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Lessons learned

Cox's managerial style has taught me six things

Posted: Monday August 1, 2005 1:56PM; Updated: Monday August 1, 2005 1:56PM
Bobby Cox
Bobby Cox has pushed the right buttons in Atlanta for 15 seasons.
Brian Bahr/Getty Images

Some of us learn from history, some of us from books, some of us from our families. Lessons are all around us, just waiting to be absorbed. It's all about where you look to learn.

As for me, I live my life according to a set of principles I've picked up from Atlanta Braves manager Bobby Cox. I've never sat at his feet and soaked in a series of homespun tales and maxims. I've never even spoken to the man.

Still, I feel like I know him. I watch every Braves game, and Bobby's always the same, has been for more than a decade. I know what moves he's going to make before he makes them, which is a bit disconcerting, because I'm guessing opposing managers understand him, too.

I find comfort in that consistency. Though I end up watching many of the Braves' weeknight games in fast-forward on TiVo, Sunday is our day, the chance for some alone time with Bobby. My wife knows that my Sunday afternoons are reserved for the Braves, to not even bother asking me to walk the dog or take out the trash.

Yesterday, I mentioned my idea for this column to wife, and she responded, "But usually you're just angry at Bobby Cox." And yes, in the heat of the moment, I'll admit that I do tend to get, well, furious with him. A visitor to my apartment may well believe that Cox's first name is a curse word. That's just how our relationship is, though: love and hate, feast or famine. Even I have to admit, however, that he's doing something right, having won 13 straight division titles and currently sitting atop the NL East with the best home record in all of baseball.

I've never read Tuesdays With Morrie, but I know the tag line is "An Old Man, a Young Man and Life's Greatest Lesson." If Bobby's the old man and I'm the young man, here are six lessons in life and leadership that I've learned from watching Bobby Cox run the Braves.

1) Stay Positive -- Perhaps my favorite thing about Cox is his constant cheerleading from the dugout. Check out a game on TBS sometime, anytime, and you can clearly hear Cox exhorting the Braves hitters from the dugout, usually just before every pitch. "Let's go, Rochey! C'mon kid!" It doesn't matter what the score is, the count is, the odds of winning are. Bobby is always there, always letting everyone know that he thinks there's still a chance.

2) Dress For Success -- Cox always dresses as though he might have to go in and play in a pinch. According to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Cox is the only manager in the majors who wears spikes for every game. Last year, when Major League Baseball demanded that the Braves wear unsightly gray warm-up jackets, Cox noted his objection, saying, "I'd rather wear pink." This past year I've made an effort, too, wearing more dress shirts than I've ever worn in my life. And you know what? You look better, you feel better. Like Bobby, though, I won't wear pink.

3) Consistency -- This is Bobby's gift and his curse. Once he understands where a player is best utilized, he never varies, always using the same guys in the same spots. It's especially evident in his handling of the pitching staff: starters go six innings, rarely throwing more than 110 pitches; relievers generally go one inning apiece; righty batter, bring in righty reliever, and vice-versa. While it can be maddening to watch, his steady hand gives the Braves players comfort, knowing Cox won't use them where they can't succeed.

4) Show Emotion -- Aside from his vocal exhortations, Cox seems mild-mannered, but he's generally just one bad call from exploding. Cox is the leader among all current managers in career ejections, and he's the only skipper to be ejected from the World Series twice. While he occasionally gets run for arguing, many times he gets ejected for show, either to get his troops fired up or to keep one of his guys from getting tossed. Without saying anything directly to them, they know he's got their backs.

5) Surround Yourself With Greatness -- The Braves current coaching staff is stocked with three guys who could be major league managers right now: Leo Mazzone, Terry Pendleton and Fredi Gonzalez. I love that Cox isn't afraid to hire guys who know more than he does about different aspects, as Mazzone has certainly proved while molding the Braves pitching staff into the best in baseball. Cox's loyalty to them pays dividends, as it did last week when Mazzone was erroneously linked to the Yankees. "I've been under contract with the Atlanta Braves for 14 years, and I hope to be under contract with them another 14 years," Mazzone said. "I love it here."

6) Trust -- If you're playing for the Braves, if you're on Cox's roster, he trusts that you can get the job done. Earlier this season, as the Braves started calling up their entire minor league system, rookie Kelly Johnson got plugged into the two hole in the batting order and responded by going 1 for 30. But Cox stuck with him and he straightened himself out, and he's now unseated Brian Jordan in left field. Similarly, you'll never hear Cox disparage a player to the media. He holds his tongue, handles business in private, and as a result engenders a great deal of affection from his team. They want to give their best for him. And that's the best you can ask for from a leader, isn't it?

Game Of The Week

Since we're focusing on learning this week, here's an oddly compelling addition game sent in by reader Andres Yu.

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I know they're the Worldwide Leader and all, but you'd think someone at ESPN would catch the note here  at the end of the column about Georgia assistant coach Mike Jones wearing a "Property of Mike Jones" t-shirt. The writer apparently has never heard of the rapper Mike Jones and his ubiquitous t-shirts.  You know, since his album has only sold a million copies and all ...

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Lang Whitaker is the online editor at SLAM magazine and writes daily at http://www.SLAMonline.com