Bobby Cox’s reality: It’s not the end, it’s time to play a season

It's Bobby Cox's final spring training. But does this look like a man thinking about retirement? (Phil Skinner/AJC)

It's Bobby Cox's final spring training. But does this look like a man who is thinking about retirement? (Phil Skinner/pskinner@ajc.com)

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. – Baseball never will really leave his head. The uniform never will really come off.

It will be opening day in 2011. Bobby Cox will report to his den at 11:30 a.m. for a 7:10 p.m. game. He’ll sit in a Barcalounger, put his feet up, read his mail. The adrenaline will pick up a little. He’ll grab a pen and notepads and start toying with lineup cards. He’ll get antsy and walk around the house. He’ll walk to another room and smoke a cigar. He’ll turn on a television, The Weather Channel, and look for approaching storms. He’ll leave the weather map on, wheel another TV into the room, maybe watch some NASCAR highlights, unless there’s a day game on. It’ll be the Red Sox. Curse the Red Sox! (Always a Yankee.)

Now it’s late afternoon. Time for a pre-game meal. He goes to the kitchen. Looks for something quick. Soup. He’ll start thinking about the game again. He’ll check in on his dogs, just to make sure they’re all game ready. Then he’ll make out the lineup card and hand it to Pam. He’ll turn on the pre-game shows, TV and radio. Then he’ll change into full uniform. Spikes, too. Return to the den. He’ll shout to the first person he sees on the TV screen, “Let’s go, kid!”

First pitch from Tommy Hanson: Ball. Cox looks at the ump, his eyes spitting fire.

“You know he’ll have his spikes on,” Chipper Jones said. “He’ll be swearing at the TV, whether it’s a boneheaded play by the home team or a bad call by the umpire on the bases. I would love to be just a fly on the wall for that first game when he’s actually sitting down on the couch and watching it on TV.”

It’s difficult to imagine right now. Cox has played, coached, managed or general-managed since 1960. After 50 years, you don’t just tell yourself, “I’m done,” and expect it to sink in right away.

Except for the parade of media people coming through Disney, seeking confirmation that Cox is really leaving, it has been a camp like any other. Players work out at 8 a.m. Cox gets there before 6. Don’t ask why.

“Gotta get ready, lots to do,” he said. “I’m usually here by 10 to 6. The dog is slowing me down. I have to let ‘Sassafras’ out in the morning and she won’t come back in until she’s ready. Otherwise I’d be here earlier.”

Schedules. Structure. Baseball. It’s been his life. This isn’t the last year of his career. It’s the countdown to the first game of spring. That’s the only clock in his head.

“You are a robot,” Cox said. “You’re creatures of habit. In spring training, you don’t even know what day it is. Ever. You go from one area to another area, from one game to the next game. It’s just baseball and sleep down here.”

There won’t be another one like him. We can speculate on other potential lifers in the dugout. But sports is so different today. Impatient owners. Economic pressures. Look-out-for-No. 1 general managers who fire bench bosses to cover up for their own mistakes. Cushy TV analyst jobs always there as an option. Nobody survives this long.

Cox will be the last of a breed.

It’s difficult to love a game and its athletes for so long without it getting old, without becoming bitter or cynical. But in some ways, he’s still the player, bouncing around the minors, before finally being given a chance by the New York Yankees. Career totals: Two seasons and a lifetime of stories.

In Cox’s mind, it’s never time to quit. He once injured his arm and, hoping to return to the field early, tried to learn how to throw left-handed. Didn’t work. But he tried.

“It won’t really hit me until that last week, maybe even that last pitch,” he said of retirement.

And then this: “It’ll be different. I’ll get up and look down and think, ‘Damn, it’s 11:30. I need to get to the park.’ And then I’ll stop to think, ‘Wait a minute.’ And then I’ll go get another cup of coffee.”

It’s too late to reprogram. And this is no time to think about the end.

Earlier posts from  Braves’ camp:

Braves’ Answerman: You asked, they answered

Are we expecting too much too soon from Jason Heyward?

Live from the parking lot! Jason Heyward’s landing zone

The maturing of Yunel Escobar

Eric Hinske and his $5,000 tattoo

♦ Derek Lowe looking forward after rough year and trade talk

Flying south, and taking your Braves’ questions with me

78 comments Add your comment

thin

February 27th, 2010
1:27 pm

Thanx Jeff. He’s going to be hard to replace.

Isenberg

February 27th, 2010
1:35 pm

I’ve always been a fan of yours Mr. Schultz, but you’ve really written some great stuff lately. Keep up the great work.

thin

February 27th, 2010
1:43 pm

I was one of those fans who bashed Bobby last year. Ton of conjecture from me regarding the team’s situation. I thought he had the pitching to work the Cox magic and squeak into the playoffs (WC). I wondered aloud how the greatest manager in my time was making the decisions he made. He made me grow up and realize it’s not always possible to be a Champion. It is true that Cox was the most important element in creating the feeling in Atlanta that we would always be Champion. In a sense, he has become his own worst enemy, victim of his own success.

TexasBrave

February 27th, 2010
1:52 pm

So Jeff why is he retiring? I don’t ever remember Bobby giving a straight answer. If he still loves the game, still loves doing everything it takes to be a big league manager then why leave? Yes he is fairly old, but if nothing, physically or mentally, is bothering him then why leave? I have noticed that he did say he was going to stay pretty active in the Braves organization roaming here and there doing different things.

roldawg70

February 27th, 2010
2:09 pm

great column

Nathan

February 27th, 2010
2:36 pm

No kidding. Definitely not a time to reminisce about old times. We have a season to play and games to win. The more we get caught up in “the end of an era” the less focus we will put on winning.

jim

February 27th, 2010
3:03 pm

Great job Jeff. I just hope that all the people who have trashed Bobby Cox over the years now realize how good we have had it here in Atlanta. Some of us can remember the pre – Bobby Cox era and appreciate all that he has done since getting here. He will be missed and to quote Randolph Scott from the movie, “Ride The High Country”, Cox can after this season,”go to my house justified”. Good job Bobby.

Alan

February 27th, 2010
3:04 pm

Well done, Jeff, as usual. Some bloggers (not I among them) claim that what you do is not journalism. This column — and so many others as well — is proof positive that it is. Cox and his peer group — that is, the other managers who are over 60 — LaRussa, Leyland, Piniella, Torre — all are cut from the same cloth. I’ll bet all of them spend game day the same way.

Alan

February 27th, 2010
3:06 pm

I omitted Charlie Manuel from the list of over-60 managers. He has to be included in the conversation, too.

bruce

February 27th, 2010
3:23 pm

very fine column… I hope he comes back next year.

NRBQ

February 27th, 2010
3:31 pm

Nice piece, Jeff.

But as a fan since the ’70s, I say don’t let the door hit ‘cha, Bobby.

oldgeek

February 27th, 2010
3:51 pm

There are some who say the game has changed, it did 30 years ago with free agency and was not exactly yesterday. Team and player loyalty – cough Babe Ruth, Roger Maris, Willy Mays. Bobby wants to remember a time that was an illusion like the first car you ever owned was the best, but it really was not. Cox was and is a good manager. The difference between a good manager and great manager is great players.

mexican brave

February 27th, 2010
3:56 pm

JS, I did’t get a phrase that you wrote on your previous blog referring to Jason Heyward as “An African American in the city of Atlanta”. As my nickname evidences, i’m from Mexico and ignore the racial composition of the city of Atlanta. Could you please clarify? Thanks.

Jeff Schultz

February 27th, 2010
4:07 pm

Thin — Thanks.

Jeff Schultz

February 27th, 2010
4:07 pm

Isenberg — Thanks to you too.

Jeff Schultz

February 27th, 2010
4:07 pm

TexasBrave — His answer: “I’m old.”

Jeff Schultz

February 27th, 2010
4:08 pm

Roldawg70 — Thank you, sir.

Jeff Schultz

February 27th, 2010
4:08 pm

Jim — Thanks to you also.

Jeff Schultz

February 27th, 2010
4:09 pm

Alan — Thanks (this never gets old, by the way). … And thanks for the journalism comment.

Jeff Schultz

February 27th, 2010
4:09 pm

NRBQ — And then there’s the other viewpoint. I just hope the season is one worth remembering for Bobby.

Bill

February 27th, 2010
4:11 pm

Jeff, I’m not a Bobby Cox fan but I do respect the man and what he’s done for the Braves and Fans in Georgia and the US with America’s Team .
You did a great job with the article. Keep’um coming.

Jeff Schultz

February 27th, 2010
4:12 pm

Mexican Brave — It’s been well chronicled that the number of African Americans playing baseball has decreased significantly to the point that major league baseball has instituted several grassroots programs to try to grow the sport again. The fact that Atlanta has a large population of African Americans and was the birthplace of the civil rights movement makes it pretty significant for the Braves if they can get an African American star player.

todd grantham

February 27th, 2010
4:13 pm

Jeff, I see its already been said here, but this is just excellent writing. Thank you Sir.

TexasBrave

February 27th, 2010
4:13 pm

Ok Jeff, but if what you wrote is anywhere close to the truth as to what will happen, and I am betting it is, he will wonder why he got out. If I were him and I still had the desire and the team still wanted me then I would coach until a stretcher was needed to wheel my old bones to the park. Just saying!

todd grantham

February 27th, 2010
4:15 pm

Speaking of ethnicity, it looked like from the list of Braves’ top prospects most are of Latin heritage.

do players from other countries have to go through a baseball draft or are teams free to sign whomever they wish?

"Chef" Tim Dix

February 27th, 2010
4:42 pm

Hey Jeff, will you bring me some indian river fruit back?

Larry

February 27th, 2010
4:45 pm

1-14 (.067%) in the last game and series of the postseason in his career with his only win coming courtesy of Tom Glavine’s game of a lifetime pitching a one hit shutout against Cleveland in game six of the 1995 World Series–and this happened 15 seasons ago!

This is overwhelmingly convincing and indisputable evidence of the worst post season manager in MLB history. Time to move on–about 10 seasons too late!

Traver

February 27th, 2010
4:46 pm

Nice story Jeff. I really can’t think about it. It chokes me up believe it or not. The end of an era. How lucky the Braves have been all these years to have him.

Jeff Schultz

February 27th, 2010
4:47 pm

Jeff Schultz

February 27th, 2010
4:48 pm

. . . And thanks to you, Todd.

Jeff Schultz

February 27th, 2010
4:52 pm

Todd Grantham — The only non-U.S. players in the draft are from Puerto Rico. Everybody else is a free agent situation. It’s a rule baseball would like to change but haven’t yet. Obviously current set up gives advantage to teams that can spend money.

todd grantham

February 27th, 2010
5:08 pm

Thanks Jeff. I know the Braves are active in Latin America, are there other teams you’ve noticed that are particularly active south of the border as well?

Delbert D.

February 27th, 2010
5:25 pm

Now I’m confused. Am I a Caucasian American or an American Caucasian?

mexican brave

February 27th, 2010
5:29 pm

thank you, JS. I appreciate your complete response.

Delbert D.

February 27th, 2010
5:31 pm

My Navy friends referred to me early on as a “Grit” or of course, a “Redneck.” I was stupid enough to ask them what a “Grit” was. Hominy begat humiliation.

Bravissimo

February 27th, 2010
5:58 pm

Excellent writing there Shultz!…I for one am gonna miss ole Bobby walkin out bowl-legged, to give the ump a piece of his mind.

ND

February 27th, 2010
6:30 pm

Just once I would like to sit beside Bobby’s end of the dugout and hear him chirp for an entire game.

collegeballfan

February 27th, 2010
6:53 pm

I have no idea who the Braves will get to replace Bobby Cox, but I will predict he will not last long. Really good managers are hard to find. A lot of people know baseball, but few people know how to manage people.

renegade#1

February 27th, 2010
7:03 pm

I’m with Thin. You can’t deliver everytime. Best manager ever; But all good things must come to an end. Really would love for Bobby to have one last hoorah though.

"Chef" Tim Dix

February 27th, 2010
7:28 pm

Oh man, sorry Jeff, forgot you flew.

Brava

February 27th, 2010
7:37 pm

Though I scream and curse at him and throw things at my TV alI season long, it tears me up every time I think about Bobby retiring from the Braves. He will be missed.

Larry

February 27th, 2010
8:00 pm

Good God I am going to miss this man.

Jeff Schultz

February 27th, 2010
8:07 pm

Bravissimo — Thanks for the comments.

Jeff Schultz

February 27th, 2010
8:08 pm

Chef — Yeah, airlines not big on that transporting fruit over state lines thing.

Larry

February 27th, 2010
9:05 pm

Quite funny, Jeff!

As you can see from the number of bloggers page after page on this topic only you and about 15-20 Cox goober gobblers on here are crying and entering a profound state of depression over his imminent departure. It is the same emotional girly men like you goobers that elect a community activist for president. His only contribution to date is to play some round ball and give, oh, about a trillion dollars of tax payer money to the same banks that deserved to go under because of 100% loans to many of your bright readers here who think Bobby Cox will be missed.

Have you or any of these girly men noticed the growing empty seats at Turner field? Can you tell me when was the last time the Braves sold out a playoff game?

Hint-hint, goobers…..we real men of genius know that’s not the sharpest tack at the end of the dugout barking out nick names to grow men while mining his nostrils with his thumbs about 10 times per inning!

Whew!

Bobby Cox

February 27th, 2010
9:28 pm

Gee, Skip. Who will I stick into a platoon this season? I know Diaz hit .313 but Melky needs some at bats. When Frank let Kelly Johnson get away he’s forced me to use Prado on second. Another problem is we have no lefty in the rotation. Maybe I can skip Hanson or Jurrjens and let JoJo Reyes get in some starts. I don’t know what I’ll do with Greg Norton not coming of the bench. He was really tagging the ball in batting practice last September before the season ended. Nortie looked good in our simulated games as well. I’ll miss the kid.

Pepe Frias played here.

February 27th, 2010
9:30 pm

Braves fan since ‘72, so i remember what it was like before bobby got here, the 100 loss season and all of that , but he really started the run as the general manager before he became the manager. So really he laid the foundation for the run of 14 straight. I will miss him and i agree, there will not be another one like him.As for his replacement, i hope they get someone who has caught in the major leagues. Look at all of the managers who were former catchers who are doing so well, ( Scoscia, Manuel, Giradi, Torre, Bochy, Madden, etc.)

ben

February 27th, 2010
11:34 pm

Larry,

I will miss BC a lot. And what did you say when a hurricane needed to be cleaned up after and people needed rescuing but our President quibbled over Federalism? What did you say when he put up a justice for the highest court in the land whose major qualification was “she went to church?” That, by the way, is in clear violation of the Constitution. What did you say when Bush kept refusing to admit there was a recession on? What did you say when you found out that, for the first time in our history, not a single job was created for ten years? Was that President Obama’s fault too?

I love baseball, Larry. Let’s use this space to talk hardball and not politics. Just sayin’ . . .

boots

February 27th, 2010
11:46 pm

These are the types of articles that just make sports great. Great manager. Great history. Great story. We owe Bobby Cox a lot, and he has been faithful to the Braves even when they were not faithful to him. This should be a year of celebration of a great career and allow us to look back on what has been a great run. Nice job, Jeff, and thank you, Bobby.

FranktheFalcon

February 27th, 2010
11:54 pm

Damn, even Jeff Schultz can write a good column every now and then! The last good one that you wrote was when I was a teenager! The problem is that I am 58 years old now! LOL