Archive for the ‘Bobby Cox’ Category

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Bobby Cox

October 8, 2010

What Is the Meaning of the 1978 Atlanta Braves? (card 4 of 25)

(continued from Dick Ruthven)

Bobby Cox was a manager of the Atlanta Braves for a little while in the late 1970s and early 1980s. Before that, he’d been a marginal major leaguer, briefly appearing in some games for the New York Yankees during a rare down time in the history of that franchise. It’s not clear from his short stint with the Braves back when I was a kid if he knew much about managing. The team had been pretty bad for a while, and he wasn’t able to do much to change that, losing 93 games his first season of 1978, when this card came out. He lost 94 games the following year. In 1980, he led the Braves to an 81-80 record, but the next year they dipped below .500 again and Cox was fired. This is what happens to managers. They come and go. My childhood connection to baseball ended during Cox’s doomed 1981 season, when I stopped buying cards, so I’m not sure whatever became of him. Probably he drifted back to the minors or into scouting or left the game altogether to get a job at his brother-in-law’s muffler shop.

Is there any job less stable than that of a major league manager? The great majority of major league managers, guys who come and go so quickly you barely remember they were ever here—like this hazy Bobby Cox character from my youth—makes me wonder about the extremely rare managers who find a way to not only endure but thrive. What is their secret? Everything in life is so tentative and fleeting, and in the major leagues this fundamental characteristic of the universe seems amplified and exacerbated, and yet there are these rare figures in the game who somehow find a way to put down deep, fruitful roots in the most volatile soil around.

Longevity as a manager, which is necessarily connected—given the unforgiving nature of the profession—to consistent excellence as a manager, has to be an important component in deciding on the best manager in baseball history. Maybe it’s the most important component. The tendency in the managerial profession is toward disappointment and disintegration. Who has been the best at transcending this tendency?

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Bobby Cox

June 26, 2007
 

This past Saturday Bobby Cox tied John McGraw’s record for most ejections from a major league game. At the time of the 1978 card shown here, Bobby Cox had not earned his first ejection, mainly because he had yet to manage a major league game. According to an article on sbrforum.com, it took Cox less than a month to earn his first heave ho, for bench jockeying during a May 1 game between the two worst teams in the National League, Cox’s Atlanta Braves and Joe Torre’s New York Mets. Future manager Bobby Valentine was also on hand for that game, batting second and playing second base for the Mets. As he was in the twilight of his disappointingly injury-riddled career, it’s possible Valentine had begun wondering about a second career in baseball as a field general. So maybe Cox being ordered to leave the premises that day in May began the thought process in Valentine’s highly active, unorthodox mind that would result, years later, in one of the greatest moments in manager-ejection history, the game when Valentine, after his expulsion, snuck back into the dugout in a fake mustache and tinted glasses.

The day Cox earned his big record-tying ejection, I watched Bruce Bochy get tossed from the Fox Saturday game of the week between the Yankees and Giants. What does it say about me that I envied Bochy? I imagined being relieved of the burden of making consequential decisions, going back into the cool clubhouse, popping a beer, seeing if there was a good movie on the clubhouse television. As it turned out, the game Bochy was ejected from went on and on, seven more innings beyond Bochy’s 6th inning banishment, so Bochy would have even had time to sneak in a lengthy nap before the team and the press came barging in to wreck his long moment of blissfull purposelessness. 

Thinking of that blissfull purposelessness (which I’m sure Bruce Bochy had none of, instead maybe kicking a chair or punching a locker and then monitering every second of the rest of the game while perhaps relaying pointed messages to the acting manager via the batboy or some bench-warmer) reminds me of rainy days in the summer of 1986, my second living with my grandfather on Cape Cod. That summer I eventually ended up back at the Shell station where I’d pumped gas the previous year, but for a few weeks before that I worked as a canvasser for Greenpeace. On days when it rained really hard they’d cancel the canvassing. It’s been over twenty years and I still can’t get over those rainy days. That job–knocking on door after door to cheerfully recite a scripted spiel about the encroaching environmental apocalypse and the need for monetary contributions–made my stomach hurt, plus I was terrible at it. My last day before I quit I left my route after a couple hours of doors slamming in my face and bought a pack of baseball cards from a Cumberland Farms. I was leafing through them when my supervisor pulled up to bring me back to the office. He asked if a kid had given them to me, implying that buying baseball cards was something I was way too old to be doing, especially on company time. He was my age, or maybe a couple years older, a blond college guy who was a big fan of the Zippy the Pinhead comic strip. The next day I found myself praying for a giant rainstorm so I could sit around the house getting stoned in my room and lying on my grandfather’s orthopedic bed going up and down by remote control as my grandfather and I watched Match Game and M*A*S*H. But the sky was blue with no hope of rain, not a cloud anywhere. So I just quit.

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