Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Bobby Cox retires soon...we pay our respects

Bobby at Spring Training with FOSG Eric Hager shooting video/Courtesy: Rob Carr/AP
We've been trying to figure out a good time to do this and decided that as we hit the last full week of the Major league baseball season, now is as good a time as any.

For those who want a good, national perspective, here is a nicely done article by Jayson Stark of ESPN.com RIGHT HERE

I got the opportunity to cover Bobby Cox for almost 10-years and am proud to say so. I can say without a doubt he was one of the most interesting yet honest people that I ever covered.

There are so many stories that I can tell. Stories that some may know and some may not. Sure, everyone has given perspective of how much of a players manager he is--and was. There is no questioning that nor should there be. But I think that probably the toughest thing that both he...and his players are going to have to deal with is...a new routine.

Bobby, without fail did the same things...at the same time, every year. At Spring Training, he didn't push his guys hard. His only rule. Be there on time, ready to take the field promptly at 9am. He always started the 1st full day the same way. A locker room speech. Not a long one, but always a speech. Once he finished, the team would make its way to the dugout and on cue, the field.

Mark Harmon and Me at Braves Spring Training 2006/Courtesy: Eric Hager
Shortly thereafter, he would waddle out to the field and we'd interview him. Always, always the optimist, he'd be excited by that years team, he'd say they "Should be really good". The interview would last a good 5-minutes or so and then we'd all move on.

He really didn't have a lot rules for the players. No boom boxes/loud music in the locker room. If you had your uniform on, make sure the team logo could be seen. Show up on time and give your best effort. If you did that, you were good. The stories about his loyalty are all true. If he liked you and respected you, he'd fight for you with his last breath.

Bobby's Spring Training places were three...either on a golf cart, under a tent in the right field bullpen or on a bench behind the batting cage. He was always in one of those three places. Without fail. The players, they did their work. They were expected to. It didn't have to be said and wasn't.

There are several other stories that stood out to me. In 2001, Bobby had bad knees, they hadn't been replaced yet. I would, weekly during that season, shoot an interview with him for a show that aired on the station that I worked for. Didn't do the interview, just shot it. But always, we'd help Bobby up on top of the dugout where we did the interview. He never complained, patiently sat there and took our help getting him up. Always...the professional.

When I worked Braves games, the 1st place we went after the game to get sound was his office. His office was just down the hall from the dressing room and had/has a big plasma TV on the wall facing his desk. On Sunday's, after the day game, he always would ask where the race was on TV. And I always would tell him, sometimes before he asked. He'd light up a cigar and then either me, or one of the writers would ask him a question or two, he'd talk about what happened and how well his guys did and we'd proceed to the locker room.

Before the games, he always was in the same place. Once BP started, he was on the end of the bench, nearest to the tunnel and would be talking to whomever sidled over to talk. Sometimes it would be a writer, sometimes Braves PR guy Brad Hanjie, sometimes it would be the Atlanta Police officer working the game from the dugout.

He'd be happy to talk to them. He would get a little more nervous if one of us TV guys came around, but would always talk...always acknowledge the reporter by name. Though he would occasionally get them confused. For a couple of years, he confused my reporter, Mark Harmon with WXIA-TV sports reporter Randy Waters. Mark and I would finish our interview and he'd say "Thanks Randy". It always got a huge laugh from me, Mark's face usually turned red...and then he would laugh too.

I can't say, like Chipper Jones, that Bobby is the only Braves manager I've ever known. I've been a fan since I was a kid. I still remember Chuck Tanner and Joe Torre (early years) and Dave Bristol. I remember the teams with Larvell Blanks and Bob Horner and Buzz Capra and Biff Pocoroba. But he was the only one that I got to cover. And the fact that he was the same guy the first time we talked as he was the last time, speaks volumes to the guy he is.

Yes, it was an honor to have covered the team that I grew up rooting for. It was a bigger honor to say that I got to interact with some of the greats in the history of baseball. The lasting memory however, will always be with Bobby Cox. He is, was and will always be remembered as "THE" manager of the Atlanta Braves.

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