Challenge of Cox’s replacement will be recreating chemistry

Fans and players gave Bobby Cox an ovation after the game -- and then his players gave him another in a tearful farewell in the clubhouse.

Fans and players gave Bobby Cox an ovation following Monday's game -- and then his players gave him another one in a tearful farewell in the clubhouse. (Johnny Crawford/AJC)

It was past midnight and they were still in there. Sitting, talking, laughing – like a collective offseason exhale. Some were still in uniform. Nobody wanted to leave. Nobody wanted the season to end.

The game had been over for 90 minutes.

“I think guys were just trying to figure out how to say goodbye,” Eric Hinske said.

“It was an empty feeling, like: I know the season’s over but what do I do with this family?” David Ross said.

The Braves will be challenged next season, challenged to recapture the unique chemistry this club had. All teams must endure injuries and adversity. Few endure all the way to the postseason with a patchwork lineup that includes only two projected starters from the spring  (Brian McCann, Jason Heyward).

“This was,” Chipper Jones said, “a Bobby Cox team.

“It epitomized him as a player and a manager. Short of a World Series, I don’t think he would want to go out with any other club.”

Roster changes aside, the challenge of the Braves’ next manager, be it Cox disciple Fredi Gonzalez or someone else, will be to recreate that chemistry, unselfishness and resiliency.  Also that Cox stubbornness.

As a player, he once injured his right elbow. The thought of missing games so pained him that he tried to learn how to throw left-handed. Surrender wasn’t in his vocabulary.

Even after the Braves lost to San Francisco, 3-2, losing the National League Division Series in four one-run games, Cox didn’t want to surrender to retirement. Forty-five minutes after the game, when he normally would be showered, dressed and leaving, he was walking through the Braves’ clubhouse — still in full uniform and cleats. Would they ever come off? His eyes were red and partially closed to fight back tears.

He ducked into the office of traveling secretary Bill Acree. A half-dozen team officials were waiting to toast him with champagne in Gatorade cups.

“Greatest manager in baseball,” clubhouse manager Chris Van Zant said, and they all raised their cups.

Cox still didn’t know how to handle the reaffirmation of his exit.

After a pause, he said: “Thanks guys. I’ll be out of here. I’m going to try to shower.”

A few minutes later, he was back in his office. His wife Pam and daughter Skyla and a couple of friends joined him.

“A rough night,” he said, his voice still cracking.

When I told Cox nobody I had spoken to had ever seen him get this emotional, he responded: “I never have.”

Pam was standing a few feet away. She was still crying.

“I still don’t believe he’s retiring,” she said. “It hasn’t set in.”

And then this: “He has a lot to learn. When is garbage day. Where’s the breaker box. Where’s the water shutoff. I’ll buy him a tool box.”

Cox’s mind wasn’t there yet. He had choked up when he walked into the clubhouse after the game to address his players. He managed to get out only a few words before cutting it off.

The players then stood and gave him an ovation. It was a while before the media was allowed in for interviews.

“We just sat in our chairs for 15 minutes, trying to rally and compose ourselves before we let you guys in,” Matt Diaz said.

Jones added, “You can tell Bobby really wanted to express to us how much we meant to him. If he had about 30 minutes to kind of  let everything marinate, he would’ve been fine. But five minutes after the game, he was not fine.”

Cox gave it one more shot. It was close to midnight. He walked out of his office and around the corner, back into the clubhouse. Most of the players were still there.

“He sat down and hung out with us for 20, 30 minutes,” Ross said. “He talked and thanked everybody. We went around the room. We must’ve given each person a round of applause.”

Billy Wagner was among those in the midnight group. He also was retiring so there was no hurry to leave.

“They’ll be fine here,” he said when asked about the Braves’ future. “There’s a good core of players and whoever they bring in here, like Fredi Gonzalez, Bobby’s influence will still be here.”

The ghost will serve them well.

Follow me on Twitter @JeffSchultzAJC and Facebook.com/JeffSchultzAJC

335 comments Add your comment

Heath

October 12th, 2010
2:58 pm

We are going to miss him, for certain.

Tucker T

October 12th, 2010
3:02 pm

Nice piece Jeff.

Herschel Talker

October 12th, 2010
3:05 pm

Schultzie:

Will it also be the challenge of Cox’s successor not to idiotically pull the closer in the 9th for a lefty?

HT

BravesAreDone

October 12th, 2010
3:05 pm

Not gonna miss him in the playoffs.

Warren Haynes For President

October 12th, 2010
3:07 pm

I would have loved at least one more game,series, season, or decade. I hate that it had to end. It will never be the same.

Pym

October 12th, 2010
3:09 pm

Can’t believe the years went by so quickly. Seems like yesterday we were watching Bobby lead the team from worst to first. Godspeed Bobby.

SadDawg

October 12th, 2010
3:09 pm

I hope the successor makes the Braves learn how to bunt a runner over . . .

10-1 lead after 3

October 12th, 2010
3:09 pm

Forget about recreating chemistry, Braves’ management needs to find someone who can take a team through the playoffs, not just to the playoffs.
I don’t mean to kick a man when he’s down, but if I won one championship in 30 years of managing I’d be crying too.

Warren Haynes For President

October 12th, 2010
3:09 pm

I also don’t understand the compulsion that some have to get on-line and rip Bobby Cox today. It just seems so inappropriate.

Wes

October 12th, 2010
3:10 pm

It’s sad to see him go. Probably the best regular season manager the game has ever seen. Definitely not the greatest in the playoffs though.

Anybody but Pendleton

October 12th, 2010
3:16 pm

Anybody but Pendleton. Preferably Eddie or Fredi. Bobby was the man. Screw all you haters.

chris

October 12th, 2010
3:17 pm

The Braves have alot of work to do. The replacement will be Gonazlez or Pendelton, someone who has been under Cox for a while. However, it doesn’t stop there. They need a left or center fielder. I can think of an outfielder in Tampa Bay and one in Philly that will be available and much welcome sights. They need Chipper’s replacement (no guarantee he can come back and if he does he can’t play 162). I’d like to see them have a true leadoff man that can turn a walk into a triple and put pressure on the defense.
This will be an interesting offseason for the Braves

Wes

October 12th, 2010
3:18 pm

Someone should talk Joe Torre out of retirement, and convince him to come back to Atlanta.

DawgDad

October 12th, 2010
3:19 pm

You cannot recreate the chemistry, the new Manager will have to create a new chemistry. The biggest challenges? I see three, in order (1) instituting a style of play more conducive to the stadium configuration, post-steroid offense, and power pitching prevalent in today’s game, (2) ensuring the veteran holdovers do not disrupt the changes, (3) ensuring the farm system is teaching the style of play and developing players accordingly.

It is possible this team can plug holes and compete next year, but with so many holes and a limited budget just how likely is that? As currently constructed this roster will be duck soup for left handed pitching next year, the defense will once again be horrible, there is a serious lack of speed, and the outfield could well be the worst in the majors. They have to fill a hole at second or third, hope Freeman produces at first, fill two holes in the outfield, and come up with a competent backup middle infielder. They need two right handed bats that can drive in 90+ runs, a true leadoff hitter, and ideally an upgrade at shortstop. That’s an epic challenge even with an open Ted Turner wallet, and it assumes the pitching rematerializes (Lowe and Hudson aren’t getting any younger).

Herschel was a lousy pro

October 12th, 2010
3:19 pm

Hey, Herschel–are you the one that posts those delusional Georgia Bulldog videos on You Tube? Because if you are, you’re an idiot and your opinion means nothing. By the way, there’s a certain talk show host in the upstate that’s been calling you out for about a month. Apparently, though, you only feel comfortable spewing your ridiculous garbage from behind a keyboard.

You know something? You’re a classless jerk. There are forums all over the Internet where you could rant and rave about Bobby Cox and what you perceive to be his shortcomings. But instead, you want to post this nonsense underneath an article that clearly shows why Cox is so loved. In case you can’t read, the above article had nothing to do with how Cox manages (managed) or even baseball. It was about the respect and love a team feels for their retiring leader. If you can’t appreciate that, then I would say that A) you’ve never had anyone that mattered to you (so sad), or B) no one has ever looked at you the way Bobby’s players look at him. But personally, I think it’s probably C) all of the above.

You’ve been all over these forums taking shots at Bobby. We get it. You think he’s a lousy manager. Fine. But some of actually understand the bigger picture of what’s going on here (I also happen to think that the fact that we even made the playoffs this year is as a direct result of the way Bobby does his job), and we get that what’s being expressed by fans, players, and others in the game is a genuine “thank you” for a baseball-life well-served.

One more thing…go away.

Duck a Fawg

October 12th, 2010
3:20 pm

>10-1 lead after 3… I love it when someone prefaces comments like “I don’t mean to kick a man when he’s down”…and then procedes to do so….

Whopper Dawg

October 12th, 2010
3:21 pm

I have followed and watched these guys since 1966 when I was 8 years old, Cox has meant more to this franchise than anyone else. Thanks, Bobby, it was great run.

Herschel was a lousy pro

October 12th, 2010
3:21 pm

Go to hell, Herschel Talker.

DawgDad

October 12th, 2010
3:25 pm

Case in point: Braves three biggest power hitters moving into next year are Heyward, Freeman, and McCann, yet the right field power alley is 390. This teams needs a makeover.

wintervillebrave

October 12th, 2010
3:27 pm

So long Bobby. Thanks for all the memories!!!

kerryb

October 12th, 2010
3:28 pm

Enter your comments here

Dominick

October 12th, 2010
3:28 pm

This team had no buisness winning 91 games and going to the playoffs which they could have easily won and be in the NLCS………and they would’nt have if it was’nt for Bobby. Period.

utgrad

October 12th, 2010
3:29 pm

The challenge for Braves ‘11 is not on Fredi Gonzalez (he’s getting the job), but on Frank Wren. Can he find a shortstop? Can he find any right-handed power? The Braves have bargining chips, especially out of the bullpen, so what kind of deals do they make. And can they become a club that doesn’t depend on the three-run homer and can learn to play some small ball?

kerryb

October 12th, 2010
3:29 pm

No Joe Torre. We don’t need to go from one retirement age manager to another. Need someone who will be around for a while.

eric

October 12th, 2010
3:31 pm

Jeff! Thank you for this article. You will be missed Bobby.

DawgDad

October 12th, 2010
3:31 pm

No Torre. Get a middle-aged manager with a future in baseball measured in years. The last thing we need is another collection of broken down veterans limping through another season.

Heisenberg

October 12th, 2010
3:31 pm

This is not the time to talk about changes for 2011. There is plenty of time for that later. Let BC have this moment and be grateful what the 2010 season gave us.

Classy thing to see SF stop their celebration to honor Bobby. It looked to the SF manager wanted to come over personally and say something, but Cox had already ducked back into the dugout as if he did not want to take away from their moment.

Doc Cheney

October 12th, 2010
3:33 pm

Joe Torre/Ned Yost/Freddy Gonzalez for manager. Chipper as hitting coach/bench player.
The manager doesn’t do anything other than fill out the lineup card, anyway. Give me a pencil and I’m your manager. The importance of a professional baseball manager cannot be understated.

kerryb

October 12th, 2010
3:34 pm

I’ve become a Giants fan for the rest of the post season. Classy thing they did. Also, saw video of Burrell incouraging Conrad before the game. They are a lot like our team. Pieces put together with a good pitching staff and a good manager.

southern hope

October 12th, 2010
3:36 pm

Who’s the starting pitcher tonight for our side?

:(

I’m not ready to leave baseball behind.

seabass

October 12th, 2010
3:36 pm

We will be fine without Bobby. As much as I will miss him, as good as he was, the chemistry will still be there. We have some great upper management.

MIke S

October 12th, 2010
3:37 pm

Next year will be interesting and will be a job for whoever is the manager. Right now the Braves have

C – McCann
1b – Freeman
2b – Prado
SS – ????
3b – Chipper
Lf – ????
Cf – ????
RF – Heyward

SP – Hudson, Lowe, Hanson, Jurrjens, ????
RP – Moylan, Venters, Martinez, Dunn, ???, ????
Cl – Kimbrel???

Bench returnees (in my opinion) – Ross, Hinske, Diaz, Infante, Conrad

Gone – or should be gone — Melky, Kawacrappy, AnKKKKKKKKiel, McLousy

DawginLex

October 12th, 2010
3:37 pm

All you idiots bashing cox about his playoff losses need to remember one thing:

You can’t lose in the playoffs if you are not in the playoffs.

Be careful what you wish for, there are a lot more Chuck Tanner’s than Bobby Cox’s……………..

RHR

October 12th, 2010
3:37 pm

Good stuff.

So Wags actually mentioned Fredi by name?

JRW7

October 12th, 2010
3:38 pm

Thank you BOBBY for a lifetime of memories, BRAVES need to sign up FREDI GONZALES now for 2011!!!!

Keith

October 12th, 2010
3:38 pm

Good work, Jeff, as usual.

Now that baseball is over, I’m really thinking of discontinuing my internet package on my phone. Cutting down expenses. :)

Grats to Cox.

turtsnap

October 12th, 2010
3:38 pm

I’m amazed at the idiots that bleed into a BLOG….. apparently their mama’s never told them,”if you don’t have anything good to say, say nothing at all.” But of course, they could do is SO much better than Bobby did.

This season alone proved just how good of a manager Bobby was. Think about it. Only 2 of the original 8 were playing yesterday. That is AMAZING!! And he got 90 wins out of it. Tell me another manager that could’ve done that.

But all you BOZOS want to focus on are the shortcomings. I guess you are perfect, eh?

Kudos to Bobby, he is one HELLUVA a manager!!

J.T.

October 12th, 2010
3:39 pm

T.P. is the best choice

RHR

October 12th, 2010
3:39 pm

Amen, turtsnap.

southern hope

October 12th, 2010
3:40 pm

I”m going to miss everyone….Wagner, Cox, Don Sutton :) , heck even DOB….I’m going to be lost tonight….

Consider

October 12th, 2010
3:40 pm

Bobby Cox may not have been and may not be known as the best game manager strategically speaking. However, I believe he will be known as the BEST personnel, player, manager baseball has ever known.

People can and will be negative on his game management, but I’ll take his people skills over that anytime.

A HEART FELT THANK YOU TO BOBBY COX FOR THE WONDERFUL YEARS HE GAVE THE ATLANTA BRAVES BASEBALL FANS!!!

JRW7

October 12th, 2010
3:40 pm

Giants players are classy, I will be rooting for GIANTS against PHILLIES!!!!

tchance

October 12th, 2010
3:40 pm

No class at all to rip the man when he just retired. Those are the spoiled brats, having been a Braves fan since they came to Atlanta and enduring many losing seasons, Bobby Cox did wonders with this team and the farm system and the true Braves fans will miss the man dearly. While I did not agree with pulling the closer in the 9th, he still managed to get us here despite only having 2 starters from opening day. He worked miracles this year, 106 different line ups this season working around the injury bug. You bet your butt if the Yankees and Devil Rays had that many different rosters, they sure as hell would not be in the playofffs!!!

Fredi

October 12th, 2010
3:41 pm

CF Infante
RF Heyward
3B Jones
C McCann
2B Prado
1B Freeman
SS Gonzalas
LF Diaz

Pretty good line up. I’ll take the job!!!

JRW7

October 12th, 2010
3:41 pm

NO TP, PLEASE!!!!

Keith

October 12th, 2010
3:42 pm

I would like to thank the Braves for the most exciting and compelling regular season of baseball I have ever been a part of…and for being competitive in the postseason despite dealing with many injuries and adversities.

I would like to thank Cox for managing his best year while inspiring several of the Braves’ players to perform beyond their normal capabilities.

I want to thank Frank Wren for trying to put together the pieces that would improve the team. Good job.

And thanks to Jeff for writing columns that enhanced my own reflections on this season.

Keith in ATL

PS – Now Go FALCONS! :)

collegeballfan

October 12th, 2010
3:42 pm

Nice word – Chemistry. Big long definitions of that word when applied to sports just do not covey the meaning. It is like jazz, if it has to be explained……………….

The pitching staff is there for another run. The heart of a team, Jones, McCann, Prado, Infante, Heyward are there for another run.
If we still have Lee under contract he can bring Freeman along at first next season.

But the Braves need two more productive bats in left and center field.
Ownership must spend some money. Will the owners spend the money?

With no injuries this is a solid club for next season as it is. But a couple of .280 type hitters in left and center would really help.

Keith

October 12th, 2010
3:43 pm

Re: Tchance.

Very true!! Solid.

Theron Sapp

October 12th, 2010
3:44 pm

Jeff, nice work. Your former colleague Terence Moore speculates today on AOL that Cox isn’t through managing. Has the paper reported the terms of Cox’ “consulting agreement” with the Braves? Could he take another managing job? He is clearly ambivalent about retiring.

dean

October 12th, 2010
3:45 pm

Uh, DawgDad. The manager doesn’t provide the players–ownership does. Bobby did the most with the least for a lonnnnng time.