We’ve all experienced a situation, whether it be with a manager, a coach or even a boss at a job that just didn’t seem to ever have your back when things got tough. The one that seemed to steer you in a direction, encourage a certain practice or habit, only to leave you hanging or even turn the blame onto you when things got tough.
That is everything that Bobby Cox was not, and that is part of what made him one of the greatest managers the game of baseball has ever seen.
Cox was for the ballplayers and unlike many modern day managers, he was never about himself but rather selfless and second to everyone of his players. Cox was a ballplayer and loved the game of baseball, probably more than anyone has. Even down to his spikes, which he laced up every game until his last because well, they were just part of the uniform, Bobby lived baseball. He was the only manager still wearing cleats this season, and they couldn’t have helped his knees which thankfully for the game of baseball were the cause of Bobby’s shortened playing career and what may have led him into managing.
The statistics will also tell the story of one of the most successful managers in history but the respect of players from Cox’s past does a much better job of cutting to the heart of things, quite quickly at that. As for some of the stats, Bobby was 4th all time in wins, won 15 division titles (including 14 straight from 1991-2005), a World Series Championship in 1995, was 4-time Manager of the Year, and probably most importantly, 1st all time in ejections.
I say the most important being the ejections because Bobby was hot-headed, only when he needed to stand up for one of his players though. If you saw any of the tributes that occurred over the last few weeks of the 2010 season then you got a chance to hear one of the hundreds of players that suited up to play for the future Hall of Famer share kind words of the retiring skipper. One of my favorites came from former Braves announcer Pete Van Wieren, who stated the three things that you know playing for Bobby Cox.
“Number one, you know what your role is on this team, number two, you know you’re expected to play the game the right way and play hard, and number three, you know that Bobby has got your back.”
As a leader, Cox was able to guide every type of player and the list of Braves that found success on the field under Bobby Cox’s management is as diverse and eclectic as you could imagine. From players like Phil Neikro, who when he played under Cox as an established All-Star, to the young guns of the early nineties that included All-Star pitchers John Smoltz, Steve Avery, Tom Glavine, and Greg Maddux, to hot shot gold-chain wearing youngsters like David Justice and Gary Sheffield, to the southern boys like Chipper Jones, Bobby guided them all. More importantly, he paid attention to them all, no matter how big of a star, or how small of a contributor to the team, Bobby was quick to stand up for every player at anytime because he was attentive.
The stories of Bobby arriving hours and hours before game time, and those of days that he was first one in and the last one to leave, attest to his commitment to his players. Even down to his final games in the recent MLB Playoff series against the San Francisco Giants, Cox was there for his players.
Even down to his last game, Bobby showed faith in his players. The final example, Cox visits the mound in the 7th inning of Monday night’s game to pull starting pitcher Derek Lowe. Lowe emphatically expresses to Bobby that he could get the job done, and Cox strolled back to the dugout, leaving the right-hander to clean up the mess he had gotten himself into. Unfortunately for Lowe, a couple of poor calls from home plate umpire Mike Winters meant that Cox had no choice but to make his move before the next batter. Nonetheless, it was an example of the empowerment that Bobby bestowed upon his players over the years, and what made him one of the best ever.
To me, the one thing that shows more than any what Bobby Cox meant to the players was the end of Monday night’s game. As the crowd chanted his name, Bobby Cox came out one last time and tipped his cap. As Ray Charles’ Georgia on my Mind played over Fulton County Stadium’s speakers, the fans cheered and seemingly the night took a pause for Bobby, just for a moment, as the entire Giants team momentarily stopped celebrating, what for many is likely the happiest day of their career, and tipped their caps and applauded for Bobby Cox, the greatest manager they never had.