There are moments when you’d swear he has mellowed. He is, after all, 68. But then one umpire makes one call and the Thumb King reminds us why he is the most-ejected man in the history of humankind.
Bobby Cox posted No. 146 Thursday at Turner Field, and it was a weird sort of ejection. He wasn’t so much outraged as incredulous. A 3-2 Barry Zito curveball to Yunel Escobar in the sixth inning was adjudged Strike 3 by plate umpire Jeff Kellogg, with whom Cox has a history. (Then again, Cox has amassed more history than David McCullough.)
Martin Prado, running on the pitch, was thrown out at second base after appearing to slow on his approach. Thus di what could have been runner-on-first-and-second-with-one-out become nobody on and three out in a tie game.
The manager emerged from the dugout and walked — he did not run — toward Kellogg. At first it was unclear which play Cox was arguing, and afterward those among us in the press box weren’t sure he’d been ejected. (Leaving the dugout to dispute balls and strikes is a mandatory tossing.) But Kellogg’s gestures were far from demonstrative, and a clarification came only midway through the next half-inning: The Thumb King had indeed gotten Heave-Ho No. 146.
Only afterward did Cox leave no doubt as to which call he found abhorrent. “A little high?” he said, referring to the fateful breaker. “I’ve never seen a ball called a strike that, not in 50 years.”
More: “I was yelling to Prado, ‘Stay up, stay up!’ [Meaning don't slide because Escobar had presumably drawn a walk.] That was so high it was a joke.”
And then: “That could’ve been the game.”
Maybe. The Braves lost 5-1, ending a rousing homestand on a dissonant note. They botched two bunts and made two errors in an eighth inning that yielded four San Fran runs, none earned. Still, the day was noteworthy not for the game or its misplays, but for this:
The 146th ejection of Cox’s career came on the worst call the Thumb King has ever seen. Worse than Eric Gregg and his double-wide strike zone. Worse than Kent Hrbek fork-lifting Ron Gant off first base. Worse than anything.
Until Ejection No. 147.
(Oh, and the call itself? It didn’t look all that bad. But that’s why he’s the Thumb King and we’re all just serfs.)