Tuesday, November 16, 2010
Did Bobby Cox really win just once?
In Craig Wright's latest (subscriber-only) Diamond Appraised newsletter, he responds to a question from a reader about Bobby Cox. After running through all the complimentary stuff, there's this:
I have a lot of admiration and appreciation of Cox as a manager. But I can’t say that Cox is a contender for being considered the greatest manager ever. I got the chance to do some work for the Braves back in 1995-96 which led to an unusual familiarity with what I came to see as Bobby’s strengths and weaknesses. He was an excellent manager for the long haul, assembling and shaping a team, and dealing with issues in the context of the long season. And that quite frankly is the toughest kind of manager to find and the most valuable. But the really great managers -- like Joe McCarthy and Earl Weaver -- are generally good at everything.
As an in-game tactician, Cox appeared to me to be mediocre, and his loyalty to his players -- which was a factor in creating his seasonal strength – turned into a weakness in some of those crucial post-season series. For example, when Cox lost the very close 1996 World Series, the reasons for that defeat were often traceable to poor decisions by Cox that were driven by loyalty issues to certain players in the face of quite practical reasons to go the other way.
If we are going to give Cox credit for the second most post-season wins, we should also acknowledge that he has a big lead in most post-season losses. He actually has a losing record in an immense sample of 136 post-season decisions, and I assure you that his teams were on average not the underdogs in those series. Something did go wrong there. Personally, I think the Braves had more than their share of bad luck in post-season play under Cox, but I have to honestly conclude that he was a part of those struggles, too.
Reluctantly, I must agree. I don't have the energy or the self-confidence to read everything that I wrote during after all those postseason losses, but I do recall being at least mildly critical of Cox more than once. The last time I checked -- and granted, this is going back some years -- one of the less obvious reasons for the Braves' relative struggles was the collective failure of their pinch-hitters ... and that, along with pitching changes, is probably more subject to managerial whim than anything else in October.
Again, it's very easy to overstate this case. Very easy. Bobby Cox managed 16 teams into the playoffs. One of those teams won the World Series. You can argue that most of that is due to poor luck; that with just decent luck, the Braves would have won three or four World Series. I would agree with you.
But let's assume for a moment that the Braves actually won six or seven or eight World Series. Wouldn't Bobby Cox receive a great deal of credit for that?
If so, then we have to assign at least a small spot of blame to Cox for what actually happened.