Last Tuesday evening, my daughters and I witnessed baseball history when the Atlanta Braves hosted the San Francisco Giants at Turner Field. Maybe we should sell the ticket stubs on eBay.
It had nothing to do with What’s-his –name surpassing the career home run record of the gracious and talented Mr. Henry L. Aaron. That happened a week earlier in San Fran — so I heard.
No, the record broken on this warm night in Atlanta came at the end of the fifth inning when Braves manager Bobby Cox was ejected from the game for the 132nd time in his career, surpassing the late longtime New York Giants manager John McGraw.
Actually, McGraw had been ejected several more times as a player than Cox, who already held the record for ejections by a manager only. But, clearly, this title was not one sought by scruffy and popular Cox.
For nearly two months he had bit his tongue, scratched his head, stomped around the dugout and, somehow, avoided getting dispensed to the clubhouse early. But when his star third baseman reacted negatively to a called third strike, Cox was there to defend his player.
The bulk of his ejections have come in the latter years as manager of the Braves. As a fellow fan and I discussed after the game Tuesday night, Cox is not the hot-headed, dirt-kicking kind of manager one would expect to hold such a record.
He is not as red-faced and animated as managerial characters of the past like Leo Durocher, Earl Weaver or Billy Martin — or the contemporary Lou Piniella. However, I have urged my daughters not to read Bobby’s lips too closely when he engages an umpire in debate and it is shown close-up on TV.
And he is certainly not a showman like the Braves AA manager Phillip Wellman who gained YouTube fame and a three-day suspension for a colorful, five-minute tirade in Chattanooga on June 1. I was privileged, by chance, to see that historic event in person as well.
Truthfully, my daughters and I — like almost the entire crowd of 37,000 — were unaware that Cox had been ejected for the record-breaking time during Tuesday’s game. It was done more quietly than usual by umpire Ted Barrett. You just can’t argue balls and strikes though some umpires allow a little more of it than others.
I wish it had been more obvious, if not spectacular. For, sadly, the fans didn’t even have the chance to boo Barrett for tossing Cox or chant the ever supportive: “Bobby, Bobby, Bobby…” during a harmless nose-to-nose exchange of differing opinions.
After the game the veteran Chipper Jones, who has never known a Major League manager other than Cox, said he was proud that Bobby had set the record while standing up for him. Outfielder Matt Diaz added that it was typical of Bobby: “He went out there and had his player’s back.”
What novice or non-baseball fans may not realize is that a good manager will come out and argue on behalf of a player even if he is not so sure whether the call was a good one or not.
In other words, his foremost purpose is to stand between the player and the umpire and to plead the case for one of his own.
From a pragmatic standpoint, too, it is less damaging to a team if the manager has to inconveniently direct play from his clubhouse office than to have an upset player removed from the game — or worse, suspended for several games.
But, ultimately, Cox is seen as being deeply loyal to his players and willing to take the heat on their behalf. That and his even-handed and respectful relationships with them make him extremely popular with his players.
Loyalty and evenhanded are good characteristics. And whether on the field of play or in other arenas of life, we all need advocates. When the last time you or I stood up for somebody else?
Executive editor / publisher at Good Faith Media.