Bobby Cox is in the hospital. Alex Anthopoulos, the Braves’ general manager, told MLB TV that the Hall of Fame manager had suffered a stroke and undergone surgery. His condition has been described as serious. According to Anthopoulos, he’s seeing visitors and yelling at umpires.
Kidding about the last part, and apologies if that seems inappropriate. But Bobby Cox is, among other things, among the world’s leading kidders. Were we to get too sappy here, he’d snort, “Come on, Brad.” So this is me, someone who has known him for 35 years, just following orders.
(And yes, he – and no one else – calls me Brad. One of the world’s great kidders is also the world’s worst nicknamer. Even before Kyle Farnsworth had reported after being traded here, Cox referred to him as Farnsy. I grimaced and said, “Really? Farnsy?” He smiled and said, “Farnsy.”)
There’s no one in baseball who doesn’t like Bobby Cox, umpires included. It was uncanny how the Thumb King would get ejected one night and engage in pleasant conversation with the thumber the next. “I’d do anything for umpires,” he once told me, and he meant it. He likes people, which is the biggest reason he was so skilled at managing them.
As Stan Kasten, who as president of the Braves persuaded Cox to stop being GM and return to the dugout: “The first question you have to ask of a manager is, ‘Can he lead men?’” Bobby Cox could and did, finishing first – even if you know this factoid by heart, it’s still astonishing – 15 times over 15 consecutive full seasons. (Once in 1985 with the Blue Jays, then in a row with the Braves, not counting the partial 1990 season after he took over from Russ Nixon or the 1994 strike year.) We say again: FIFTEEN TIMES.
One thing this unflaggingly chipper skipper didn’t like – TV cameras. We who follow sports for a living take not of those interviewees who have no time for the print press but light up with the camera lights come on. Cox was the opposite. He was uneasy with the electronic media. (Ever notice how seldom he’d actually look into a camera?) He much preferred us ink-stained wretches, and God bless him for that.
Visiting writers would always, always make a pilgrimage to the Braves’ dugout to say hello. Cox would greet them heartily, calling them by name (or nickname), and treat them as if they were Red Smith at the peak of his powers. “I like writers,” he told me, but really he liked pretty much everybody who had anything to do with baseball.
Which isn’t to say he couldn’t get mad. Ask the umps. Or ask the two Braves relievers who, many years apart, confronted Cox about their “role” – or the lack thereof – on his staff. (Said Tom Glavine: “The one thing you did not do was ask Bobby Cox about your role.”) The first one approached Cox after a red-eye home from the West Coast and had been egged on by his fellow pitchers, the wily Glavine perhaps among them. This was Cox’s response, colloquial adjectives deleted: “You know that phone in the bullpen? When it rings and I tell you to pitch, you pitch. That’s your role.”
The other reliever braced Cox on a flight. Cox told him he no longer had any role, seeing as how he’d just been waived. Then he picked up the Airphone – remember those? – and called GM John Schuerholz. “I just cut a guy,” Cox said. “That OK?” Schuerholz said it was.
To say that Cox loved every Brave wasn’t quite accurate, but he acted as if he loved them so long as they were Braves. Once they left – and the ones he didn’t weren’t here long – he’d occasionally drop a little hint as to his true feelings. When a big-name Brave left as a free agent and signed with a big-city club, I mentioned that I didn’t think that would be that player’s kind of city. Said Cox, eyes dancing: “What city would be?”
Yet one more thing Cox has done beautifully, and this surprised me a bit: He has been very good at retirement. He and Pam have a place on St. Simons and spend a lot of time there, and when he’s in town he’s often (but not always) at the ballpark. He tends to make stealth appearances, slipping in and out of the clubhouse, never trying to make himself the center of attention, just the great skipper stopping by to shake hands, slap backs and say hey.
Said Freddie Freeman, speaking before Wednesday’s game: “We all know he’s going to be watching us tonight. … He’s going to be yelling at us. One thing we know is that Bobby wants the Braves to win.”
Said Brian McCann: “Bobby Cox is one of the best human beings any of us have ever met.”
Said manager Brian Snitker, once Cox’s third-base coach: “Bobby has a way of making everybody feel as if they’re the most important person in the world.”
I’ve seen the man a thousand times, and every meeting is a treat. I know I’m tiptoeing up to the line of journalistic distance – heck, I’m trampling all over it – but I’m not objective about Bobby Cox. He was a great manager. He’s a great man. Get well soon, Coxy.
(Remember those out-of-town writers? That’s what they’d call him – Coxy. We scribes are lousy at nicknames, too.)
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