After the Alex Gonzalez throwing error to extend the seventh inning and ultimately give the San Francisco Giants the lead, it felt like the beginning of the end. From that moment until the bottom of the ninth when Melky Cabrera hit the ball to third off of Brian Wilson for a groundout, the only thing I could think about was Bobby Cox. The coach. The man. The legend.
For the first time in my life as a Braves fan, I find myself more concerned with Bobby Cox than the Braves' loss. He's been with the Braves for nearly my entire life. From his first stint as Braves manager, then back to Atlanta as general manager after a pit stop in Toronto, to his return to the dugout as manager once again, Bobby Cox has been the staple of the Atlanta Braves.
First it was Ron Gant, Terry Pendleton, and David Justice. Then it was the incredible big three of Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine, and John Smoltz. In 2005 it was the "Baby Braves" that took Atlanta to the postseason. And finally, in 2010, it was a patchwork lineup supported with a great pitching staff. It didn't matter so much what you gave Bobby Cox to work with; he always did the most with what he had.
Nearly the whole 2010 season, the deck seemed to be stacked against the Braves. It seemed that fate was against them. Injuries decimated the Braves throughout the year.
However, the Braves always found a way to keep going. When Martin Prado, who was then leading the NL in batting average, went down due to an injury, Omar Infante came in and produced. From utility infielder to unlikely all-star; from unlikely all-star to an anchor in the Braves lineup and third in the league in batting average.
Next it was Chipper Jones going down with a torn ACL. Martin Prado moved over to third and picked up where he left off earlier in the year. Then it was Prado going down again, this time for the year, in late September. The fatal blow finally came in the playoffs with Billy Wagner's season ending oblique injury. Of course you would never hear Cox use these things to make any type of an excuse. The man simply has too much class.
For a man whose career in baseball spanned an astounding 51 years, he accomplished just about everything one could hope. He ends his career at number four all-time in career victories with 2,404.
He holds the vaunted ejections record with over 150. He led Atlanta to a truly incredible 14 consecutive division titles, five NL pennants, and of course that one World Series victory in 1995. But the legend of Bobby Cox extends far beyond mere numbers.
Cox always had a way with his players. One would he hard pressed to find one of his former players with anything negative to say about the man. Tune in to any of Bobby's press conferences and one would hear overwhelming praise for his players, even if they really didn't perform all that well.
Cox was never one to take credit for anything. That honor was reserved for his players. Cox was the type of manager who made his players better. According to J.C. Bradbury in his 2008 book The Baseball Economist: The Real Game Exposed, there exists what Sports Illustrated's Thomas Lake has termed the "Cox Effect." When pitchers play for Bobby Cox, there ERA's tend to be quarter point lower on average.
Bobby was notorious for giving his players nicknames. Gilly for Marcus Giles, Smoltzie for John Smoltz, Lemmer for Mark Lemke, Jase for Jason Heyward, and Teepee for Terry Pendleton. Bobby would always show up early for batting practice, and when the game began, he would be at the top of the dugout steps shouting encouragements. This was a manager who truly cared about his players.
In fact, he cares so much that he's been known to send some of his former players money if they were ever in need. Also, many of his ejections came only because of his efforts to keep his players from getting ejected. When one of his players would argue with an umpire, Bobby would often step in and take over the argument while his player had time to cool down. Cox defines the term "player's manager."
According to Chipper Jones, Cox uses his ejections in an effort to turn the momentum and motivate his players. If anyone would know the method to the madness, it would be Jones, who has spent his entire 18-year career playing for Cox.
When Brian Wilson retired Melky Cabrera for the third out of the ninth inning, no one was in a hurry to leave Turner Field. Instead, the fans stood up and chanted "Bobby." Never after such a heartbreaking end to a season can I remember the fans showing so much class. Bobby Cox obliged and came out for the final curtain call of his illustrious career. With a tip of the cap, Cox disappeared back into the clubhouse for the last time.
It's the end of an era in Atlanta. Sure baseball will continue to be played come February, but things will be a whole lot different. Goodbye Bobby Cox and thank you for a great career. You are truly one of a kind.