Bobby Cox loved his players but wasn’t keen on role-playing

That's David Justice in the foreground. Don't recognize the guy behind him. (AJC photo by Johnny Crawford)

That's David Justice in the foreground. Don't recognize the guy pictured behind him. (AJC photo by Johnny Crawford)

The great manager went to the mound to discuss high-level strategy. It was a tense moment — runners on second and third, late innings, Braves ahead but not by much — and Bobby Cox said to his pitcher: “Tommy, I think we ought to walk this guy.”

Said Tom Glavine: “Where do you suggest we put him?”

The Braves’ infield had congregated on the mound. Every head turned toward first base. Where, lo and behold, there was an opposing runner. The great manager had gotten it wrong: The bases were loaded.

Thinking fast, the great manager told his players: “If this gets out, you’re all fined $1,000.”

That story was one of many recounted Friday at the luncheon where the great manager was inducted into the Braves’ Hall of Fame. (Later he would have his No. 6 retired in a pregame ceremony at Turner Field.) Significantly, the who’s-on-first bit of comic relief was offered by Cox himself. For all the winning the Braves did under this man, the man himself never gave the indication that the team was winning because of him. “We all have egos,” Cox would tell reporters Friday, but his always seemed the smallest in the famously serene clubhouse.

Which is why players loved him. Asked what Cox did for him, the incisive Greg Maddux said: “He relaxed me.” Then, a bit later: “He was the same whether it was Opening Day or Game No. 120. That consistency you saw in him day in and day out bled down to us.”

Said David Justice: “You never saw panic in him. You never saw fear. We always felt like we were going to win.”

This doesn’t mean the players thought their placid skipper was a pushover. Justice recounted the tale of Ryan Klesko throwing his helmet with such force the headgear skittered across Cox’s feet. “Bobby went to stomping on that helmet like he was trying to put out a fire,” Justice said. “That may be why he needed those knee replacements.”

Another: Maddux had come to Cox before a game, as was Maddux’s wont, to go over scenarios. On this night Maddux had said of a particular left-handed hitter: “If it’s the fifth inning, I want two pitches to try to get him out [before pitching around him].”

The lefty didn’t bat in the fifth inning, but he did in the sixth. Cox, who sometimes had trouble keeping up with Maddux’s three-dimensional chess, made a visit. “Is this where you want the two pitches?” he said.

Said Maddux, irked: “Don’t you remember?”

Cox: “Mad Dog, what are you trying to do?”

Maddux: “I’m going to get him to pop up in foul territory outside third base.”

Cox: “Go ahead and try — even though he’s hit 50 home runs and he’s hitting .450 against you.”

Cox returned to the dugout, whereupon pitching coach Leo Mazzone asked: “Aren’t we going to walk him?”

Said Cox: “No, we’re going to make him pop up in foul territory outside third base.”

Which is what happened. This was another look-at-dumb-old-me yarn Cox told on himself, but it’s worth noting that the savant Maddux couldn’t remember who the hitter was. Barry Bonds? No. “Some guy with happy feet. Played for the Reds.” Sean Casey? “No. This was before the guy got traded to the Yankees.” Paul O’Neill? “No. Maybe he didn’t get traded to the Yankees.”

So who was the lefty hitter? Said Cox: “Luis Gonzalez.”

(Let the record reflect that Gonzalez never played for the Yankees or the Reds. Sometimes even smart guys blank out.)

There has never been a better players’ manager than Bobby Cox, who had three rules:  Be on time, play hard, and play the right way. There was, however, a seldom-mentioned fourth. Said Glavine: “You never asked Bobby what your role on the team was.”

In 1990, the year the then-GM Cox replaced Russ Nixon as field manager, the Braves were flying home from a lousy West Coast trip. A certain pitcher was complaining about how he was being used. Certain other pitchers, perhaps refreshed by an in-flight beverage, urged their teammate to confront the manager. The pitcher did — in the clubhouse at 4 a.m. Said Glavine: “It didn’t go very well.”

Some of those lurking outside the door remember hearing Cox tell the relief pitcher Rick Luecken in the wee hours of Sept. 13, 1990: “You know what that [bullpen] phone rings and I tell you to warm up? That’s your role.”

Coda: Luecken, who compiled an ERA of 5.77 as a Brave, was claimed off waivers by Toronto 11 days later.

That was Luecken’s role. He got to go pitch in Canada. Bobby Cox’s role was to stay here and win 14 consecutive division titles. One of them had his number retired Friday night.

By Mark Bradley

35 comments Add your comment

J.J.M.

August 12th, 2011
5:16 pm

J.J.M.

August 12th, 2011
5:16 pm

im bout to head downtown soon before it gets to crowded…should I take marta?

Jason in Houston

August 12th, 2011
5:17 pm

first to say first?

Benjamin

August 12th, 2011
5:19 pm

Thanks for the memories, Bobby.

dawgsfan1990

August 12th, 2011
5:22 pm

I miss Bobby. Fredi seems compotent, but he’s no Bobby. Thanks for everything #6!!!!!

Bulldog Joe

August 12th, 2011
5:22 pm

J.J.M.

Falcons game tonight too.

So Marta, it is.

dawgsfan1990

August 12th, 2011
5:23 pm

compotent….you know like the opposite of impotent i guess?

Mark Bradley

August 12th, 2011
5:23 pm

Traffic doesn’t look great from the map, but I’ve seen worse.

"Chef" Tim Dix

August 12th, 2011
5:30 pm

"Chef" Tim Dix

August 12th, 2011
5:31 pm

OK, not, but it’s all about #6 .

Skeezix

August 12th, 2011
5:51 pm

I love Bobby Cox and it will be an emotional moment when they retire his number.

Herschel Talker

August 12th, 2011
6:01 pm

BOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!!!!

We need winners in this town, not chokers. Bobby should have stuck to being a GM.

1eyedJack

August 12th, 2011
6:04 pm

Bobby, thank you for taking a moribund loser franchise and giving us back our pride.

Bob

August 12th, 2011
6:21 pm

The most beloved, but over-rated regular season and most out-coached playoff manager in the history of the game. But, a world-class nose picker.

retired

August 12th, 2011
6:24 pm

Hershel we can always count on you to take the low road. Consistency

longtime braves fan

August 12th, 2011
6:24 pm

Talker, Go back and crawl back under that rock you came out of.

longtime braves fan

August 12th, 2011
6:26 pm

Oh and talker if we need winners then what are you doing here.

bruce

August 12th, 2011
6:33 pm

so did Maddux, Glavine and Smoltz feel bad about Luecken’s being put on waivers and the thought that they had something to do with it?

eww

August 12th, 2011
6:35 pm

great manager.
good article, Mark – funny. I love those old stories

Jeremy

August 12th, 2011
7:01 pm

@bruce – Maddux wasn’t playing for the Braves in 1990. As for Glavine and Smoltz, I would assume that if another player was a cancer in the locker room then yeah, they probably didn’t have a problem with that guy being gone.

Dave

August 12th, 2011
7:07 pm

Very nice piece. I wish he could go into the Baseball Hall of Fame with Maddox, Glavine and Smoltz on the same day. I guess the bonus is that we get a couple of perfect days.

Bill

August 12th, 2011
7:30 pm

Bobby Cox is a winner. Hershel Talker is a loser.

Mark Bradley

August 12th, 2011
7:32 pm

Speaking for his family at the uniform-retirement ceremony, Bobby Cox called it, “One of the greatest days of our lives.”

Sonny Clusters

August 12th, 2011
7:39 pm

That was classy. Good job, Braves.

Mark Bradley

August 12th, 2011
7:43 pm

If anyone knows classy, it’s a Clusters. (Note the presence of the letters “c” and “l” in both words.)

Shakey

August 12th, 2011
8:41 pm

I wish somebody would write a book. Bobby has too many great stories that may never be heard by the public.

Tampa Gator

August 12th, 2011
8:45 pm

Thanks, Bobby, for one….count ‘em……..that is one championship…..during 14 great divisional winners….just one title with hall of fame pitchers Maddux, Smoltz, and Glavine pitching in their prime. Nice job…..keep up the good work in retirement. The Braves are doing just fine without you…..and will mostly like do better in the playoffs without you at the helm. Also….I don’t miss you picking your nose and scratching your b—ls and a—- when the TV camera focused on you….

Nice guy and good regular season manager……but maybe the worst playoffs and WS manager off all time…..period. But enjoy the fame…..fame so undeserved. If I had failed 13 out of 14 times in my job…..I would not be joining any hall of fame…..I would have been fired. Just saying.

That’s right folks….I have been a huge Braves fan since 1966……as a kid…..and I Bobby Cox’s managing in the playoffs and WS cost the Braves title opportunity after title opportunity.

BRING IN CHARLIE LIEBRANT….who had not pitched in relief all year and a junk pitcher……TO FACE ONE OF THE GREATEST HITTERS IN TWINS HISTORY….KIRBY PUCKETT…….HR>>>>GAME OVER>>>>>>WS OVER. NICE MOVE, BOBBY.

Tampa Gator

August 12th, 2011
8:48 pm

P.S. Reminder Bobby….you can sit and wait for the 3-run homer in the regular season against a teams’ worst pitchers….and look good doing it. But not in the WS facing the best pitchers in baseball…..but you did……13 out of 14 times. Win the one win coming on a HR by Justice….who you ran out of town shortly thereafter.

Tampa Gator

August 12th, 2011
8:50 pm

Sorry for the negativity on Bobby’s night in the sun……but I was totally frustrated by the man during 13 out of 14 playoff seasons. He had no idea how to manage in the playoffs….period.

Tampa Gator

August 12th, 2011
8:51 pm

Sorry for the negativity…..but facts are facts.

Tampa Gator

August 12th, 2011
8:54 pm

I apologize to everyone…..the previous posts were inapproprate for tonight. But my frustration with Cox those 14 years sometimes gets the best of me.

Sorry….everyone. Sorry…..Bobby. I mean that.

Tampa Gator

August 12th, 2011
8:56 pm

My apologies for the previous posts…..my 14 years of frustration with Cox got the best of me….but my comments were not appropriate on this night. I know that.

Mark Bradley

August 12th, 2011
10:34 pm

As you might know, Ernie Johnson Sr. died tonight. Here’s a little remembrance.

Tom

August 17th, 2011
8:08 pm

Too bad he didn’t think as much of his wife as he did his players. A wifebeater….that’s something to be proud of. That little drunken episode undermines everything he ever did. Any man who hits a woman is just a bad human being, period. There is no redemption.

Tom

August 17th, 2011
8:27 pm