The Braves released their 2010 schedule Tuesday. But that is the extent of guarantees we’re going to get from the organization right now — and I’m including the return of Bobby Cox.
When asked if he would come back for a 25th season as the Braves’ manager next year, Cox would not commit one way or the other.
“We’ll see,” he said. Anticipating a follow-up question, he repeated, “We’ll see, OK?”
He is 68 years old. The Braves are likely to miss the playoffs for the fourth straight season. Cox has come under more criticism than at any time in the past, primarily from a frustrated segment of the fan base (and I’ll get back to that in a little bit).
But he says the age isn’t an issue, the competition still fuels him and the criticism — well, that’s a new one on him.
“I have no clue what you’re talking about,” he said. “That’s why I don’t read them.”
But there is uncertainty about next season. He repeated the, “We’ll see,” response two other times when I asked about managing in 2010. It’s not a subject he enjoys discussing. Cox never likes being the subject of an interview, but especially when it involves a topic that might be perceived as rubber-stamping the end of this season.
“I just don’t know right now,” he said. “I’m not thinking about it. I’m still trying to get us in the playoffs somehow.”
He allowed only that it’s the same decision-making process he goes through every year, saying, “It starts in spring training almost. But you always feel good then. I guess I’ll be sitting down with [management] after the season.”
Let me caution: We’ve been down this road before.
In spring training 2007, Cox made his most emphatic statement ever on retirement, saying 2008 would be his final season. “This year and next year and that’s it,” he said that day at Lake Buena Vista, and I remember being stunned by the lack of hesitation in his voice. “I still love it. I feel great. I want to do this year and next year and then probably hang it up. … I haven’t really told anybody this. But it’s what I’m thinking.”
We’re now one year past that plan.
He knows he is missing out on non-baseball things. He has eight children and 14 grandchildren. But he’s having a hard time dragging himself away from the dugout.
“The game is still amazingly fun,” he said. “To be able to participate in a game every day is every kid’s dream. That’s never changed. I still love it. It’s the competition. Whether it’s a so-so team or a great team, it’s still competition. It’s what you thrive on.”
And difficult to find a substitute for?
“Yeah — there really won’t be one,” he said. “But I think [after retirement] I’ll still be around a little bit. As long as you’re connected a little bit, I think you’re OK. I’d still like to go to spring training and things like that.”
It has been a difficult season. There were high expectations — probably too high. But when Jeff Francoeur, Jordan Schafer and Kelly Johnson all tanked early, and we half-wondered if Brian McCann was going blind, and the Braves were still a .500 team at the end of June — well, it forced this team to grind to get back in the race.
But there’s something about this team that Cox’s critics still don’t grasp: The Braves are only good, not great. With Chipper Jones slumping, they’re closer to average. They have very good starting pitching but sporadic hitting.
If and when the Braves miss the playoffs again, it won’t be because of Bobby Cox, it will be because of the personnel. But it’s the easy answer, isn’t it? Michael Vick breaks a leg, fire Dan Reeves. And where are Joe Paterno’s critics now?
There’s talk he has overworked the bullpen. Yeah. It’s really hurt Mike Gonzalez and Peter Moylan, hasn’t it? There’s talk he tried to depend too much on Jones and McCann. I’m sorry, but is there some deep bench that I’m missing? There’s talk he keeps sending the lost Greg Norton to the plate. OK, that he’s guilty of.
Maybe this is the end. But it was game day again and Cox wasn’t feeling his age.
“Too old is when you don’t like it any more,” he said.