It comes to my attention that there has been widespread discussion on the matter of the Braves and just who might be their manager next season. Of course, isn’t that always the case when one guy had been in command long enough to have raised a family? Such may be said of Bobby Cox, who has managed the Braves since 1978, interrupted by four years across the Canadian border, then a return of five seasons preparing to resume the chair that Ted Turner had kept warm for him.
It was Turner himself, never given to shyness, who said at the press conference when Cox was being fired, that if he was hiring a manager to succeed Cox, it would be — well, Bobby Cox. So the two Rover Boys were reunited until Turner himself eventually took leave.
So it is that when a manager is of Social Security age, and his team has gone one October after another without a booking, people wonder. People talk. People wonder if he might not be ready for the farm. They forget that Casey Stengel managed until he was 75, and Connie Mack until he was 88. But, of course, Mr. McGillicuddy owned the team.
By those standards, Cox is a mere toddler, at 68. Thus the subject comes up, as annually as the Farmer’s Almanac comes off the press. And why not?
Here’s one reason: There’s not another pitching staff in the National League that’s better. As good maybe — the Dodgers, Giants and Cardinals — but none better. And no manager with Jair Jurrjens, Javier Vazquez, Tommy Hanson, Derek Lowe, Tim Hudson and Kenshin Kawakami as starters to choose from is giving any thought to retirement. As a group, Braves pitchers have an earned-run average of 3.61, just behind the Dodgers and Giants.
This is a cast that gives Cox a great degree of comfort. And if trouble rears its ugly head, there’s always the bullpen, which is well-stocked, even if there is an occasional decision that goes awry, which does happen in the case of Rafael Soriano, Mike Gonzalez and Kris Medlen. And he can turn to Kawakami, since the Japanese fellow has had to adjust to double duty since Hudson came out of surgical care.
Cox hasn’t been able to wallow in such pitching luxury since Maddux, Smoltz and Glavine were on hand. There were even times they were allowed to finish what they started. Just nine years ago, Braves pitchers rolled up 13 complete games, and while that would been no more than a half-season to Phil Niekro, keep in mind that as a staff, they have only two this season, both by Vazquez. And he would happily have stuck around for more, as would Hanson. Each has lost three or four decisions to a leaking bullpen.
So, there’s the pitching wealth. Surely Cox wouldn’t care to walk away with Chipper Jones restored to form. I say that, in view of Chipper’s new contract, $42 million for three seasons. You don’t think for a moment that Chipper could afford to walk out on that pile of chips, do you? Thus, the warehouse is richly stocked, to such an extent that no manager in good health and sound of mind could walk away from it. It would please those who have his interest at heart if he might trim off a few of those excess pounds he carries about.