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Jason Fry and Greg Prince
Faith and Fear in Flushing made its debut on Feb. 16, 2005, the brainchild of two longtime friends and lifelong Met fans.

Greg Prince discovered the Mets when he was 6, during the magical summer of 1969. He is a Long Island-based writer, editor and communications consultant. Contact him here.

Jason Fry is a Brooklyn writer whose first memories include his mom leaping up and down cheering for Rusty Staub. Check out his other writing here.

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I Still Can't Stand Bobby Cox

The Mets will honor Bobby Cox today, and that is right and proper. Cox, set to retire whenever the Braves stop playing in 2010, has more wins managed under his name, including those from which he was ejected before completion, than all but three men in major league history. Enough of them came at the expense of the Mets. As Mark Simon of ESPN New York outlined, nobody has managed more wins — 198 in the regular season and four in the 1999 National League Championship Series — at the Mets’ expense. Nobody else is close. Nobody else has managed long enough, often enough and successfully enough against the Mets to make it close. I’ve been grumbling at Bobby Cox for most of the past 15 years, but there are days when caps require tipping. This is one of those days.

Little bad is said of Cox in these closing weeks of his no-doubt Hall of Fame career. Why should there be? He took over a Braves club whose level of despair was de Rouletian in 1978 and steered it to the edge of respectability when he left in 1981; he boosted Toronto from stumbling toddlerhood in 1982 to A.L. East champs in 1985; and he drafted and traded devilishly well as Atlanta GM from 1986 to 1990.

Then his career really took off.

Bobby Cox has managed the Braves a second term since June 23, 1990. From 1991 to 2005, his club won every division title that was available to them, the last eleven of them in the National League East. It became such old hat after a while that every time Atlanta fizzled in the playoffs — which became a rite of autumn in the early 2000s — it was considered a glaring failure. Considering Cox had taken the Braves to five Fall Classics in the ’90s and led them to the world championship in 1995, it’s little wonder that standards shifted and bars rose.

But before Cox took over the Braves a second time, they were a glaring failure six months out of every year. There were no playoffs. There were 96 losses annually as a rule. The Braves were the Pirates as we’ve come to know the Pirates. Bobby Cox, more than anyone else, made the Braves the Braves as we’ve come to know them since 1991: perennial contenders, chronic winners, bad news for us.

While the Mets have been going through Bud Harrelson, Mike Cubbage, Jeff Torborg, Dallas Green, Bobby Valentine, Art Howe, Willie Randolph and Jerry Manuel, Bobby Cox has been a constant. His players swear by him, not at him. Former Brave Henry Blanco told the Daily News, “He is the best,” ignoring his current manager in his assessment. “He’s a great communicator, and you need communication.”

Anecdotes about Cox’s communications skills and what they have meant to his players keep coming as farewell hosannas are thrown his way. One is from Thomas Lake’s outstanding Sports Illustrated profile in July, harking back to his first stint managing the Braves, in 1979. It involved an infielder a the end of the line, Darrell Chaney. Cox hadn’t been playing him, and let him know the Braves wouldn’t be bringing him back the following season. But with two weeks remaining and the Braves going nowhere, Cox promised Chaney he’d play him daily to give him a chance to impress other teams. Thus inspired, Chaney, whose average had sunk to .111, went out and batted .333 the rest of the way. He then retired.

Chaney already loved Cox for beating up a toilet at Shea Stadium after he was ejected for arguing on the shortstop’s behalf. Writing him into the lineup every day was better. Players famous and forgotten always felt Bobby Cox was managing for them. Pitcher Tommy Boggs told SI in 2010: “I’ll be loyal to Bobby Cox for as long as I live.” Tommy Boggs last pitched for Bobby Cox in 1981.

Maybe the highest praise I’ve heard for Cox — the highest praise baseball men can give another baseball man, I imagine — may have come the last time the Mets were at Turner Field. It was a few minutes before gametime and Gary Cohen and Ron Darling were paying tribute to the home manager’s accomplishments and longevity, when they noted a special room had been built in the ballpark just for those occasions when Cox, the most ejected manager in baseball history, gets himself thrown out of games. Instead of making him stand in the tunnel to relay orders, Bobby gets to go to kind of a personal lounge where he can watch the game on TV in comfort and, presumably, dictate strategy with his feet up.

The room, just off the Brave dugout, also serves as something of a second office for Cox. You can go see him there before a game and, Gary explained, “he’ll talk baseball with anybody.”

I’m not sure what else you’d talk about with a baseball man at a baseball stadium, but I take it there’s something about routine and process that make this brand of putting others at ease unusual. There’s enormous pressure on a manager on a day-to-day basis. I suppose that’s why Jerry Manuel has one pregame gaggle for the media and then doesn’t want to be bothered with extraneous questions once BP begins. Every captain is entitled to steer his ship as he sees fit. Still, the way Gary put it — “He’ll talk baseball with anybody” — made the experience of chatting up Bobby Cox in his natural habitat sound absolutely transcendent.

Would I want to talk baseball with Bobby Cox? In theory, sure. Early this season, I met a retired player (not a Met) who went into television. It was a chance encounter and he was talking to somebody else, but I was on the scene and, quite frankly, I wanted in. Not because I had anything useful to say and not because I really wanted the ex-player’s insight. I just wanted to, you know, talk baseball with a real baseball man. When I sensed an opening in the conversation, I ducked in with a half-assed opinion. The retired player countered. I nodded.

And it was great!

Talking baseball with someone who actually knows baseball — who is in baseball — is an incredible sensation. Talking baseball with someone who’s been in baseball the way Bobby Cox has been, forever and brilliantly, must be as good as it gets. Yet what would I say to Bobby Cox if star-struck nervousness or reflexive ass-kissing didn’t kick in?

Probably something at odds with all the nice things everybody’s been saying about Bobby Cox all year, because the mere sight of him makes me sick.

Ohmigod, I can’t stand this guy. This guy beat us like a drum for most of two decades and he’s still doing it. I see Bobby Cox and I see this smug bastard who is pushing buttons and pulling motivational strings and irritating umpires and I see him winning. Him winning and us losing. I see him outmanaged by Bobby Valentine, our only manager who’s truly mattered since Cox has been ensconced in Atlanta, and he still wins. He wins when it matters deeply to both sides, as in 1999; he wins when it matters to us but not to him, as in 1998; he wins for the hell of it when it doesn’t matter to anybody. Needless to say, he wins yesterday when it matters to him and not to us.

And, at least until today is over, he’s omnipresent. He’s always managing the Braves. He’s managing them in 1990, in 2000, in 2010. He’s managing them from a little air-conditioned room after he’s told he can’t manage anymore. He’s managing to infiltrate Shea in 2007 when Atlanta is in Philadelphia because we’re having T#m Gl@v!ne Day in honor of the Manchurian Brave’s 300th win the week before. The Mets produce a video featuring all of the important baseball people in T#m’s life congratulating him on his milestone. Naturally just about all of those people are Braves.

I’m sitting at Shea and I’m watching the Mets project an image of smiling Bobby Cox telling T#m Gl@v!ne how wonderful it was to have him pitch for him and win for him and, if you listen between the lines, beat the Mets a lot.

When I see Bobby Cox’s face now, I see that. I see October 1999. I see September 1998. I see various and sundry outtakes from 198 regular-season losses dating back to the late ’70s. I’ve seen enough.

Tip your cap to Bobby Cox today. It’s right and proper. Then, for god’s sake, just once, send him out of here a loser. He’s been the other thing plenty.

17 comments to I Still Can’t Stand Bobby Cox

  • dogsbrekky

    Bloody brilliant article/blog from a mutts fan no less… thanks for this well thought out article on our favorite manager #6

    Atlanta Braves fan from Australia in NY

  • stick

    See, thee are so few Braves fans in Atlanta they had to go all the way to Australia to import them.

    And, similar to Torre, exactly how much of the winning can be attributible to Cox? Setting aside the GM before manager part (since to me the GM cox and Manager Cox are 2 “different” people), didn’t the string of wins have more to do with the talent, specifically the pitching rotation, he was fortunate to have all those years?

    and if it was his magical aura, then how come in 2006-2009, the Braves, well, stunk? Did he suddenly find Kryptonite and become a mere mortal?

    Now, I do think the manager makes a difference (I had better, considering how much grief I give Jerry), but no manager is winning titles without a damned good team.

    and frankly, I thought it was in the playoffs that the genius manager was supposed to truly shine, when the games really count?

  • Hortense the Enormous Cat

    “This guy beat us like a drum for most of two decades and he’s still doing it.”

    You don’t play for the Mets, work for the Mets, or do anything for the Mets. “we” and “us” are reserved for players and coaches.

  • Suenah

    Brilliant article!

  • Milton and His Unusual Anus

    We? What position do you play?

  • Rob D.

    “Talking baseball with someone who actually knows baseball — who is in baseball — is an incredible sensation”.

    I have had the pleasure of running a bunch of meet and greet lunches with sportsmen, past and present. One I will never forget is having lunch with Bobby V when he was still managing the Mets. Some numbnuts (me) says to him something like “If Ordonez pops another ball up, I’d fine him”. Bobby V turns to me and says “Now you sound like one of the idiots that call the FAN. I don’t care if he pops the ball up with a guy on. He’s the slowest guy on the team. A groundball is a double play. You just assume he’s fast because he plays a great SS.”

    I learned to listen and not talk when I was around those guys who really know what they’re talking about.

  • sonnybojangles

    he’s also a wife beater.

  • [...] This post was mentioned on Twitter by You Gotta Believe!, Paul. Paul said: RT @gfafif: It's right and proper the #Mets are honoring him, but I still can't stand Bobby Cox. http://wp.me/pKvXu-1Mt [...]

  • metsadhd

    sonny
    right you are assaulted his wife
    and is or was a drunk and the brilliant Wilpons gives him a magnum case of wine.
    Such crystal clear thinking similar to Omar’s unnecessary extension.
    Why do we have to root for such demented clueless managers and players.
    Re-brand the Cyclones as the Mets, at least they lost in the play-offs.

    • From the SI article:

      Cox could not leave the game at the ballpark. And while it seemed as though he had mastered his anger—confined it to the one place where he could churn it into loyalty and success—that notion came into question the night his wife called to have him arrested. It was May 7, 1995. He had been drinking, and he spilled a drink on the carpet. She made a comment he didn’t appreciate. The police report said she told an officer that her husband grabbed her by the hair and hit her in the face.

      “I asked Pamela Cox if this kind of incident had ever occurred before,” officer Sonya Lee wrote. “Pamela Cox told me that this was the first time police had been called but that there had been 5–6 previous incidents involving physical abuse in their 18-year marriage. When asked, Pamela Cox stated that she has sustained blackened eyes and a broken hand, injuries inflicted by her husband.”

      There was a media firestorm when the news broke, but Cox and the Braves quickly contained it. He held a press conference the next day to deny hitting his wife. The battery charge disappeared when he agreed to take anger-management counseling.

      Loyalty is a powerful thing. Pam Cox stood by her husband at the press conference, and she saved him. “He didn’t hit me,” she said.

      If his wife can stand by him and is still with him, I’m not going to call him names. But the wine as parting gift is a little jarring in this context.

  • metsadhd

    Greg
    This is exactly my point re the Wilpons.
    More power to the Cox’s to find a way to stay together.
    But since this incident is common knowledge, why the wine?
    Better to ask him what his favorite charity is and make a donation in his honor.
    I think after all these years he can buy his own wine if he wants to.
    The Wilpons and the entire organization are totally tone deaf.

    Look at last week’s tone deaf non-rain out.
    They expected people to come and the better than nothing but only a little
    rain check for the Brewers demonstrates their cluelessness.
    No one was going to that game regardless, it should have been made into two games for each ticket or at the very least, the regular rain check rules but they harbor the fantasy that people will actually pay to see the 2011 team.

    Thanks G-d no one was hurt at the vicinity.
    First year Business school kids wouldn’t make mistakes of this magnitude.
    They forbade the Banner day for they did not want to be called out.
    Well, run a class act and you will only get praise.
    The worst kind of organization take an ostrich-like approach to the truth.
    40 years of wandering around the desert and we are only in year 24.

  • metsadhd

    Greg/Jason
    How about the notion to get that crazy Christine O’Donnell to do some of that old fashioned witchcraft on the Mets to rid them of the bad karma.
    Fish stink from the top down.

  • I just happened upon this website. A real quality read. Great writing. Go Braves.

  • [...] was Bobby Cox, trying to extend the last days of his managerial career. Here were his Braves, one inning from outlasting the Giants, having withstood a marvelous outing [...]

  • [...] seemingly impenetrable Braves angered the blood beyond healthy levels. I’m not a Braves fan and I didn’t love Bobby Cox hovering in the other dugout all these years. I surely didn’t go for how most Mets-Braves games [...]

  • Steve

    My brother, a fellow lifelong Braves fan sent this to me. Thanks so much for the extremely well-written tribute to nearly the only manager I’ve ever known. Went to my first game in 82, and after brief spells of Nixon, Tanner, Torre, I’ve known nothing but #6.

    Thanks a lot.