Musings from the Manager’s Office
Where to go on a rainy day in spring training? The manager of the Atlanta Braves, always a congenial host, held court with a half-dozen journalists before the rained-out exhibition game against the Pittsburgh Pirates at ESPN Wide World of Sports.
Now that he’s a self-proclaimed lame duck, Bobby Cox has answered everything two, three, or even a dozen times. He gushes about Jason Heyward., the hot rookie prospect, and insists his mix of veterans and kids will be a strong playoff contender in 2010.
But he also has plenty of other things to say. For example:
- Last night’s tornado in Haines City, about 10 miles from Disney World, reminded Cox of the killer Kissimmee tornado that knocked down light towers at the Houston Astros’ training base on the other side of town
- Cox said this past winter was the worst he’s experienced since moving to Atlanta in 1977
- Ex-Yankee reliever Scott Proctor, signed as a free agent, could make the Atlanta pen, according to Cox, who praised his penchant for pitching on championship clubs
- Because the Braves won’t play the Yankees or Red Sox this year, Cox regrets not having one last look at Fenway Park and Yankee Stadium (unless the Braves face the Sox or Yankees in the World Series)
- The schedule quirk that gives the Phillies and Mets six games each against the Yankee/Red Sox juggernaut but leaves the Braves without any doesn’t faze Cox, who said “I love playing those teams”
- Special instructors Phil Niekro, Dale Murphy, Gene Garber, and Javy Lopez have been a big help in Braves camp, the manager said
- Asked how Niekro, a knuckleballer, could help his pitchers, Cox reminded writers that, “Phil had the best slide-step in the world before anybody else had one.”
- Cox also remembered finishing on the losing end of Niekro’s 300th win, for the Yankees in Toronto. “He didn’t throw a knuckleball until the last pitch,” said Cox, who spent four years as manager of the Blue Jays. That game was the only one in which a pitcher earned his 300th win by throwing a complete-game shutout.
- The newly-bearded Javy Lopez, who turns 40 this year, still says he could hit a few home runs if given the chance
- Cox said there’s no significance to his lineup flip-flop of leadoff man Nate McLouth and #2 hitter Martin Prado. After Prado singled in the first inning of the rain-delayed game, though, the fleet McLouth dropped a drag bunt that caused an overthrow and put runners on second and third with nobody out for Chipper Jones.
- The consecutive rainouts rankled Cox, who said, “We never before got a single drop of rain during a game.” The Braves moved to Orlando from West Palm Beach in 1998.
- Cox admitted he doesn’t change the traveling squad roster when bad weather threatens a cancellation. The Braves made the two-hour trip to Tampa last night for a Yankees game that was cancelled shortly after the 7:05 p.m. gametime.
- Rain forces players indoors but doesn’t necessarily delay their progress. Cox recalled the case of Kevin Millwood, now with the Baltimore Orioles. “We didn’t know much about him,” he said, “but he pitched his innings inside and our eyes got real big.”
- Even if rookie phenom Jason Heyward lives up to his hype, Cox says he won’t change his mind about retiring. He also says writers will be asking his successor the same questions about Freddie Freeman, another lefthanded slugger who’s due to make his big-league bow in 2011.
- Dale Murphy’s birthday is today, March 12. The best present he could get would be enshrinement in the Baseball Hall of Fame.
Former AP sportswriter Dan Schlossberg is the author of 35 books, including this year’s The 300 Club: Have We Seen the Last of Baseball’s 300-Game Winners? He is also a baseball radio commentator.