Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Dominance or Marginal Failure?

When Bobby Cox's first playoff season started, my youngest brother had not yet been born.

The first October in his lifetime without the Braves playing playoff baseball was when he was a sophomore in high school.

While it is debatable whether Cox was the deciding factor or just a guy who was in the right place at the right time, he was certainly an important part of perhaps the most sustained dominance in the history of baseball. The fact that the team could excel over 162 every year for a decade and a half without the following is incredible:
-A clubhouse implosion amidst a losing streak resulting in Cox "losing the team."
-A major fallout with an erratic owner and a loose-lipped general manager, costing him his job.
-A stupid decision in the playoffs, although Monday night was close.
-A smattering of websites all over the Internet dedicated to the firing of the manager.

This guy apparently had the approval rate close to that of Franklin Roosevelt. He also had similar longevity. Managers don't stay that long anymore in any sport. That's why this is such an improbable story.

Not to say the Braves were not blessed by other circumstances. Due to the TBS connection, they developed a national fan base. They could spend significant money, as they were able to retain a lot of their own players as well as make what was I believe at the time a record-setting free agent acquisition in Greg Maddux. However, did they ever exceed $100 million in their history? I don't think they did. GM John Schuerholz was a tremendous drafter and put together some very good Royals teams before he was the Braves' GM. On top of good player selection and development, he knew how to catch fire with guys in their contract years: Bobby Cox was the beneficiary of the only good year of JD Drew's career, and he got some production out of Mark Teixeira as well.

Unlike Joe Torre, you can't say Bobby Cox had a crappy W-L record when given sub-par to bad teams. And some of the teams he took to the playoffs were shaky at best. But he won 100 games seven times.

But who's to say some of those players didn't take the hometown discount a couple of times because they liked the manager? You've heard what Chipper Jones has been saying about the guy. Cox had a "players' manager" kind of mentality, all the way to letting Derek Lowe make the decision to stay in last night. He's always stood up for his players, as he got thrown out of a legitimate season of baseball games over his tenure. And while I wasn't a regular TBS watcher or AJC reader, I don't think he made a lot of stupid comments to the media. Like T-Pain, all he did was win. While reading the Steinbrenner biography, I learned that in the early 90s, instead of Buck Showalter, the Yankees could have hired Bobby Cox, who was managing NY's AAA team. Sort of made me shudder.

But the real question of debate here is the following: Can this Braves tenure under Bobby Cox be considered dominance, or does the fact that the team only won one World Series and five pennants make this Braves dynasty similar to the Oakland A's or Boston Bruins, showing up to the playoffs, but not being good enough to make it far? Since getting swept by the 1999 Yankees in the World Series, they have won exactly one (1) postseason series. It can be argued that well-managed teams, at least if given enough chances, can just make it happen. Something the Braves only did while making Julian Tavarez cry in the 1995 World Series.

I'm not making that argument: I'm all aboard the bandwagon to say the guy was a crazy genius. But the argument can certainly be made otherwise.


Patrick said...

dominance. it's not easy to win the world series. it's even tougher when one of your best runs as a team coincides with the yankees' dominance of the late 90's. you noted how incredible this last 21 year run with the braves was, and that is right on point. that he only won one world series doesn't take away from that. he got to 5 of them, and even that is amazing. no marginal failure here.

the gm at work said...

I agree with you there for sure, especially when you factor in that it was absolutely the period when the Yankees executed the exact same things better than perhaps any other team in the history of the game.

That Yankees team exploited drafting, development, and filling needs with outbidding the field in those years better than anyone had ever done before and better than anyone - themselves included - did afterwards.

The fact that the Braves had that run with a more-limited budget is also especially astounding.

Thanks again for the pity comment.

TimC said...

Slow Wednesday, huh? I have a theory (one many of you will agree with, if you see this) that bad sleep catches up two days later. Thanks to the Jets and that thunderstorm, here we are.

Anyway, here is a factor that was not explicitly mentioned (but hinted at, of course, and the reasons DV listed is the reason why I thought of it). The most overrated thing to do in sports, in my opinion, is to succeed. People place a value on success that is so far above what I feel it actually proves in all kinds of arenas. However, people place NO value whatsoever on the difficulty level of maintaining success. Give me a guy who wins as a favorite over a guy who wins as an underdog any day of the week. It happens everywhere; guy comes out of nowhere to hit 10 HRs in a month, then goes back to the minors the next year. Team shocks the Yankees to make the playoffs, then is nowhere to be seen next year. Who dat? The Saints, on their way out of the playoff picture, just like the Giants crumbled, the Pats crumbled, the Rams crumbled, all after winning their first Superbowls (in this last decade).

I do not know why this is. Perhaps we just like what is new and what is unexpected. I think Cox is a victim of that mentality here. Becoming a winning team is one thing, but an easy thing, because no one sees you coming. Staying a winning team is ridiculously difficult because everyone sees you in front. I do not know why Cox did what he did, or how. I agree that the argument could be made that perhaps more post-season success should have been achieved given the teams he produced and perhaps another manager could have delivered it. But, unlike Cal Ripken or Brett Favre, Cox's longevity did not come to the detriment of his team's performance.