When Job got fed up, as Job would periodically, he’d head up to Adairsville and stop by the farm, and he’d say to Bobby Cox, “I’m at wit’s end — what should I do?”
And Bobby Cox would say, “Joby [as we know, Cox loves his nicknames], just be patient.”
OK, I embellish. But I do it to make a point: When you’ve exhausted Bobby Cox’s legendary patience, you’re probably not long for these Braves. Last week Kelly Johnson went from being the everyday second baseman to being benched to being placed on the disabled list, and Jeff Francoeur was held out of the lineup three games running before being reinserted Tuesday night. (He went 1-for-4 with an infield single.) And the sound you heard was of two homegrown players who’ve been Atlanta Braves since 2005 going, “Gulp.”
Kenny Lofton didn’t fit in here, and he was gone after one season. Same with Bret Boone. Dan Kolb was brought here to be the closer, couldn’t do the job and was gone the next year. John Rocker lasted 18 months after his Sports Illustrated rant appeared, and the only reason he stayed so long was the Braves couldn’t find anyone to take him. Cox never rips a guy publicly — and almost never does he resort to managerial privilege and trash a guy to reporters off the record — but you can tell when he’s fed up.
And this is a different sort of getting-fed-up than Cox demonstrated when he pulled Yunel Escobar — or, long ago, Andruw Jones — from a game. Those upbraidings were designed to get a young player’s wandering attention. Benching a guy over a longer haul is something far more serious. It’s not a move Cox ever makes in haste, or in anger. It’s a move he undertakes only when he has reached a conclusion he has labored long not to reach.
It takes Cox a lot longer to lose faith than it does, say, Lou Piniella. Cox believes until he’s given reason to stop believing, but when he stops … well, that’s about all she wrote. Johnson was afforded every opportunity and hit .216. Francoeur was extended an even longer grace period — we’re now going on a second calendar year of his laboriously documented flailings — but has simply ceased being a competent big-league hitter. And now both have been benched.
The Francoeur breach has been coming for a while. The Braves loved his enthusiasm — he is, as you’ve heard, a great guy — but couldn’t understand why he never made the necessary adjustments in technique. And they were mightily miffed when he took off for Texas to consult hitting coach Rudy Jaramillo. As Terry Pendleton, the Braves’ hitting coach, has said: “It bugged me at first.” And as much as Cox loves his players, he loves his coaches even more.
This spring Francoeur told me, “As long as Six has my back, I don’t care about anything else.” Well, Bobby Cox wears No. 6, and he no longer stands in Francoeur’s corner.
And Francoeur, who’s no fool, already seems to have one eye on the exit. He told Dave O’Brien: “[I] just have to be patient and wait my turn, whether it’s here or somewhere else.”
At this moment, I’d bet on the “somewhere else.” When you’re a Brave and you’ve lost Bobby Cox, you’ve lost everything.