Bobby Cox tries not to think about it. It’ll be tough, given that everybody will be asking from now until October. And the man who hates doing even an on-camera interview cringes — really, he cringes – at the thought of going into St. Louis, say, and being handed a parting gift in a pregame ceremony staged by the Cardinals.
“I didn’t want anything to do with that type of thing,” he said Tuesday. “My preference was always to just announce [his retirement] after the season, but then I figured, ‘If I don’t do it now [meaning make the announcement on Sept. 23, 2009 that 2010 was to be his final season], I’d probably keep managing — somewhere else if not here.”
As it stands, this is it. One more summer and then sit back and wait for the call from Cooperstown. And do lots of traveling, spend time with the many grandchildren, offer the Braves an opinion on baseball whenever they ask. “I’m still going to be connected,” he said. “That eases the pain of not being on the field and being involved in a game.”
Cox will turn 69 in May. He has worked other jobs — on the farms and at a raisin-dehydrating plant back in his native California, and one offseason he even sold cars. (Times were different then. Professional ballplayers, even big-leaguers, had to find work in the winter.) But the man’s primary occupation has been baseball since he was 18.
“I made $7,200 my first year [with the big-league Yankees], and I couldn’t break even. Then they raised the minimum salary to $9,000, and I could. And then along came Marvin Miller [the lawyer who filed the groundbreaking lawsuit on behalf of Curt Flood] the next year, and everything changed.”
On this January morning Cox was in his office at Turner Field, making the first preparations for his final trip to Lake Buena Vista as Braves manager. He has been traveling the past two weeks, first to Puerto Vallarta for the annual getaway, then to Wilmington, N.C., to help one of the many grandchildren situate herself in college. His next sojourn will be the drive to Florida on Feb. 13, six days before pitchers and catchers report. When it’s baseball, Cox is invariably the first to arrive.
Come October, however, he’ll be leaving. He’s not treating 2010 any differently than 1980 or 1995 or 2009. He’s going to Disney to stitch together a ballclub, and then he’ll fight for that aggregation the way he has fought every pitch of every game of every season. And will the final time around be soaked in melancholy?
“I honestly don’t think it will. It won’t hit me until the last game … the last pitch, really … Hopefully that will be in the World Series.”
How might it be next winter, with no roster to stitch together? “It’ll be different. But I’ll stay involved [with the Braves] in some tiny capacity. I’ll get to see the games, and I’ll help in any way I can, but mostly I’m going to stay out of the way.”
We’ll delve into Cox’s thoughts on the 2010 Braves tomorrow, but we’ll leave it today with the source of 151 early exits for this manager. Namely, umpires. Is Cox expecting a going-away present from the guys who’ve so often sent him away?
“Get out of here,” he said, amiably. Then this: “I’ve always that a player or a manager or a coach would do anything to help an umpire in distress. That’s a rough job.”