Share this article

print logo

COX PROVIDES SECOND-GUESSERS WITH PLENTY OF AMMO

One night in 1977, an Atlanta Braves junior executive named Stan Kasten came home to his apartment and sat down in front of the television set to eat dinner and watch baseball.

"I couldn't believe my eyes," said Kasten, now the team president.

Ted Turner, the owner, was sitting in the Braves' dugout. In uniform. The team was in the midst of a 16-game losing streak, and he'd decided that manager Dave Bristol could use a night off.

Turner was managing the team himself. He lost, 2-1. The next day, the National League ordered him not to do it again. He wasn't qualified to manage.

For one night, though, he got an opportunity most baseball fans only dream of -- a chance to run a team and prove that managing isn't as difficult as it's cracked up to be.

Left without such advantages, we writers have to content ourselves with second-guessing. It's not an admirable pursuit, but it's all we have. And at this time of year, at the World Series, it's our favorite autumn pastime.

The managers never let us down. Almost invariably, as a Series unfolds and the pressure intensifies, some poor manager will suffer brain lock and leave himself open to the second-guess.

They hate it, too. When Bobby Cox gets second-guessed, he pulls his cap over his eyes, sneers and snaps off his answers like left jabs. That's when you know he's feeling the heat.

Cox has been miserable. He has been guilty of the great, inevitable sin of the mediocre manager -- overmanaging. The only thing he's managed to do is outsmart himself.

The momentum began to shift toward the Yanks when David Cone won Game Three. But the turning point came in the eighth inning of the fourth game, when Cox brought in Mark Wohlers to start the inning with a three-run lead.

I'm an advocate of using closers before the ninth. But not when you're three runs ahead. Not when your middle reliever, Mike Bielecki, is blowing people away.

The decision smacked of panic. When a manager makes such an uncharacteristic move, it tells his team his confidence is wavering. The Braves haven't been right since.

Walking Bernie Williams with men at first and second in the 10th inning of that game was equally dubious. Steve Avery was rusty and wild. Cox put him in a position to fail by making him face Wade Boggs, one of the best on-base men in history, with the bases loaded.

Of course, Cox still feels they were the right moves.

"Those were absolutely correct moves," Cox said after Wednesday's game. "To me, it's not even second-guessable. It would have been stupid not to use Wohlers in the eighth, and stupid to pitch to Bernie in the 10th."

Sure, Bobby. All I know is I've never seen anyone move the winning run up to third base by issuing an intentional walk.

"It's my belief you'd better have some (guts) in this game or you're not going anywhere," Cox said.

He paints himself as some kind of gambler, willing to go against convention. But in other areas, he's stuck to the book, while Yankees manager Joe Torre has gone with his instincts and wiped the floor with him.

Ryan Klesko led the Braves in home runs this year with 34. He had 93 RBIs. A year ago, he hit three homers in the Series. Cox has sat him three times against lefties. He's neutralized his best power hitter.

Klesko wasn't a platoon player this season. He played in 153 games. Granted, he hit .230 against lefties. But Darryl Strawberry hit .208. Torre started him against Tom Glavine and he got a crucial RBI hit.

Cox sat Klesko to give more playing time to rookie outfielders Andruw Jones and Jermaine Dye. But as any parent knows, give kids enough slack and they'll eventually mess up.

In Game Five, Jones got picked off first base. Dye got too close to Marquis Grissom on Charlie Hayes's long fly, distracting him and causing him to drop the ball. It set up the game's only run.

The Braves, an offensive machine at the start of the Series, haven't scored since the middle of Game Four. If Cox has a brain cell left in his head, he'll insert Klesko for Dye and send his best offensive team out against Jimmy Key tonight.

One of the things you learn at this event is there are no geniuses in baseball -- only managers who have talent and put it to good use without alienating the athletes.

Torre managed for 14 years without winning a post-season game. He had some talent in Atlanta, but for the most part he had second-rate rosters. George Steinbrenner was criticized for hiring him because he'd never won. But Torre rewarded the Boss' faith in him.

Torre has been terrific all year, refusing to panic and showing a remarkable instinct for putting players in the right situations.

While Cox was platooning Klesko, Torre went the other way in the fifth game, playing Charlie Hayes at third (instead of Wade Boggs) and Cecil Fielder at first (over Tino Martinez) against right-hander John Smoltz.

Hayes scored the winning run and played splendidly at third. Fielder had three hits and drove in the only run.

Over the past few weeks, there has been a predictable run of stories about Cox never getting his due as a great manager. Well, he isn't. Torre is better.

A lot of managers would like to take their chances with Smoltz, Glavine, Maddux and the rest of that group. Come to think of it, the Braves are on a losing streak, and things are desperate . . .

Maybe Ted Turner would like to give it another shot.

There are no comments - be the first to comment