October 12, 2010
BASEBALL: Cox Out
Bobby Cox's managerial career ended with yet another disappointing exit from the postseason and the usual flurry of questions about his tactical decisions in October, a perennial topic dating back to the 1985 ALCS, when Dick Howser went righty-lefty-righty to expose Cox's platoon system, usher in a new age of relief specialists and, ultimately, deal the death blow to extensive up-and-down the lineup platoons. But by this point, nobody questions the overall record of the Dean Smith of baseball managers; like Dean Smith, maybe Cox only won the one championship but his teams were well-oiled contenders year in and year out against generation after generation of adversary.
(UPDATE: Yeah, I forgot that Dean Smith won two titles. I think the comparison is still apt.)
A quick list of just some of the players who played for Bobby Cox, a list that includes managers, front office guys, broadcasters, authors, Hall of Famers (current and future), NFL stars, MVPs, Cy Young winners, Rookies of the Year, druggies, racists, eccentrics, the deceased, the overachieving, the disappointing...Cox has seen it all:
Cito Gaston, Jim Bouton, Phil Niekro, Bob Horner, Al Hrabosky, Mike Lum, Chris Chambliss, Gaylord Perry, Buck Martinez, Dale Murray, Dave Stieb, Mickey Klutts, Al Oliver, Cliff Johnson, Cecil Fielder, Willie Aikens, Luis Leal, Lonnie Smith, Doug Sisk, Dale Murphy, Steve Avery, Marvin Freeman, Deion Sanders, Danny Heep, Vinny Castilla, Rick Mahler, Juan Berenguer, Jeff Reardon, Bill Pecota, Lonnie Smith, John Rocker, Steve Bedrosian, Fred McGriff, Jay Howell, Roberto Kelly, Mike Bielecki, Gregg Olson, Mike Sharperson, Mike Devereaux, Jason Schmidt, Luis Polonia, Rowland Office, Jeff Burroughs, Randall Simon, Paul Byrd, Ozzie Guillen, Dennis Martinez, Gerald Williams, Norm Charlton, Javy Lopez, Bret Boone, Reggie Sanders, Brian Jordan, BJ Surhoff, Scott Kamieniecki, Dave Martinez, Julio Franco, Steve Karsay, Bernard Gilkey, Gary Sheffield, Jaret Wright, Roberto Hernandez, Mike Hampton, Garth Iorg, JD Drew, Raul Mondesi, Todd Pratt, Rick Ankiel, Chipper Jones, Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine, John Smoltz and Jason Heyward.
I can think of a lot of mangers that would like to have the number of post season exits Cox had. Atlanta should be kissing his feet for the rest of his life for the high quality baseball he brought to their city for so long.
...rustlers, cut throats, murderers, bounty hunters, desperados, mugs, pugs, thugs, nitwits, halfwits, dimwits, vipers, snipers, con men, Indian agents, Mexican bandits, muggers, buggerers, bushwhackers, hornswogglers, horse thieves, bull dykes, train robbers, bank robbers, ass-kickers, shit-kickers and...Methodists.
What, no Terry Pendleton or David Justice? You're not a real Braves fan! Why... why... you're a Mets fan, aren't you? AREN'T YOU?
Hmm, Bobby Cox. No doubt he developed and coached great ballplayers. No doubt he won 14 division titles in 15 years and 11 straight. There is absolutely something to be said for that level of consistency with one team in baseball. He did, however, do it for 3 years in the NL West when that division was a mess (91-93) and the NL East when only the Mets on a year to year basis attempted to be competitive. The Expos? Please. The Phillies? They were notoriously the cheapest team in baseball until about 5 years ago. The Marlins? 2 very good teams and 9 mostly very bad teams. I think only 2 times in the 14 year run did the second place team in the Braves' division win more than 90 games (the '93 Giants did win 103). The Braves had a motivated owner, TV revenue, a terrific GM and an organization committed to winning. Shit, he should have won as much as he did given what he was going against most of the time. He went 0-6 in his last 6 post-season series (9-19 in the games). I'll tip my cap to Bobby Cox for what he did and he should go to the HOF but I am not certain how I would feel about him if I were a Braves' fan.
Amazing run he had. I swear Rob Neyer or Buster Olney wrote an article on how besides John Smoltz, the amazing pitchers Cox had didn't show up in the playoffs.
As far as the comment goes about Cox enjoying a great GM, let me just say it's not the best-kept secret in Atlanta that Cox has been the REAL GM during his tenure. He has always been involved in every aspect of the system - scouting, draft, minors - in addition to his gamecalling. He's probably been more involved in the front office than any manager of his era. To even insinuate that he's been some plug-and-play manager is quite ignorant.
You're missing the point. The point was that he managed/GM-managed if you wish, for a team that was committed to winning and had the front office to organize the details of operating a minor league system, scouting, making trades, dealing with free agency, etc. No other team in the NL East during the 1995-2005 consistently operated or even attempted to operate in such a manner. The Expos had no money, the Phillies wouldn't spend it, the Marlins played mostly boom or bust baseball and the Mets, well they're the Mets. The Braves had financial and competitive advantages. Cox did a nice job keeping the ship pointed in the right direction, developed talent and won games. My point is that the Braves should have been winning their division given the circumstances. The fact that they did is credit to Cox for sure. But if he is going to be assigned credit for winning Division titles he has to be assigned at least some of the blame for winning only one World Series, no?
Not really - I don't see a lot of shame in losing to the likes of the Jays or Yankees. They were great teams. The Indians team they beat was astonishingly good. And if economics play such a prominent role, why haven't the Cubs taken the Central every year? When Atlanta was in the West they shared it with the Dodgers - why didn't they run the table? The fact of the matter is they've done well with him architecting an entire system, rather than merely donning a uniform and sending mega-talented guys to go out there and win - again, well beyond what your garden variety MLB manager does. Making it sound like any other guy could walk in and do it - go to the playoffs 14 years in a row - is plain silly.
You're clearly a Braves fan. My point is that if Cox is going to get credit for one aspect of the Braves he has to take the downside as well. I am in the camp of things happen in baseball largely due to players (was it Joe Maddon's fault Carlos Pena played that grounder last night as casually as eating a slice of pie?) but with credit comes fault. Does Bobby Cox deserve some of the blame for blowing a 2-0 lead to the Yankees. Probably. Look, Marv Levy won tons of Division titles for the Bills and people remember him for losing Super Bowls. The Braves had superior talent on the field and an organization committed to keeping it there in a time when no other team in their division did. They had massive financial advantages on top of that. The fact that they did what they did is remarkable but not lots more remarkable than seeing the Yankees do it (and I'm not saying they have the Yankees advantages but that their level of competition was not capable of re-producing what the Braves were doing).
I am a Braves' fan, but to step back a bit, what's humorous here is that you're actually kinder to Cox than a lot of Braves' fans I know. So your criticism is very common and understandable. I'm saying that I doubt many people appreciate what a cradle-to-grave builder he was - and I think there won't be another. I agree with some things you're saying, disagree with others, but hey - living here in ATL trust me when I say I've heard worse. So when you're wondering how you'd feel as a Braves' fan I know exactly where you're coming from.
I would agree his genius lay in being a builder and understanding the mechanics of a baseball organization operation. If he was managing the Yankees or Red Sox for the last 10 years, well he wouldn't have been managing them for the last 10 years.
I was born in 1981 and for most my childhood, baseball was the Braves. I was/am a Reds' fan and they were on tv almost never. WGN had the Cubs, but who wants to spend a summer afternoon in front of the TV? I ended up watching some of the Braves' game almost every day.
I generally hated the Braves mainly because I found their announcers obnoxious. Yet, oddly, I knew them like a fanatic: all about their rosters, lineups, back end of bullpen guys, minor league prospects, etc., etc., simply because I watched them almost everyday.
Then, when TBS stopped carrying the Braves, I suddenly realized how much I missed them and Bobby. When TBS stopped its coverage, it almost felt like part of my childhood was just stripped away. Now that Cox has retired, it really feels that way--especially if Chipper moves on.
So who is in the category, "the deceased"?
Deceased? The one that comes to mind is Rick Mahler.
I was rooting hard for the Braves this year, not so much because I liked the team or had a soft spot for Bobby Cox. Rather, it was because I knew what I would hear (repeatedly) on the radio the following day (and did): that Bobby Cox had brought his team to the playoffs in 15 different seasons but had only won the World Series once, in 1995. Suddenly, the awful memories of that series came flooding back and, even worse, triggered a PTSD-flashback of the 1997 Series.
Let's not forget the 1996 World Series...
I'm a Braves fan and a UNC fan, and the comparison to Dean Smith is not apt for the following reasons:
1. 2 > 1
2. Key injuries in 1977 and 1981 probably deprived Dean of at least one more title.
3. The single-elimination format of the NCAA tournament makes luck a bigger factor than in MLB's playoffs.
4. Dean retired as the all-time winningest coach in his sport.
5. Dean was known as a brilliant tactician and innovator. Ever hear of the Four Corners offense?
6. Dean also coached team USA to the gold medal in 1976, with college players. Recall that this followed the 1972 screw job--it was an important win.
7. Not only did many of Dean's best players leave early for the NBA, but he actually forced them to go. See Jordan, Michael.
8. Dean recruited the first black player at UNC and consistently and publicly opposed racism in Chapel Hill.
Bobby Cox was a good manager, but when we had Dean coaching, I always had the feeling that no matter what happened, Dean would come up with something to help us win the game--and the vast majority of the time, he did.