He’s the best manager I’ve ever seen. He’s the best manager I’ll ever see. That said …
I’m not sure Bobby Cox is the best manager for what the Braves have become.
They’ve gone from being great over 15 seasons to being not very good the past 3 1/2. There’s still a aura of assurance around Turner Field, a feeling that, “Oh, we’re the Braves and we’ll figure out something,” but the Braves haven’t figured out much since Brian McCann and Jeff Francoeur were rookies. No, the manager hasn’t stopped managing, but this sort of team needs more managing than Cox likes to do.
He’s a player’s guy, now and forever. He loves his players and treats them like men. The Braves of the ’90s were indeed men, even those who arrived as rookies. They were serious about the game and serious about winning for this manager. I’m not sure what some of these Braves take seriously.
Who can reach Yunel Escobar? Who can instruct Jeff Francoeur in the art of plate management? Who can break the news that Kelly Johnson has 10 days more to prove he belongs in the bigs? Maybe another manager. It’s not this manager’s style.
And his style, we should never forget, worked in a way no other manager’s — not John McGraw’s, not Walter Alston’s, not Sparky Anderson’s — ever has. Fifteen times running Cox brought a team north from spring training and over 15 full seasons he finished first every time. (This counts his 1985 Toronto Blue Jays but not the 1990 Braves, whom he inherited in June, or the 1994 Braves, who were shut down in August by the strike.) He’s a great manager by every measure, maybe the greatest ever.
But not every great manager is great with every team, and the neo-Braves don’t respond to avuncular urgings. Maybe they’re not good enough to respond to anything, but as the Braves get younger it seems more likely they’ll see Cox not as a cinch Hall of Famer but as the guy who doesn’t rip them in print or make them work very hard. They’ll see him as a player’s manager, but they’ll neglect to play for him.
It has gotten too easy to be an Atlanta Brave. With few exceptions, these Braves enjoy the reflection of success without having achieved the success itself. They might respond even less favorably to a manager less gentle, but it’s not as if they’re responding to this one.
Via iPhone — yes, he has an iPhone — from Cincinnati, Cox was asked Thursday morning if he felt he was reaching his players. “What do you mean?” he said.
Do they listen to his message, or are they just not good enough for a message to matter? “No, they listen,” Cox said.
But nothing’s working. When you hold the Reds to four hits and get beat on a three-run homer by the Cincinnati pitcher, something’s not right.
OK, you’re asking: Would I fire Bobby Cox? Absolutely not. He’s one of three reasons — John Schuerholz and starting pitching are the other two — the Braves became the Braves. If he wants to keep trying to restore this team to eminence, I’d afford him that chance. He has earned the benefit of every doubt.
But phrase the question differently — if I were hiring someone to manage these Braves, would I hire Cox? — and my answer might be different. And I say that for his sake. I respect the man too much to see him lose with players who have little sense of what it once meant to be a Brave.
I like Bobby Cox. I don’t like what the Braves have become.
For further reading: The Braves aren’t in the market for a manager and mightn’t be anytime soon. But if they were, here are two men I’d consider.