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 Story of Baseball

Atlanta 8 – Florida 2; CJ: 1-4, BB

One day, if I meet Ken Burns, I have to thank him. His documentary had a profound impact on my life. Truly. It first made me stop and take notice of baseball. Watching it as a kid, I believe, turned me from a passing fan into a full-blown lover of the sport. (And for that reason, I should probably also curse him. Because, boy, does baseball take away as much as it gives sometimes.)

I was 12 years old when it first came out, and I remember, to this day, sitting with my dad and watching it and being absolutely enthralled and mesmerized by it. And that says a lot, because (and you’ll know this if you’ve ever seen it) it’s not exactly an action-packed, thrill ride. But it was successful in keeping this 12-year-old girls attention.

I also remember my Dad being absolutely enthralled and mesmerized. And as I watched it with him, I found it created as many questions as it answered. I knew virtually nothing of the game at that time. I didn’t really know who Mickey Mantle or Willie Mays were. I had heard their names, but I don’t really know what they meant to the game. So after the five bit snippet would finish on each of them, I’d turn to my Dad to tell me more. Was Mickey Mantle really as great as they say? Did he really hit homeruns that far? What does it mean to be a switch hitter? What do they mean when they say “tragic figure”? You know, in rapid fire section like young kids do. And my Dad would answer all of them. It’s the first time I can really remember us talking about baseball. Sure, I sat and watched the previous three World Series with him, but this was the first time we just talked baseball, not just about the game we were watching.

If I’m honest, I didn’t talk much when I watched the first two NLCS’ with him. He gets kind of ornery when he watches sports. He’s the kind of guy that yells at the TV and curses at the refs. So when the Pirates were losing, it wasn’t talking time. It was sit and quietly cheer time.

But, as I didn’t really start following the regular season closely until I became enamored with Chipper in 1995, I wasn’t rushing to the TV to watch games yet and, thus, wasn’t filled with questions about baseball yet. Ken Burns’ documentary was the first time and that’s why I love it to this day.

I own it and watch it at random times. A few weeks ago, a storm rolled through and the power went out, so I whipped out my portable DVD player and stuck in Inning Eight. What eight? Just because it was the one I had stopped on my last time through.

And, if I’m even more honest, it often makes me a little weepy, mainly because of what the people he’s interviewing say. The ones that speak so reverentially about their own baseball heroes, as well as their memories of watching games. I know what they’re feeling when they talk like that now. I didn’t know that when I was 12. I couldn’t know that. And I imagine that nostalgic feeling will only grow stronger as time – and more baseball – continues to pass.

In fact, the interviews are one of the things I love most about the documentary. They have such an honest, genuine feel, as if they are just friends of Mr. Burns, and they are just sitting with him and having a frank discussion about baseball while cameras roll. It brings a certain level of authenticity to the piece.

After Ken Burns’ documentary, I remember I wanted to know everything about baseball. And about every other sport, too. So my grandparents bought me a subscription to Sports Illustrated, which I read cover-to-cover every week. At 12. And I read sports books, including Joe Namath’s autobiography.

Really what I wanted to know was the history of every sport. I’ve always loved history. I think knowing the history of something helps you understand and appreciate it, and I feel knowledge of history is an important connection to the past. That sense of being part of something bigger, I suppose. And I think Baseball sparked that in me. I honestly do. And I think it played a part in my developing a love for all history – political, economical, entertainment, you name it. I love knowing what came before.

I also love that I keep learning from the documentary. As I watch each installment now, I always get something else out of it, something I didn’t catch last time. Or maybe something I didn’t truly understand but now do. And it always makes me thing, ‘Man I love baseball.’ I don’t know if I can ever articulate why, but I do. It’s its own character in the drama that’s played out through it over the years.

The 10th installment was difficult to watch, only because it covered a lot of darker days in baseball, such as the steroids scandal, and remembering that just makes me feel sad. It also included the ’96 World Series. Being reminded of it, I literally had a physical reaction. I was shaking my head, tensing my muscles. I knew what was coming and yet it was as if my body was still trying to will it away. Painful it is to remember, really. I suppose that makes me silly, but it’s true. But it also reminded me of some of the great World Series and playoff series I’ve got to witness over the years. And the Red Sox winning. That was enjoyable to see.

But mostly it just reminded me how prominent a position baseball has in my life. A position I hope it never relinquishes. Man, I do love this game.