Cox stays coy about fu­ture with the Braves

The Covington News - - Sports - By Paul New­berry

KIS­SIM­MEE, Fla. — Bobby Cox spent the first few days of spring train­ing try­ing to fight off a cold. And what about the fu­ture? He’ll shoo away those ques­tions with even more fer­vor.

“I don’t know what I’m go­ing to do,” he in­sists over and over again. “Right now, I want to man­age. We’ll see how it plays out.”

Af­ter hint­ing a year ago that 2008 might be his fi­nal sea­son, the long­time At­lanta Braves man­ager is coy about the is­sue this spring, which isn’t too sur­pris­ing. Cox isn’t the type to put up with a schmaltzy farewell sea­son, with all those speeches and cer­e­monies and peo­ple giv­ing him rock­ing chairs to en­joy in re­tire­ment. But the fu­ture of the 66-yearold man­ager will likely be an un­der­ly­ing theme for the Braves all year.

Will this be his fi­nal sea­son? Stay tuned.

“It would weird not hav­ing him in the dugout,” out­fielder Jeff Fran­coeur said. “But it’s go­ing to hap­pen one day. It’s in­evitable.”

This will be Cox’s 27th year as a man­ager, a stel­lar ca­reer that in­cludes 15 di­vi­sion ti­tles (14 in a row with the Braves, one dur­ing the 1980s at Toronto), a World Se­ries cham­pi­onship in 1995 and the most ejec­tions in base­ball his­tory — a badge of honor to his play­ers, who know most times he’s only stick­ing up for them when he gets the heave-ho.

But per­haps his great­est ac­com­plish­ment is re­main­ing rel­e­vant af­ter all those years. Cox is still the dom­i­nant fig­ure in the Braves club­house with­out even try­ing. No one com­plains about his ban on loud mu­sic. Ev­ery­one shows up on time and plays hard be­cause they know their man­ager ex­pects it.

“He’s the one who takes all the hits,” said pitcher John Smoltz, en­ter­ing the 21st year of a ca­reer spent en­tirely with the Braves. “He’s the rea­son I stayed here.”

The Cox Com­mand­ments are passed down from one gen­er­a­tion to the next, as read­ily ac­cepted by the 300-game win­ner (the Braves have one of those in Tom Glavine) as they are by the play­ers who weren’t even born when he man­aged his first big league game in 1978.

It’s al­most im­pos­si­ble to en­vi­sion Cox wear­ing any­thing other than a cap, a pair of cleats and a jer­sey with “Braves” writ­ten across the chest. This is who he is. This is how he’s lived vir­tu­ally his en­tire life.

Sure, it’s only nat­u­ral for some­one who’s passed re­tire­ment age and can see 70 on the hori­zon to start con­sid­er­ing the

next phase of his life. But Cox talks about the fu­ture with a tinge of dread in his voice, as if he, too, can’t imag­ine not wak­ing up ev­ery day and head­ing to a base­ball park.

“I don’t know what I would do,” he said. “You can only mow your lawn so much. You can only play so many rounds of golf. You can only go fish­ing so many times. I’ve been do­ing this my whole life. There’s no sub­sti­tute for it.”

The years are catch­ing up with him. He wad­dles around slower and slower on those two sur­gi­cally re­placed knees. The dark hair of youth has gone gray. Ev­ery year brings a new wrin­kle or two to that weath­ered face.

Cox used to grab his mitt and take a turn at first base dur­ing bat­ting prac­tice, but he now sticks to a safe spot in the dugout or be­hind the cage.

“I can’t get on the field as much as I once did,” Cox con­ceded. “I can’t lift my left arm any­more. I’ve torn it up. I miss that part of the game. I was hav­ing fun out there.”

But his eyes light up with the prom­ise of each new sea­son. The pas­sion to win an­other World Se­ries is as strong as ever, es­pe­cially with the Braves com­ing off a sec­ond straight year of not mak­ing the play­offs.

Some thought Cox might fade away in tan­dem with John Schuer­holz, the team’s gen­eral man­ager for 17 sea­sons. Theirs was one of the great part­ner­ships in base­ball his­tory, re­sult­ing in an un­prece­dented run of play­off ap­pear­ances, but it ended when Schuer­holz — who’s less than a year older than Cox — moved up­stairs to team pres­i­dent last fall.

Cox re­mains in the dugout, get­ting ready for an­other sea­son.

The Braves have made it clear to Cox that an­other job in the or­ga­ni­za­tion awaits him when­ever he wants to quit man­ag­ing. But they aren’t push­ing him for a de­ci­sion, and they cer­tainly aren’t con­sid­er­ing the idea of nam­ing a suc­ces­sor while Cox is still in the dugout.

Hit­ting coach Terry Pendle­ton is prob­a­bly the most likely suc­ces­sor if the Braves wanted to keep it in-house, but no one is com­fort­able talk­ing even in the vaguest of terms about a man­ager-in-wait­ing as long as Cox is around.

How long might that be? No one knows, maybe not even Cox him­self.

“I re­ally gave re­tir­ing more thought the last few years than I have this year,” he said. “It’s re­ally not on my mind right now.”

COX

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