Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Bobby Cox Keeps Humming Along

Tracy Ringolsby profiles a guy who, for all of his success, is often overlooked:

But that's Cox. All business. No showboating.

He is the same way with his players. Walt Weiss remembers his first year with the Braves. He made a base-running mistake. Word came that Cox wanted to talk to him. Weiss went into the office. "We don't do that here," was the extent of Cox's address. Weiss got the message.

When a player shows up and plays loud music in the clubhouse, Cox doesn't say a word. One of the veterans, a Chipper Jones or John Smoltz, will inform the newcomer that headphones are required so that there is no infringement on teammates' privacy. It's a professional way of getting a job done that comes from the respect Cox has earned from the players.

It's Cox's way, and when players don't fit, no matter how talented they may be, they
don't stay.
That last part is for sure. It seems like the Braves have had more than their fair share of head-scratching trades and transactions. Within a few days of almost all of them, however, you hear that the player involved somehow crossed Bobby Cox or otherwise upset the orderly apple cart he has created in the Braves' clubhouse. To John Schuerholz and Frank Wren's credit, very few of these deals have really bitten Atlanta in the butt, and the Braves have almost never had a clubhouse problem. I still think chemistry is overrated on any given team, but I think that there is value in organizational order and continuity over time that serves as a defacto code of conduct. Cox has certainly created that in Atlanta.

Posnanski noted today that, just maybe, "there is no best manager in baseball." I think that conclusion only applies if you're subjecting the candidates to an overly-narrow set of criteria. Sure, the Braves probably coulda shoulda woulda won an extra World Series or two, but I'm struggling to see how that is Bobby Cox's fault any more than it was Lonnie Smith's or Eric Gregg's or Charlie Liebrandt's. Or, more to the point, outrageous misfortune, frustrating happenstance, and simply dumb luck. And really, if you're going to give him demerits for losing four World Series', don't you have to give him credit for winning five pennants? Doesn't that more than balance him out against anybody save maybe Joe Torre?

In my estimation, Bobby Cox is the best manager in baseball and has been for a couple of decades now. I'd make Torre a moderately close second, and after that is a lot of space exists between them and the next closest set of contenders (a pack which includes La Russa, Scioscia, and maybe Piniella).

Or am I missing something here?


Drew said...

Joe Torre's pre-Yankee career disqualifies him from being considered the best manager in baseball. I say that only as a disgruntled Mets fan who remembers those days with utter disgust.

Drew said...

Joe Torre's pre-Yankee career disqualifies him from being considered the best manager in baseball. I say that only as a disgruntled Mets fan who remembers those days with utter disgust.

themarksmith said...

Joe Torre is disqualified because he coached the Yankees. Just Kidding. I like Cox as the best manager, but I think La Russa is the close second or even ahead as a result of his Oakland and St. Louis stints where he has always won.

John Peterson said...

You're not missing anything. I am a Mets fan and I hate the Braves, but there's no denying on my part that Bobby Cox is the best manager in baseball.

Alex said...

I second LaRussa being one of the best managers of the past couple of decades. And that brings up a question that has had me scratching my head for a while. I have found many people out in internetland (including, possibly, this site) who despise LaRussa. I read it enough that it seems like a standard sentiment among baseball fans. Why? Have I missed a handful of comments from the past that pissed off a lot of fans? Was it the drunk driving thing? Is it because he wears sunglasses in the dugout all the time? I am truly curious to hear a LaRussa hater explain what there is to hate about him.

Regarding Cox -- we hear over and over how his players (save one or two over 20 years) loved playing for him, and that everyone who hasn't played for him wants to. He seems to get praise from players more than any other manager in the game, and I think this is an overlooked perspective that deserves mention in the best manager debate.

Ron Rollins said...

"I still think chemistry is overrated on any given team, but I think that there is value in organizational order and continuity over time that serves as a defacto code of conduct."

Maybe that's what chemistry is? The success can't be denied. I know World Chamipionships are what we all want, but getting to the playoffs consistently (in today's game) has to count for something.

How would CAsey STengal have done if he had to face 3 divisions and a wild card? That's a simulation that needs to be done by someone.

themarksmith said...

People don't like La Russa because he is 1) an ass and 2) a drunk driver (multiple times)

Pete Toms said...

Cox did a great job in Toronto as well. Also I don't think he gets enough credit for the job he did as Braves' GM. Weren't they a mess when he took the reins?

themarksmith said...

Yes they were. The Braves were terrible in the 80's. When he came in, he turned the team away from free-agents and toward the farm system (sound familiar).

Mark Runsvold said...

To put it more diplomatically than The Mark Smith did: La Russa seems aloof and completely sure that he's the best manager on the planet. He does things like hitting the pitcher 8th, as far as anyone can tell, just for the sake of looking like a convention-bucking genius.

I'm also wary of any manager who has a vocal and public feud with a player. Cox certainly never has, nor have Torre, Scioscia or Francona. La Russa's on-field gambits don't have any appreciable positive effect on his team's performance, and the off-field stuff, which is probably the most important facet of a manager's job, should be counted against him. If he were managing in a larger market, he would have been gone hours after the DUI thing, if not years before then.

Craig Calcaterra said...

Mark makes my point with La Russa reL the micro-managing thing and his penchant for feuding with players in public, which is something I just can't abide. I recall Rolen as the most immediate example, but there were others.

The DUI thing doesn't really enter into it with me. We're all human with human failings, and what matters with that kind of stuff is how you deal with it aferwards, and that's something we just don't know. Maybe Tony is on the wagon? Maybe he's been outrageously contrite and open about it within the organization? Those things would matter.

Regardless, if you are going to hold the DUI against La Russa as a manager, you have to hold Cox's domestic violence incident against him too. I'm not willing to do that, simply because I am not interested in judging these guys as human beings. I am simply judging them as managers of baseball players.

Mark Runsvold said...

I guess I should have written that more carefully so it didn't come across as a value judgment. I'm the last person in the world to suggest that players or managers are role models. I have no idea what went on with the La Russa DUI and am in no position to judge him. Same with Cox' domestic violence thing.

I was trying to underscore the fact that La Russa has benefited from playing in a smaller market by avoiding scrutiny, but should have just said that outright.

themarksmith said...

Proof of Cox's greatness: Jorge Campillo. No one else wanted him, and now he's doing awesome (albeit with blisters).