Tuesday, October 12, 2010

The Bobby Cox Legacy

  • Going out the way he came in:

There's no question that Bobby Cox is deserving of going to the Hall of Fame as a baseball man; that he's one of the legendary figures in the sport, respected and liked by all----even the umpires liked and respected him despite ejecting him out of a record 158 regular season games (that's a season's worth) and even tossed him out of game 2 of this Division Series.

As a manager, he won 14 consecutive division titles with the Braves; another one with the Blue Jays in 1985; made the playoffs as a Wild Card in 2010; won 5 National League pennants and the 1995 World Series. As the Braves general manager, he was at the helm when a large part of the foundation of the club was built. While John Schuerholz is generally acknowledged as the architect of those Braves teams, it was Cox who traded for John Smoltz; drafted Chipper Jones, Kent Mercker, Mike Stanton, Steve Avery and Ryan Klesko.

He trusted his veterans to police the clubhouse and when he needed to slam down the hammer himself with a benching or private undressing, he did so and made sure to never embarrass his players publicly by ripping them in the media. Players from all around baseball wanted to play for Bobby Cox----he treated his players like men and supported them no matter what.

Cox's managerial career ended last night as the Giants ousted the Braves in the NLDS with a 3-2 win. While his accomplishments are nonpareil, I can't help but wonder whether he could've done more; if, like other failed stars who could've been so much more than they were if they'd done things slightly differently.

Players like Dick Allen, Darryl Strawberry, Dwight Gooden, Jim Longborg or any other superior talent who may have had their shining moments, but always had the shadow of "what might have been" hanging over them; their failures were due to off-field issues, personality conflicts and injuries. Cox's failures in the post-season could be correlated to what made him a success in the first place.

Because the Braves were so self-sustaining during their years of dominance, Cox was able to get rid of players who didn't fit in----Kenny Lofton, John Rocker, Yunel Escobar----and essentially not have to concern himself with the clubhouse until situations reached condition critical. How many times did Andruw Jones have to be told by the veterans to shut up; that it was enough with his popping off? Cox was able to be the "good guy" manager who you didn't cross specifically because there was Fred McGriff, Tom Glavine, John Smoltz and Chipper Jones to nip in the bud any potential rifts in the troops.

I can't escape that "should've been" aspect with Cox. How was it possible that the dominating Braves teams from 1991-2005 won only one World Series? Was it because of Cox's dependence on his veterans that sabotaged his chance to be a multiple World Series winner? Did that which damaged the Braves in this just concluded series loss to the Giants rear its head in the past?

Should Cox have looked at Brooks Conrad after game 1 and said that in a series that was going to be so contingent on pitching and defense, he couldn't run the risk of having Conrad playing second base? It's an easy second guess, but how much worse would the Braves have been with Troy Glaus at third base and Omar Infante at second? It's not as if Conrad was hitting either.

You can go back through Cox's post-season history and look at the losses that stick out and try to find a reason for the losses. The 1985 ALCS with the Blue Jays; 1991 and 1996 World Series; and the five straight division series defeats in 2002-2005 and in 2010 all open Cox up to criticism----not simply for a mistake here and there, they happen, but for always seeming to lose when it was crunch time.

Of course there are explanations; not excuses----Cox wouldn't give excuses----but explanations. The Braves of the 90s never had that dominating bullpen to slam the door shut and that was the main difference between the Braves and the Yankees in their matchups. You can discern reasons for their losses, but in the end, it comes down to the fact that what it was that made the Braves during the regular season----a self-sustaining unit that relied on great starting pitching on a daily basis----faltered in the playoffs. Like Mike Scioscia with the Angels, there's always going to be the "they should've done more" aura about Bobby Cox's teams.

He had a terrific career; had he been able to win more than one title, the case could be made that he's the best manager in history.

But he didn't.

And he's not.

  • Clarification:

There's a misplaced belief that I have an agenda against Sandy Alderson as Mets GM for reasons other than fact; it's completely untrue. Considering what I know about him and the work he's done (as detailed in yesterday's posting) do I think there are better candidates for the long-term? Absolutely; but it has nothing to do with Alderson himself.

The groundswell of support for Alderson is a circular entity. The reporters want him as GM; the fans are taking their cue from the reporters and calling for the Mets to hire him; the talk show hosts are taking the fan entreaties and creating a monolith for Alderson.

These are not viable reasons to hire a GM.

If the Mets front office (which is apparently split on Alderson) interviews him, Josh Byrnes (for the record, my preferred number 1 choice); Rick Hahn (my number 2 choice); and the other candidates and decides intelligently and independently that Alderson is the man, then fine. But it shouldn't----cannot----be Alderson because the likes of Joel Sherman say it must be done.

It would be a ghastly mistake.

  • Viewer Mail 10.12.2010:

Jeff (Street Boss) at Red State Blue State writes RE Sandy Alderson:


That's all I can say.

Jane Heller at Confessions of a She-Fan also writes RE Sandy Alderson:

I'm with Jeff, although I was going with "Yikes."

I do have to add that I got a really nice laugh when I read the names Greg Cadaret, Eric Plunk and Luis Polonia. Hadn't thought of them in a LONG time.

It was the caffeine combined with the need to put a little context into the Alderson-Mets debate. One would hope that the Mets are going to think about this seriously before doing as the media-at-large wants them to do.

I'm getting the feeling it's not going to be Alderson; that he's going to come on too strong in the interview and turn off the front office.

I must've brought back some Syd Thrift nightmares for Jane; the Rickey Henderson-to-Oakland deal was a horrible trade.

Gabriel (Capo) writes RE Sandy Alderson:

Is there a way we can put this on the Wikipedia entry for Sandy Alderson?

How does that Wikipedia thing work?

The Brooklyn Trolley Blogger (Brooklyn Capo) writes RE Jeff Wilpon and the Mets:

And so, in the end, things boil down to Jeff Wilpon's ability or inability to be a competent "Baseball Man" and everything that entails. What scares me about the Mets' situation is, by his own admission, Jeff said he has no preconceived model for a GM. Jeff is willing to be sold on a plan.

That was a most excellent undressing of Sir Money Ivy Balls. This was like the Crystal Caves discovery; Hot, Deep and a Gem. (no innuendos...please)

I truly believe that the Wilpons are going to do what they feel is best for the organization and give the new GM sufficient power to do what needs to be done. The perception that Jeff is a meddler is going to cause a problem if the Mets make a surprise move or do something the media dislikes, but they can't worry about that.

I've said it before, if I'm the owner, I'm not hiring someone who's going to come in and demand full and total autonomy to do whatever he wants without me being allowed to question or approve it. The Wilpons own the team; they can have a say or at least want to keep informed if they so choose. It's their team.

I was a guest with Sal at Sportsfan Buzz eight days ago talking about the post-season; the firings; and Ichiro. Click to listen directly here. Or at Sal's site here and get it on I-Tunes.


She-Fan said...

While Bobby Cox may not have been the best manager of all time (should have won more championships with those pitching staffs he had), I think the fact that he endured for such a long time deserves some kind of an achievement award!

Jeff said...

During the 90s I often referred to the Braves as the Buffalo Bills of Major League Baseball.

Then it dawned on me one day that they won the '95 Series. I forgot because I didn't know anyone was watching the World Series that year.

Maybe with Bobby gone the Braves will actually start winning titles.

Then again, probably not.

Joe said...

With statistics, we can compare one player to the average player at each position. Managers however, don't really have relevant statistics. Therefore, their reputation is based mostly on wins and losses. Making it very, very difficult to tell how much better one manager is then the other. You know, because of those pesky variables like teams having more talent than other teams. :)

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