July 2, 2007

Cox’s legacy thrown out of whack

Bobby Cox has already broken John McGraw’s notorious ejections record — as a manger.

Cox and McGraw both have 130 ejections, but McGraw was thrown out 14 times as a player. Cox has 130 ejections as a manager, McGraw 117. Earl Weaver is third with 97.

“It’s kind of embarrassing,” the Atlanta manager told the Associated Press.

It’s also unfortunate that Cox has become infamous for his short temper instead of lauded as the best manager of pitchers of his generation, possibly of all time.

With Atlanta (1978-91), the Toronto Blue Jays (1982-85) and Atlanta again (1990-present), Cox has been able to keep his starting pitchers healthy and pitching at a high level for a long time.

In 1977, Atlanta had a team ERA of 4.85. In four seasons under Cox, it was 4.08, 4.18, 3.77 and 3.45.

In 1981, the Blue Jays had a team ERA of 3.81. In four seasons under Cox, it was 3.95, 4.12, 3.86 and a league-best 3.31 in 1985.

In Cox’s second stint with Atlanta, his teams have led the league in ERA 10 times (1992, 1993, 1995, 1997 to 2002 and 2004), and they were second in two other seasons.

Cox has managed two ERA leaders: Dave Stieb and Greg Maddux (four seasons).

He has managed six 20-game winners: Phil Niekro, Tom Glavine (five times), Maddux, John Smoltz, Denny Neagle and Russ Ortiz.

Cox has coaxed All-Star type seasons out of young pitchers (Jimmy Key, Steve Avery, Kevin Millwood), ones near the end of their careers (Doyle Alexander) and those lost somewhere in between (Jaret Wright).

It’s hard to explain exactly why Cox has been so good at developing and managing starting pitchers.

Leo Mazzone was his pitching coach from 1990 to 2005. His best practices for pitchers included pitching twice between starts instead of once, using the outside corner of the strike zone and using a fastball to set up breaking balls.

Mazzone was an asset to Cox, but Cox knew how to manage pitchers before he employed Mazzone.

One of Cox’s strengths is he isn’t an overly intense manager (away from umpires). It’s hard to remember him having a publicized conflict with a single player.

His ability to work with and develop young players, including pitchers, is excellent. He never overreacted or even reacted to John Rocker’s free speech or Mark Wohlers’ control problems.

Cox isn’t afraid to field a losing team or finish third after 14 consecutive division titles, because he knows part of his job is developing players for the future.

In fact, Cox’s behavior with umpires is the exact opposite of is behavior with is players. Maybe that’s the key to his success.
— Kevin Brewer

This article originally appeared in The Washington Times on July 2, 2007.

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