There were a lot of laughs and some tears, too, from the record crowd of more than 900 for the Bobby Cox Braves Hall of Fame induction luncheon at the downtown Omni hotel today.
“This is a day the family and I will never forget,” Cox said, after introducing — for the first time in such a setting — his entire family including wife Pam, his eight children and 14 grandchildren.
We’ve got time for a quick blog after driving straight over to Turner Field from that event, which lasted more than two hours and was rich from start to finish, attended by most living Braves Hall-of-Fame inductees as well as the entire current team and a future inductee, John Smoltz.
For about 15 minutes, Braves broadcaster Don Sutton sat on the stage with Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine and Smoltz – one baseball Hall of Famer and three future ones, three 300-game winners and the only pitcher with as many as 200 wins and 150 saves.
A few quotes and anecdotes:
• Braves president John Schuerholz: “They broke the mold when they made No. 6… And as great a manager as he is, he’s a Hall of Fame person.”
• Hall of Famer Phil Niekro on Cox being in line for induction at Cooperstown in 2013: “Until then, we’ll keep the light on for ya.”
• David Justice on Cox’s postgame interviews with the media: “Whenever we won, it was because of us. Whenever we lost, it was somehow because of him. We appreciated that.”
• Glavine and Smoltz said Cox had only three rules: Be on time, play hard, play the game the right way.
But there was a fourth unofficial rule, too, which applied to pitchers, some of whom were accustomed to having specific roles spelled out when they were with other organizations.
“Do whatever the hell I tell you, that’s your role,” Glavine said of Cox’s fourth rule. Then Glavine told of a cruel-but-funny prank he and some others played on a pitcher new to the team, when they convinced him to go to Cox’s office and ask about this pitcher’s role.
“It didn’t go very well,” Glavine said, laughing.
• Among the many sending video-taped congratulation messages for Cox were Jimmy Carter, Ted Turner and Bud Selig. The commissioner called him a credit to baseball, congratulated him for his Braves Hall of Fame induction and said he’ll be in baseball’s Hall of Fame before long.
• Glavine, Maddux and Smoltz told stories, many of them familiar, and gave examples of Cox’s patience and how he was instrumental in their careers, particularly Glavine and Smoltz when they struggled mightily as beginning big-leaguers and Cox always stood by them and reassured them.
They also told of a few faux pas moments, and how Cox could make sure those incidents were never repeated without saying a word, sometimes using just an icy stare.
For example, once Smoltz made the mistake of flipping the ball to Cox on a pitching change, istead of handing it to him. This was back when a frustrated Smoltz had lost 11 of 13 decisions midway through his fourth season (he finished 14-13).
“I was 2-11, things weren’t going real well,” he said. “I don’t think I did it intentionally, but one time I flipped Bobby the ball. You don’t flip Bobby the ball…. It was something where he didn’t have to say a word. You knew [that was a no-no] right away.”
• Justice, part of the worst-to-first 1991 Braves team that’s also being honored this weekend at Turner Field, called Cox the greatest manager he ever had and said he loved him, just like so many other players in that banquet room.
Justice said there were two big helmet-throwers on the Braves back then, Ron Gant and Ryan Klesko. He told a story about the time Klesko threw his helmet and it rolled down to Bobby and might have nudged his leg, and how Bobby stomped on it angrily, as if trying to put out a fire.
“Klesko peaked down there, and you know that commercial about how you want to get away?,” Justice said, smiling. “Klesko wanted to get away. I don’t remember Klesko ever throwing another helmet. If he did, I know he didn’t throw it near Bobby.”
• Umpire Randy Marsh also had a video message for Cox, and said he went back more than 40 years with him, back to when Marsh was a rookie minor league ump and Cox was managing in A-ball.
“We had a lot of good times, and some disagreements,” said Marsh, who mentioned that he was holding a list of the career-record 158 ejections Cox collected, including the umpire’s name in each incident. “One thing about you, you always defended your players to the max. You were willing to get yourself ejected to keep your players in the games. And that was admirable.”
Marsh added, “And the other thing is, you left it all on the field… We’d have an argument and I’d see you after the game. ‘Hi Ran, how ya doing?’ And it was over.”
• Smoltz and Chipper each told the story of how Smoltz and Cox were ejected in a blistering hot day in Cincinnati after arguing (and making contact) with umpire Hunter Wendelstedt following a play at third base. Bret Boone slid past the base and Chipper Jones kept the tag on Boone, who was called safe.
Smoltz said Wendelstedt stepped on his foot; Chipper didn’t know who stepped on who’s foot, but said Cox came “waddling” out of the dugout and also got in Wendelstedt’s face and got tossed, too. Smoltz said he stayed on the mound for several minutes after being ejected, because, he said, “My manager told me, ‘you’re not coming out of the game.’ ”
Chipper, who told his version of the story today about 20 minutes after Smoltz did, added a couple of details, including Cox saying to Wendelstedt, son of legendary umpire Harry Wendelstedt, “You’ll never even be a pimple on your dad’s ass.”
Then Chipper added a previously unrevealed ending to the story.
Later in the game, Chipper said he was walking past the “dungeon,” which is what they called the dark, cool area at the bottom of the stairs leading from the dugout at old Riverfront Stadium.
Cox was seated on a stool down there, listening to the game after being ejected. He heard a crowd reaction and asked Chipper, “What happened?” and Chipper told him the Braves had taken the lead on a two-run gapper.
Chipper said Cox replied, “Alright,” and pumped his fist. “Alright,” he repeated.
Then, Chipper said he walked away and heard Cox shout up the stairs, “Suck on that, Hunter!”
You gotta love baseball. And Schuerholz was right about one thing: They broke the mold when they made “6.”
Cox was as fair and decent a guy as I’ve been around in 17 years covering baseball, and absolutely, without question, the most engaging and best “people person” I’ve ever known in sports.
That’s what many people outside the game don’t seem to understand — that managing a game, making pitching changes or calling for a hit-and-run, those kinds of decisions are not nearly as important over the course of 162 games as managing people.
Bobby did that better than anyone.
♣ Uggla’s hitting streak: As you surely know, Dan Uggla’s hitting streak is at 31 games entering tonight’s series opener with the Cubs, the tied with Rico Carty for the longest in Atlanta Braves history and one of the five longest ever by a second baseman.
I happened to have covered Luis Castillo’s 35-game streak in 2002, the longest by a second baseman until Chase Utley matched it. Or, I covered all but the final week of it. I was hired by the AJC and left the Marlins beat at the Fort Lauderdale Sun-Sentinel to come cover the Braves in June, when Castillo was approaching 30 games, if I remember correctly.
What I do remember was, the last road series I covered was an interleague series at Kansas City, where Royals legend George Brett happened to be seated in the pressbox. I asked Brett, who once flirted with a .400 average and who had a hitting streak ended at 30 games in 1980, about the difficulty of extending a streak beyond that length.
He said the pressure really grew exponentially around 30 games, because that’s when the media attention became national in scope, the spotlight much brighter than at 20, 25 games.
And this was long before the Online era of journalism.
As I wrote in my game story Thursday, Uggla’s hitting streak is only the 13th of 30 or more games since 1990, and nine of the others ended at 30. Only three went beyond 32 games.
We’ve already seen history in a way: Never has a hitter put together such a streak after being as cold as Uggla was before the streak began.
He was hitting .173, remember. And in his last 20 games before the streak, he hit .143 (11-for-77) with two doubles, four homers 11 RBIs, five walks, 23 strikeouts, a .205 OBP and .325 slugging percentage.
During his 31-game streak, he’s hit .355 (44-for-124) with five doubles, 12 homers, 29 RBIs, 11 walks, 27 strikeouts and a .409 OBP and .685 slugging percentage.
And get this for oddities: Uggla has the exact same number of homers (12) and RBI (29) during 31-game hitting streak as he had in his previous 86 games.
♣ Etc. Rookie Freddie Freeman hasn’t homered in 19 games, but has hit .365 with six doubles, six RBIs, seven walks, 19 strikeouts and a .422 OBP and .446 slugging in that span . He now leads MLB rookies in avg (.294), leads NL rookies in RBIs (57), and ranks second among NL rookies in homers with 15. Danny Espinosa (17) is only other NL rookie with more than nine…. Michael Bourn since the All-Star break: 24 games, .358 (38-for-106) w/ 6 doubles, 10 RBIs, 7 steals, 9 walks, .405 OBP, .415 slugging percentage. …The Braves bullpen leads the majors with 2.87 ERA and is tied with Giants with 41 saves. Jonny Venters, since getting four days of rest after the three-game stretch where he gave up six runs, six hits and homer in just 2-2/3 total innings, has pitched 18 consecutive scoreless innings with only five hits, 12 walks, 20 strikeouts in 16-2/3 innings in July and August, for an .093 opp avg. Craig Kimbrel has an .085 OA in his 26-appearance scoreless streak (seven hits, eight walks, 41 K in 25-2/3 innings) since June 14.
OK, I’m out of time. Let’s close with a tune by a great underrated band, Crooked Fingers, which you can hear it by clicking here.
“WEARY ARMS” by Crooked Fingers
Come on now and wrap your weary arms around the ones you love
Hold tightly, don’t ever let them go
You have many enemies for reasons no one’s certain of
So keep close only people you can trust
Beware of strangers knocking at your door
Old lovers, too
Don’t you think for one second they’ve forgotten you
They’ve forgotten you
So go on strike first, don’t be so scared of what you’re running from
You know, man, that what will be must be done
There ain’t no way they could ever prove
You’re so calm and cool
You’ve been waiting your whole life to make your move
So make your move
– David O’Brien, Braves/MIB blog