Eric Hinske has played for eight managers in his nine major league seasons, and he has determined that Bobby Cox stands out from the others in at least one way.
“He’s kind of like a mob boss,” Hinske said on Sunday. “Everybody brings him stuff – chairs, coffee, water. Then he makes the decision. He’s like our own Tony Soprano.”
Nice analogy. Especially on Father’s Day. The Braves even provided the appropriate musical score before the game against Kansas City: The “Godfather” theme played over the public address system at Turner Field.
Hopefully, Kenshin Kawakami was listening, because he might be close to waking up with a horse’s head in his bed.
Cox can’t fix Kawakami. The Braves’ manager will have to focus on simpler tasks, like world peace and planting a vegetable garden on Neptune. But aside of being subjected to the disastrous $23 million import that is his 0-9 starting pitcher, is there anything Cox is not doing right this season?
This is his last season as manager. It also has to rank as one of his best. The Braves won again Sunday, 8-5. They swept the Royals and in fact haven’t lost a series since early May (10-0-3 since). They are 29-10 since May 10, a stretch that began a day after a 5-3 loss to Philadelphia (a Kawakami loss; who knew?).
The Braves are doing all of this despite the fact that for most of the season their big boppers aren’t bopping. They have long been a team associated with great starting pitcher, solid defense and an offense that sits back and waits for the home run, but now they’re playing small ball. Cox is manufacturing runs. He is doing the things his misguided critics have long slammed him for not doing. Hit-and-runs. Sacrifices. Squeeze bunts? Check that: Two successful squeeze plays in the span of a week.
The Braves even stole three bases Sunday, including the fourth of the season by Chipper Jones, who also had two doubles, two walks, three RBIs, two runs scored and afterward committed to playing through 2017. (Kidding.)
They’re not among the leaders in stolen bases (now with 35). But they are No. 1 in walks (317) and No. 2 in sacrifice hits (38).
“This has been different from any team I’ve been on,” Brian McCann said.
Cox, Hinske said, “has been amazing. He does it all in stride, with a poker face. We were all jacked up in Minnesota [last Saturday]. He hit and run to get the guy to third and then he squeeze bunts. He’s just standing there with a straight face. I’m like, ‘Yeah! Good job! That was awesome.’ He just kind of smirked.”
Now, there are two theories about this:
♦ The popular theory: Cox is determined to go out with a bang. Therefore, he is managing like he hasn’t since the early 1990s.
♦ The logical theory: Cox is managing differently because he has the players to do so.
“We’ve got base runners,” he said. “That means a lot. We’ve been leading or tied in games, which also helps. It’s all situations. The situation you’re in, who the hitter is, who the pitcher is. You can’t just do things all the time. If it backfires then you could be out of the ballgame completely.”
So it’s nothing orchestrated in his last season?
The Go-Go Braves. Sounds strange, doesn’t it?
As Tim Hudson noted the other day, the Braves have taken on “a different personality.” They’re now playing “dirtball games. … It seemed a little bit passive and not a real aggressive type of baseball [in recent years].”
Teams are a reflection of their manager. If the Braves are scrapping more now, it’s not merely the additions to the roster but the tone and direction set by the manager.
“This year is his best,” bullpen coach and former player Eddie Perez said. “He’s doing little things I’ve never seen before. Some of the guys who’ve been here the last few years are saying, ‘My God, we’ve already got two squeeze plays.’”
Hitting coach Terry Pendleton, another former player, said of Cox: “He’s doing what he always does – managing guys to the best of their abilities. If [people] feel like he’s pulling more strings, maybe it because he’s got more strings to pull on.”
After 29 years as a manager, it turns out he knows what he’s doing.