ATLANTA -- Braves manager Brian Snitker recently received a text from Bobby Cox’s wife, Pam, that read, “Bobby wants to know when the [heck] are you going to start playing baseball?”
You can almost see the somewhat ornery smile Cox may have shown when he decided to send this message, knowing there was still too much uncertainty to determine when the season might begin. But at the same time, this text provided more reassurance that the stroke Cox suffered last year has done nothing to diminish his love and passion for baseball.
“I know baseball would give him something to look forward to, to watch those games,” Snitker said. “I would go visit him about once a week last year, and you knew he was keeping up with what was happening. I remember one time after Max Fried had a good game, Bobby talked about it the next day and I left there thinking, ‘God, he watched every pitch and saw things a lot of other people might not have.’”
Unfortunately, the quarantine lifestyle necessitated by the coronavirus pandemic has prevented Snitker, Roger McDowell, Terry Pendleton, Eddie Perez and others from continuing to regularly visit Cox, who is at his suburban Atlanta home as he continues to recover from that stroke on April 2, 2019.
“Before I went to Spring Training, I went to Bobby’s, and Snit came over about an hour later,” Pendleton said. “We’re just sitting there talking about things and Pam says, ‘Terry, I’ve got a question for you.’ I was like, ‘What’s up, Pam?’ She was like, ‘Has Bobby ever gotten after you about something?’ I was like, ‘Uhhh, yes.’”
At this point, Pendleton refers back to May 28, 1993, when he walked off the field during a game in Cincinnati because Marvin Freeman had not thrown at the Reds’ Tim Belcher, who had hit Deion Sanders with a pitch in the top of the seventh inning.
“You have to remember, to get to the old clubhouse in Cincinnati, it was a long walk up those stairs,” Pendleton said. “Skipper wore my butt out the entire way up those stairs. It was the longest chew out I’ve ever had. I don’t think my mom and dad ever wore me out as long as he did that night. When we got in the clubhouse, he wore my butt out for another 10 minutes and then he said, ‘Now, this is over. Neither of us is speaking to the press or anybody else about this again.’ To him, it was over -- and it was. That’s why coaches, players and everybody loved Bobby.”
On his way to racking up a Major League-record 158 ejections (161 if you count the postseason), Cox proved that he could be quite fiery when he felt it was necessary. Perez’s first introduction to this occurred during the early 1990s, when he was informed that he was coming over from the Minor League side to serve as an extra in a Spring Training road game played in Fort Myers, Fla.
Instructed to wear pants and a collared shirt, Perez wore black jeans because he didn’t own khakis or dress pants. Cox said it was fine after being informed during the team’s 2 1/2-hour trip from West Palm Beach, Fla. But when the Braves lost that day, he unloaded in a postgame tirade directed toward Sanders, David Justice and Dwight Smith, who had worn shorts and T-shirts.
“Bobby got everybody in the clubhouse and started cussing,” Perez said. “He said, ‘If you didn’t wear dress pants, you owe me $500.’ This is the first time I’ve met Bobby, and I’m looking at my pants and I was scared. But he came back out and said the rookies didn’t have to worry about paying the fine. The next day, when some of the guys brought the money to the office, Bobby said, ‘What is this for? I don’t remember nothing. Get out of here.’”
Influencing the atmosphere
Along with having a good feel for when the time was right to deliver a message in a heated manner, Cox also had the ability to maintain a sense of calmness. Snitker was reminded of this on Aug. 4, 2007, when Octavio Dotel surrendered a grand slam to Garrett Atkins in a 6-4 win over the Rockies.
“I’m sitting there raising hell and cussing, and he’s sitting there like there’s something wrong with me,” Snitker said. “He was like, ‘No big deal, we’ll just go on to the next thing.’ That’s the way he was during games. We were still winning. He had things under control. And he wanted his players to feel the same way.”
After becoming Cox’s third-base coach during that 2007 season, Snitker quickly realized the players weren’t the only members of the organization the loyal manager regularly protected.
“I’d get somebody thrown out and I’d say, ‘Man, I screwed up there,’” Snitker said. “He’d say, ‘No, you didn’t.’ That was the greatest throw I’ve ever seen or [the player] wasn’t running hard. It was never my fault, even though I knew it was.”
Snitker still laughs about the day former Braves coach Glenn Hubbard approached him and asked, “How do you always get invited to dinner?”
“I said, ‘Haven’t you figured this out yet?’” Snitker said. “If [Cox] sees you, he’ll invite you. I told Hubby, ‘Why do you think I sit there and drink coffee every morning in his office?’ Whenever I get the invite, I say, ‘I’m in,’ and then I leave.”
One of those meals away from the stadium created a running joke between Cox and Perez whenever they would dine together over the final few years of Cox’s managerial career.
“Eddie orders this real nice bottle of wine, has it decanted, and he really wants to impress Bobby,” Snitker said. “Bobby comes in about 20 minutes later. Eddie pours him a glass and says, ‘What do you think?’ Bobby just shrugged his shoulders and said, ‘It’s OK.’ But if Bobby had known Eddie was trying to impress him, ‘He’d have likely told him it was the greatest bottle of wine ever.’”
What Snitker didn’t know was that Cox was simply reacting to what Perez had done a year or two earlier.
“Bobby bought this nice bottle of wine and he put it in the decanter thinking I was going to say, ‘Bobby, this is great,’” Perez said. “When I drank it, I said, ‘It’s OK.’ He was like, ‘What do you mean, it’s OK?’ So anytime after that when we went to dinner, every time I’d pour him a glass, he’d say, ‘Eddie, this wine is just OK.’”
Now, as Cox anxiously hopes for the resumption of baseball, his many friends are looking forward to the chance to once again spend time with the man who had the pleasure of playing with Mickey Mantle, managing four Hall of Famers in Atlanta and seemingly having fun every step of the way.
“We were on a train one time as he told stories and I was thinking, ‘God, we’re on a train like this with the ultimate baseball guy,’” Snitker said. “It was a really cool, special time. I don’t even remember where we were going, but I know nobody wanted to get there. They just wanted to keep riding and listening.”