez had been in the hot seat the last couple of seasons because of the Braves' poor results during their so-called rebuilding phase.
But the reality is that Gonzalez was always under pressure. Not the pressure to perform or to adhere to a certain set of expectations, but in his attempt to be a worthy representative of his Latin American roots.
The Cuban-American, who was the only Hispanic manager in the majors since Manny Acta was fired by the Cleveland Indians in 2012, always felt he had to do a better job than any of his 29 counterparts.
“I will tell you this: I feel that, and this is me saying it, that I have to do a really, really good job," Gonzalez said at the end of last season in a conversation about the lack of minority managers. "I feel that being the only Latin American manager in the major leagues. I feel that I have to do a really good job managing so that other Latin American coaches can get an opportunity.
“I think there are a lot of qualified Latin American coaches out there that should and will hopefully get a chance. Manny Acta and I spoke about this about four years ago when he was with Cleveland, that we feel like we have to do a better job than most managers in our positions because obviously we want to open the doors for more Latin American coaches.
“That’s my thing,” Gonzalez added. “No one has been putting that pressure on me. But there are many Latino coaches out there who have coached many years and have not been given a chance. Some have gotten one chance, but not two.”
Gonzalez had two chances. The first was with the Miami Marlins, and then with the Braves, who decided to fire him Tuesday along with bench coach Carlos Tosca. Not only does that leave Major League Baseball without any representative of Latin American descent as a manager, but it also leaves the Chicago White Sox's Rick Rentería (a California native) as the sole Latino bench coach.
Perhaps Gonzalez deserved to be fired. At the end of the day, all that matters in the majors are results, and at 9-29 Atlanta has the worst record in baseball, having played well below .500 since 2014.
But the dismissal of Gonzalez highlights the critical issue of the lack of ethnic diversity in MLB at the top coaching levels.
The shortage of managers of color in MLB has been a growing concern in recent years. The 2016 season began with only three minority managers, one Latino and two African-Americans, seven fewer than the high point of 10 minority managers in 2002 and 2009.
Gonzalez always said there were many Latino candidates who should get an opportunity to manage. That goes beyond having a single interview to comply with the “Selig Rule,” equivalent to the NFL's “Rooney Rule,” a policy that requires teams to interview minority candidates for management and senior operations positions.
The Selig Rule seemed pointless to Gonzalez, who said that each team must have full authority to hire whoever they believe to be the best candidate.
“I've always been a firm believer that the owner, general manager or team president can hire whomever they want to hire. But I think there are many Latinos who are good candidates,” Gonzalez said. "José Oquendo is a good candidate. Carlos Tosca had a chance in Toronto, and … his record is over .500 and he has never been given another chance. Rick Rentería deserves another chance. Sandy Alomar should get an opportunity. Tony Peña should be given another opportunity.
"There are so many that are qualified. Dave Martinez has had many interviews. I don’t want them to get my job, but they deserve an opportunity."
Out of the 750 players on MLB Opening Day rosters, 214 (or 28.5 percent) were born in a Latin American country. Therefore, despite representing more than one quarter of MLB player demographics, Latinos now have no representation among managers.
Sandy Alomar, the Cleveland Indians’ first base coach who has been interviewed for manager vacancies on several occasions the last couple of seasons, is one Hispanic coach who many around the majors believe should have already received an opportunity to manage.
Alomar is another proponent of getting rid of the Selig Rule of having to interview a minority candidate just because of policy. After playing 20 years in the majors, Alomar believes a team should always hire the best candidate.
But then, what can be done when the opportunity doesn’t even present itself?
“You can’t be disappointed about things that you have no control over,” Alomar said. “I know that we Latinos have a lot to bring to the game. All we can do is keep getting ready, keep knocking on doors. And if there isn’t a door, you build one, and you continue doing the best you can."
Lloyd McClendon, who was the only African-American manager last year (and was fired by the Seattle Mariners in the offseason), said the biggest problem is the fact that we still need to have this conversation.
“The sad thing about that is this is 2015 and we’re sitting here still having this type of conversation," McClendon said. "I think it’s a sad state not only for the game of baseball, but society as a whole.
“When are we going to get past this? When you, me or anybody else is looked at for the content of their character, to paraphrase Dr. King, not the color of their skin. To me, that’s the bigger issue, not so much that there is a lack of us in the game of baseball. That we have to sit here and talk about it.”
It’s 2016, and we are still talking about it.
During one of the many times when there were rumors of him being fired, I asked Gonzalez if he was concerned about losing his job. His response was memorable.
“I don’t feel any pressure, because this is a game," Gonzalez said. "I get paid for doing what I love the most, which is baseball. There are people starving, people at war -- those are real reasons for worry. I'm fine; my family is well. I am privileged.”
And apparently today, that privilege does not include Latinos.