Does Cox still have some magic in his tank?
When Jeff Bennett decided to be the one doing the hitting earlier this week, Braves manager Bobby Cox said that the reliever’s decision to punch a door wasn’t exactly smart. Then he added that it was at least encouraging to see that Bennett cared.
Using this same logic, I guess many Braves fans are proving that they still have some passion while questioning whether Cox is the right man to lead this year’s team.
Dating back to the days when Cox was leading the Braves into the postseason on an annual basis, there was always a small group of fans who questioned his tactical approach. But this seems to be the first year that a growing legion is questioning whether his time has passed.
As our faithful blogger Rother pointed out in the comments section earlier this week, Bobby Bowden and Joe Paterno are among the most recent coaching legends who have heard fans question whether they’re too old to prolong the traditions of excellence that they established at their respective universities.
Like Bowden with Florida State and Paterno with Penn State, Cox is the man most responsible for the fact that the Braves transformed from laughingstock to a perennial championship contender. He rebuilt the Minor League system during the late 1980’s and then served as an unmatched general while leading the Braves to an unprecedented 14 consecutive division titles.
About five years ago, I wrote that Cox had earned the right to continue managing the Braves as long as he desires. As I’ve had the opportunity to be around this game longer, I’ve come to view that as a short-sighted comment that should never be made in reference to any legend, regardless of their accomplishments.
Still I’m not ready to concede that Cox isn’t the right man for this job. This year’s team possesses flaws that extend beyond the fact that the offense hasn’t adequately backed a strong starting rotation. But while this clubhouse might not be as harmonious as some of the recent ones that have existed in Atlanta, the fault shouldn’t squarely be placed on the manager.
The Braves have pushed for Yunel Escobar to enhance his knowledge of the English language and he told them that he intended to do so this past offseason. But other than the expletive he mouthed toward the press box after being charged with an error on Thursday, I haven’t seen him provide much indication that he’s willing to speak anything other than Spanish.
With limited communication skills and his stubborn personality, Escobar has proven to be both unable and unwilling to fully grasp the messages that veterans like Chipper Jones and the Braves coaching staff have attempted to deliver over the course of his two years at the Major League level.
Like Bowden and Paterno, Cox has reached a point where he has to rely more heavily on his assistant coaches. Within this framework, the responsibility of guiding Escobar has been placed on the shoulders of bench coach Chino Cadahia, who at least attempted to show provide some discipline after the shortstop displayed his unprofessional reactions on Thursday.
As for Garret Anderson, there isn’t anybody who was going to be able to alter the lifeless approach that he’s developed throughout his 16-season Major League career.
Provided no other external alternatives, Cox pushed for the Braves to sign Anderson during February’s final week and the veteran outfielder has at least rewarded him with consistent offensive production that lacks power.
But while Anderson’s bat has been solid, his defensive skills have proven to be worse than expected. His limited range has been on display throughout the season and he certainly didn’t gain any supporters on Friday night, when he didn’t even react to Dustin Pedroia’s high chopper until it landed in shallow left field.
Instead of publicly ripping Escobar or Anderson, Cox has continued to shower them with the same kind of support that Jeff Francoeur and Kelly Johnson have been provided while proving to be this year’s top two offensive disappointments.
While this approach might prove maddening to fans while the team is losing, it’s one that allowed for the dramatic turnarounds the 1991, 1993 and 2004 clubs experienced on their way to division titles.
So for now, I’m just going to maintain the belief that Cox has earned the right to prove he still has some magic in the tank.