Today’s discussion of Bobby Cox leads inevitably to another discussion: If not Cox, then who?
Were I running the Braves and in the market for a manager, I wouldn’t feel bound to recycle the usual names. (Jim Riggleman, Jerry Narron, et al.) Unless I could convince Terry Francona to leave the Red Sox — and I don’t think John Henry and Theo Epstein would let him — I’d look to two coaches.
Neither of them is Terry Pendleton, and here’s why: I think he’ll be a very good manager someday, but I don’t think the man coming after Cox needs to have apprenticed under Cox. (This also applies to Fredi Gonzalez and Ned Yost.) There’s a sense of sameness about the Braves — how could there not be, this manager having been in place 19 years? — that I wouldn’t be sorry to see dissipate. I’d look outside. I’d consider:
Brad Mills, bench coach, Boston Red Sox: He has worked alongside Francona, who was his college roommate, in both Philadelphia and Boston, and I consider the Sox the new model organization. (The Yankees just spend; the Sox spend wisely.) Boston isn’t afraid to dump big names — Nomar, Damon, Manny — and isn’t bound to anything except trying to win the World Series every single season.
The Boston approach to actual baseball is similarly forward-thinking. The Red Sox take pitches and work the count. They rely so heavily on statistical data they even hired Bill James as a consultant, and Mills is one of the few actual baseball men who’ll use the word “sabermetrics” in conversation. I’m not saying the Braves don’t look at numbers — they do, every day — but few teams look harder than Boston.
Jose Oquendo, third-base coach, St. Louis Cardinals: He’s the velvet glove to Tony La Russa’s iron fist. He was a utility player of immense value — remember him pitching four innings, the first three scoreless, against the Braves in a 19-inning game in May 1988? — and is considered the leading candidate to succeed La Russa. (Pendleton’s name comes up often in that conversation, you should know.) But maybe La Russa isn’t yet ready to retire, and maybe Oquendo is ready to run a team of his own.
He has forged a bond with Albert Pujols, which isn’t as easy as you might think: Pujols can be prickly. That speaks well of Oquendo’s people skills, and also of his eye for value. (Pujols is a rather important Redbird.) And studying under La Russa is among the better ways to learn. Some baseball people despise La Russa for presenting himself as this high-falutin’ Man of the Arts, but he’s smart and he’s analytical and he was among the first to deploy stats as a weapon.