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Friday, October 15, 2010

Disappointment of the Week: Bobby Cox's career comes to an end

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When the 2010 Atlanta Braves season ended on Monday night, so too did the career of longtime manager Bobby Cox.

"It's flown by for me," Cox said at a press conference on Wednesday afternoon. "The reason it flies by, I suppose, is because you're having fun...there's a lot of anxiety involved in it, but it's still fun."

Cox spent a quarter century on the bench here in Atlanta and is widely considered one of the best managers in Major League Baseball history after winning 14 consecutive division titles and the 1995 World Series.

But for all of Cox's success, the murmurs of his critics continue to linger.

The Braves boasted arguably the best pitching staff in baseball for the better part of a decade, but only managed to win one World Championship.

Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine and John Smoltz will be forever linked as one of the greatest pitching threesomes in the history of the sport, but for all their collective greatness—combining to win seven Cy Young awards from 1991-98—they were never able to slip on more than one World Series ring.

There's little doubt that the Braves should've won more than one World Championship, but you can't place all of the blame on Cox.

Why not? Because when compared to the three other major professional sports in this country, baseball is the most challenging one to conquer.

With a schedule that's over 10 times longer than that of the NFL and a postseason that includes less than 27 percent (8 out of 30 teams) of the entire league—as opposed to the NHL and NBA where more teams make the postseason (16) than not (14)—Major League Baseball is the one professional sports league that cannot be won by chance.

Unlike professional basketball, where one great player or two can carry a team into the playoffs and ultimately to a Championship, baseball requires a cohesive unit of 25 individuals replete with both chemistry and talent in order to be successful.

It's impossible to rely on one player to succeed in baseball.

For instance, a dominant starting pitcher can only throw, at most, once every three days and your best hitter doesn't get to bat in every inning.

Unlike professional football, where once you make the postseason all you have to do is win three maybe four games to win a Championship, baseball requires you to face the same team as many as seven times in the matter of a week-and-a-half.

A 162-game regular season will ultimately reveal every team's lineup holes, defensive flaws and pitching problems.

In fact, until the New York Yankees accomplished the feat one year ago, the last time a team won the World Series after posting the league's best regular season record was in 1998.

It's a simple baseball fact: The best team doesn't always win almost never wins—take the 1993, 1997, 1998, 1999, 2002 and 2003 Atlanta Braves teams, for instance—and the best managers can't do a thing about it.

While people want to keep piling on Bobby Cox for a career of missed opportunities, this simple notion still remains: Being in contention for 14 consecutive years and only managing to win one Championship is a helluva lot better than winning two or three more titles in a shorter—less impressive—time frame.

Would we still care about the Braves if they managed to win the 1992 and 1993 World Series and then went on to miss the playoffs the next 16 seasons?

That's what happened to the Toronto Blue Jays and they haven't averaged more than 30,000 fans a game since 1998.

What if Cox was able to lead the Braves to a World Series title in 1997 then lose 108 games the following year and go on to suffer four more losing seasons before winning another Championship in 2003?

Florida Marlins fans surely haven't stuck around after enduring that exact fate.

Despite what his critics say, Bobby Cox was great year in and year out. Sure, he made a few mistakes along the way, but he's still regarded among his contemporaries and his peers as one of the 10—maybe even five—greatest managers the game has ever seen.

Regardless of the successes and failures of future Braves managers, Cox has permanently cemented himself as the franchise's all-time best.

And that's something we can definitely agree on.

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