As a fellow once said, to open a movie, “I’ve been around. I guess I’ve seen ’em all.” And I guess I could say pert near the same. (cq) I’ve seen Connie Mack manage with straw skimmer and scorecard in hand. I’ve seen Casey Stengel hold court, and all those sports writers scribbling furiously, trying to make something readable of his babble. When I broke into this business, the manager on my first beat in Charlotte was 69-years-old, same age as Bobby Cox—and managing his last season, too, but not by his own choice. Needless to say, what I’m getting at is that I’ve seen managers of all kinds. Matter of fact, when I first saw Earl Weaver, he was managing in a Class-D league, and you can believe it or not, but he got kicked out of that game.
So naturally, when Bobby Cox’s name comes up, it seems the first thing that pops up is the number of times he has been kicked out of Braves games. Ye gods, folks, he has been managing in the major leagues since 1978, and I can barely remember who was President then. (Well, okay, yes, I can, too. Jimmy Carter. How could I forget?) The number is up to 158, I think, and he still has two more chances as I sit in this chair. You have to concede there was something special about Bobby, for when his playing days were winding down—and he was no glittering star—the Yankees looked around and found a place for him managing in their farm system. Way down the line, at Fort Lauderdale, Class D. After six years riding buses and bedding down in roadside motels, he was back in the bigtime, first base coach for the Yankees, which ought to tell you something.
The Braves were in a sickly state, so bad that Ted Turner—he had bought out the joint—had even tried his hand at managing. And just as quickly was canned (by the commissioner!). Now, how Bobby Cox came to land here was not widely known, but I was told that Bob Wussler, then one of Turner’s vice-presidents at TBS—who had connections in the Big Apple—had made the contact. You can take it or leave it be.
Things didn’t improve right away–for there was a lot to be improved—and after four seasons Cox was gone, too. That took place at the famous press conference when Turner was asked in a lull of the proceedings who he might hire if he were running the team, and he said, “Bobby Cox,” who was at the time being fired by the general manager (whose name happily escapes me). Funny, but sort of indicative of just where Braves’ baseball minds stood at the time. So, onto Toronto for Bobby, then back in four seasons, but again in a skewed kind of arrangement. First, he was general manager and Chuck Tanner wore the field clothes. During which time, by the way, I recommended a third baseman I had seen in a minor league game—and he looked like the next Kenny Boyer the night I saw him—and Bobby traded for him. Last time he ever took a tip from a sportswriter, I might add. The kid hit one home run and was gone.
Oh, well, that’s enough of that. You know Bobby is retiring. You’ve known it for a year. I kept thinking he might change his mind, especially when this team, which had been put together by bailing wire and duct tape, began to win in spite of themselves. Nobody asked me, but offhand I’d say that Brooks Conrad has been sort of the symbol of it all. A career minor leaguer, four seasons at Round Rock, TX., one short call-up and back to the bushes, and Bobby takes a chance with him. He now has become the fourth in a line of third baseman, following Chipper Jones, and that’s only a blink of an eye of Conrad’s significance. And here we are. On the brink.
Bobby Cox. He has been the genius who filled out the lineup cards and put in the calls to the bullpen and cried out from the dugout, “C’mon Chip, or Prod, or Matty,” and his troops responded. It has been, as I have said before, “many fun.”