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Thumbing His Way Back Home
July 26, 2010
Retirement is calling, and Bobby Cox has the Braves in first place (again). How has he managed to win so many games? Maybe by getting ejected so often
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July 26, 2010

Thumbing His Way Back Home

Retirement is calling, and Bobby Cox has the Braves in first place (again). How has he managed to win so many games? Maybe by getting ejected so often

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Before we talk about sacrifice, or phantom blackbirds, or the Chipper Jones Momentum-Turn Hypothesis, let me tell you about the time Bobby Cox demolished a toilet with one bare hand.

It happened at Shea Stadium. Braves shortstop Darrel Chaney slid into home, and the plate umpire called him out, and Chaney raised enough Cain to get himself ejected. Cox was so furious on his player's behalf that he went to the bathroom by the dugout and visited justice upon the toilet. Chaney saw the shattered tank, the gushing water, and he loved the skipper for what he had done.

Chaney decided he would do anything for Bobby Cox, even ride the bench without complaint, which he did for most of the 1979 season. He played so seldom in the dusk of his career that he basically forgot how, and by mid-September his average had fallen to .111. Cox called him into the office.

They're not renewing your contract, he said. They're gonna release you. But I'll play you as much as I can these last two weeks, so other clubs can see you.

Chaney was a career .217 hitter. He went out those last two weeks and hit .333 for Bobby Cox. And then he retired.

ACCORDING TO the Chipper Jones Momentum-Turn Hypothesis, first posited years ago but never rigorously tested until now, the ejection of Bobby Cox from any baseball game imparts a certain heat and energy to his players, who respond by playing better. Thus the momentum turn and, perhaps, victory.

Sunday is the best day on which to study this phenomenon. July is the best month. If you want to see the Braves manager explode, you would do well to check the schedule for an afternoon game on a Sunday in July, preferably in Miami. (In other words, circle this Sunday on your calendar.) This is not to say that Cox never gets angry at night in October; he does. No one else has been thrown out of two World Series games. But the numbers show a correlation. Heat has a way of lighting the fuse.

Jones, who has played his entire 17-year career for Cox, gathered new evidence for his hypothesis on a Tuesday night in August 2007, when the temperature at Turner Field was 97°. The heat wave had killed cattle in South Carolina, buckled a highway in Mississippi and pressed down so hard on Texas that a playground caught fire. In Atlanta more than 36,000 people ventured from their personal refrigerators to boo Barry Bonds for the home run record he had just stolen from their beloved Hank Aaron. The Giants took a 3--0 lead into the fifth inning. With two on, two out and a roaring sunset behind the Downtown Connector, Jones came to bat for the Braves.

The 2-and-2 pitch ran inside, above the white line of the batter's box. It looked like a strike to Ted Barrett, the home plate umpire, who called Jones out. Jones cursed and flung his helmet. Bad idea: Barrett is an ordained minister. The reverend removed his mask, cheeks burning sunset pink, sweat on his upper lip reflecting the floodlights. But before he could finish with Jones, a sound came from the home dugout. Bobby Cox was creating a diversion.

You can't tell from the video what Cox said to Barrett, or vice versa. No matter. The mere act of arguing balls and strikes is enough to get a manager ejected. Cox knew this better than anyone else. It had happened to him nearly 50 times.

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