Baseball fans are almost programmed to not like managers. They take pitchers out too soon, or they leave them in too long. They don’t know how to construct lineups, and they sometimes forget when to bunt runners along or when to hit-and-run.
Managers get blamed more for a loss than given credit for a win. If they do win, they usually don’t win enough. When a manager has a team win one World Series, fans usually say, “Yeah, but he should have won one or two more.”
For years, Braves fans screamed about Bobby Cox. If you watched a lot of games, Cox probably drove you crazy at some point. He managed the Braves for many years, so there’s no way you were going to agree with him all the time.
There were questions I constantly asked about Cox and would wonder if he had all his faculties. Why did he bring Charlie Leibrandt into Game 6 of the 1991 World Series to face Kirby Puckett? Why did he bring Leibrandt in again, in the same situation, a year later against the Blue Jays? Why did Cox not have Terry Pendleton hug the third-base line when Dave Winfield got the game-winning hit in that same game? Why did he have to platoon players like Ryan Klesko? Why did he bring Mark Wohlers in so early in Game 4 of the 1996 World Series?
Sure, like many others, I wonder if the Braves might have won more than one World Series during the run of division titles if someone else had been the manager. Sure, I wonder if Cox stayed around too long, simply because he had won too much to get fired.
But I was won over about a decade ago with a conversation with former Braves first baseman Adam LaRoche. He told me how much the players on the team loved Cox and how important it was for every one of them to play as hard as they could -- knowing Cox had their back and he wanted them to do well.
It became obvious that the respect for Cox was off the charts. They may not have always agreed with him, but the players respected him. Perhaps part of it was because Cox had simply been around a long time and won a lot, but it was more than that. They looked at him as a leader and never wanted to disappoint. He was the “skipper,” the leader of those Braves teams in each and every way.
Then I had the chance to interview Cox a few times. I found out that he was simply a genuinely nice man. He showed respect for me like I was one of his players, and I was simply a writer doing a job. But he was someone who made you feel comfortable talking to him about anything, whether it was baseball or something else.
It made me know why he was so loved and why he was so successful. It wasn’t difficult to understand why people would gravitate toward him and want to make him happy. Cox was just a good guy, a good man who liked people and never came off as some bigger-than-life sports figure who could have easily given you an attitude.
In other words, Bobby Cox was human. He treated everyone that way. He treated you like he wanted to be treated. That quality is sometimes lost in our world today. It doesn’t get much simpler than that, but it’s certainly something that many forget about from time to time. Cox never did. That’s why his players respected him and loved him. Yes, he rooted for them and wanted them to respect the game, and when they knew that, there was nothing more they wanted to do than to make him happy.
Cox will enter the National Baseball Hall of Fame next week because of his record. He was successful on the field as a baseball manager. But believe me, for anyone that has ever known Bobby Cox, he’ll never be remembered for what he did on the field. He’ll be remembered for the type of man he is, and that’s a better Hall of Fame than anything you’ll find in Cooperstown or anywhere else.
Listen to “The Bill Shanks Show” from 3-6 p.m. weekdays on WPLA Fox Sports 1670 AM in Macon and online at www.foxsports1670.com. Follow Bill at www.twitter.com/BillShanks and email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.