The Final Season: Bobby and Chipper

Braves 2 – Mets 0; CJ: 0-4

It was great seeing Bobby Cox at the ballpark yesterday to participate in Chipper Jones’ tribute. The two of them seem to have a really strong bond, and while I don’t believe it’s entirely unique, it does seem to be rare.

For one thing, it has become quite rare for players to play for one manager for so long. 17 of Chipper’s 19 seasons were spent with Bobby. Add in the fact that Bobby helped scout him and drafted him, and you have yourself a very long relationship. I would imagine, over 17 years, a working relationship with anyone would become strong. I mean, could you imagine working for your current boss for 17 years? Some of you might say yes, but nowadays, I think most of you would shudder.

Yet Chipper did it and, at the end of it all, basically said he’d do it all over again. To me, that sounds like they got along alright. Chipper often used to refer to Bobby as everybody’s favorite grandfather, and from what I’ve seen and read of Cox, that sounds accurate. He was the manager that always pulled for and defended his players. The guy who really wanted them to succeed.

But I’ve written enough about Cox this season. Seeing Chipper and Bobby next to each other got me thinking about comparable relationships and none immediately came to mind. The first was Dustin Pedroia and Terry Francona. The seemed to have a tight bond, but it didn’t last nearly as long as Bobby and Chipper’s. Just five seasons, which, actually, in today’s baseball world, is probably considered a lot.

Derek Jeter and Joe Torre is another one. Jeter and Torre were both rookies in 1996 – Jeter as a player and Torre as a manager. They lasted 11 seasons together. Close, but not quite 17.

But after those guys, I’m at a loss to think of anyone. I could of course go back to earlier decades. Earl Weaver and Jim Palmer have 14 years together but that was through the 70’s mostly. I think it was much more common to stay with one team your entire career. Also, not sure why I picked those guys. They just popped into my head.

Casey Stengel and Mickey Mantle also popped into my head. But that one as well, only 11 years. I suppose 17 is quite impressive. I do like to hear Mantle talk about Stengel. Always referred to him as wanting to be everybody’s dad and how, in the absence of his father, Stengel tried his best to step in. There’s a great quote in Ken Burns’ baseball documentary where Mantle admits to always feeling like he let Stengel down. It’s poignant and not at all reminiscent of Bobby and Chippper.

And I imagine, the further back I go, the more stories like this I’ll find. But in today’s baseball world, players move around too much to be a part of a relationship like that. But guys like Ty Cobb and Ted Williams, I bet they can appreciate the bond Chippper has with Bobby.

I do know it is refreshing in this day and age to see a relationship like that between a player and a manager. Just this week we heard disparaging comments from Heath Bell about playing for Ozzie Guillen. He quickly backtracked, but once words are out, you never get them back in. Just ask any Boston Red Sox player that played for Bobby Valentine this season. I bet that team never thought they’d rue the day they booted out Francona. But maybe Tito will be back next season, as I doubt Valentine will make it much longer. However, I really doubt it.

Anyway, it’s awesome that my favorite player was surrounded by such consistency. You know it benefitted his career to not have to adapt to new systems every season or so. Of course, it helped that Bobby was such an amazing player’s coach that every guy seemed to love playing for. Yet, I’d like to think Chipper’s success was a big part of Bobby’s success. A nice, symbiotic relationship.

Congratulations to the both of you and be sure to thank each other a plenty.

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The Final Season: The Art of the Ejection

Atlanta 3 – Chicago 1; CJ: 0-4

I promise I won’t post again about the ‘unwritten rules,’ but they were applicable again last night. Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez was ejected for arguing whether or not Atlanta should have been issued a warning for throwing at Cub outfielder David DeJesus. The warning was issued because the pitch was viewed by the umpire as being retaliatory for an earlier pitch that landed squarely on Jason Heyward’s shoulder. You hit my guy, I hit yours – one of those ‘unwritten rules.’ Now, I’m not interested in whether or not the pitches were on purpose (they were) or whether or not a warning should have been issued (to me they seem unnecessary). I’m interested in Gonzalez’s ejection.

You see, growing up a Braves fan, I’m used to watching an Atlanta manager get tossed from games. Expect it, really. Bobby Cox, the Braves long time manager who retired two seasons ago, made an art out of being ejected. An art that, to be honest, usually amused me. I don’t think it was his intended effect, but I typically smiled when I saw his globular gut pop out of the dugout and waddle up to the antagonizing umpire.

First, the art of the ejection. There are a handful of reasons a manager gets himself thrown out of a game. And I say ‘gest thrown out’ because I believe managers know exactly what they are doing when they step out of the dugout, and they know exactly how to get themselves heaved. I would bet any veteran manager knows what it takes, what to say and what to do, in order to cross the line of ejection. And I know Bobby Cox did, for sure.

He holds the unofficial record for managers being thrown out of games, unofficial because it is not a stat that is tracked by MLB. They don’t want to claim it, I suppose. One is that he’s doing it to fire up his players. Show them that he cares and is fighting for the team, and he’s hoping they respond by fighting for him. And it seems the sight of an aging man in stretchy pants throwing a hissy fit is just the way to do it. Does it work? Well, for me, it just makes me laugh. But for players, I don’t know. The Braves didn’t win last night, yet I do remember them pulling off victories after Cox was ejected. And I remember them not. So, yes and no. (I bet there’s a record somewhere of the Braves won-loss record in games Bobby was ejected.)

But more than getting thrown out to make a statement, I think, more often managers get thrown out just because they’re pissed off. Maybe they don’t like how the ump’s been calling balls and strikes all night, or they’re convinced their guy was safe sliding into second, and they get hot. Or maybe they’re just frustrated with something else and feel like yelling, and that ump becomes a proxy punching bag. But the intention is definitely to be ejected. Otherwise, their behavior is a lot different. Managers do sometimes just go out, plead their case, maybe appeal to another ump for help, and then walk off and sit back down. No ejection. To get thrown out there’s got to be some emotion that pushes them over the edge.

There’s one more reason I think managers get tossed (although there are probably more I’m just not acquainted with), and it’ gonna sound crazy. Sometimes managers (and players) just want to leave the game early. Seriously. They’d never admit it, but think about it, don’t you ever skip out early from work every now and then? So why not managers and ballplayers? Now, I know the manager has to stay for the media, but if he’s showered up and ready to go when he’s answering questions, he still saves time. I’m not saying it happens often. Just that I’d bet money it has happened.

Second, Bobby. Rhere were so many things to love about his tantrums. Often I could swear I saw umps grinning just a bit while Bobby was yelling. Like part of them was enjoying it. And I enjoyed it, too. More so as he got older and rounder. He didn’t walk so good, just kinda shuffled. When he got to the ump, he’d belly up to him and stick his gut out a bit. Then, once he was in position, he firmly planted his hands on hips and let fly. Just shook his head and barked. There was the occasional gesture, the arm waved in exasperation, but not too many theatrics. It was his look, his an ornery old man face that made me laugh.

And how it didn’t make all the players laugh is beyond me. Particularly the older guys that knew Bobby. Like, I could see it scaring the young kids a bit, but once a player realized he was all bark, no bite, it had to be amusing. Not that they would laugh right there on the field. Just on the inside. Or even out loud at what he was saying. Oh, how I would have loved to hear what he said..

He wasn’t quite Lou Pinella throwing down and stomping on his hat. Or the classic Earl Weaver kicking dirt and going berserk. I love the old clips of Weaver where you can hear what he said. Pretty funny. The only rule, of course, is you can’t make physical contact with the ump. Everything else seems to be fair game. But Weaver did get close to breaking that rule.

Nope, Bobby wasn’t those guys, but he was memorable in his own way. And what a great sport that embraces verbal assaults. Another nuance to the game that I’ve always enjoyed. Makes for a good show.