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Thursday, June 14, 2007
Cox's favorite tune: Take me out of the ballgame!

By Jayson Stark
ESPN.com

His rendezvous with history is coming. One of these days. With no warning, no "SportsCenter" countdown meter, no commissioners in attendance.

It may not be a real romantic record that Bobby Cox is about to break. We won't be interrupting any regularly scheduled programming to show it. That's for sure.

And there's a 100 percent probability that the exalted longtime current record holder, John McGraw, will not be rearranging his not-so-busy schedule to stop by.

But history is history. So the great Bobby Cox finds himself one wave of some umpire's thumb away from a record that may stand forever:

Most times ejected from a major league baseball game.

Bobby Cox
Bobby Cox has been ejected from five games already this season.
At the moment, his ejection collection stands at 130. According to research by the Society for American Baseball Research, McGraw still sits atop this exotic list as he has for the last 74 years, with 131 (14 of them as a player).

No other active manager (or player) is within even 50. (Tony La Russa is next, with 73.) So this may indeed be another one of those Records That May Never Be Broken. Please keep that in mind so you commemorate it properly.

We don't know exactly what the scene will look like when the Braves manager's pursuit of the boot pulls him even with, and then propels him past, McGraw. But we know what it won't look like.

This fellow won't be shot-putting any bases into the outfield. He won't crawl on the infield grass and toss any fake grenades. He won't kick dirt on anybody's shin. He won't be firing any POWERade coolers into the upper deck.

Bobby Cox is funny like that. In this age of the made-for-YouTube tirade, the soon-to-be all-time master of ejection perfection doesn't work that way.

"I've seen him throw his lineup card in the air," said Cox's general manager, John Schuerholz. "I remember he tossed his hat to the ground once. But that barely gets him on the measuring stick, compared to some other guys' histrionics."

Yeah, he's no histrionicist, that Bobby Cox. He's not exactly the P.T. Barnum of the Heave-Ho Show. So if you're looking for ejection style points in your managerial heroes, you've got the wrong man.

"We may have to subtract some [style] points for that," Nationals president (and former Braves president) Stan Kasten said with a laugh. "I think all the 'American Idol' judges scoring at home and texting in their votes would be quite disappointed. I think Simon Cowell would grade Bobby's efforts very poorly."

Ah, but don't take that the wrong way. That's actually a good thing. It's a good thing because it proves that all those ejections have never been about him. They've been about the guys who play for him and the team whose uniform he wears.

"He's so passionate about the game," Schuerholz said. "And he's even more passionate about protecting his players and sticking up for them, and getting the right shake, getting the right call and having things done right."

Yep, it's all about truth, justice and America's Team's way. And that's fine. You'd just think a guy who'd been asked to leave this many baseball games would have left more legendary ejection tales in his wake.

Nope. We asked around, asked men who had witnessed dozens of these ejectoramas to spin their favorite heave-the-manager yarns. They were all pretty much stumped.

Most Ejections

Following is a list of managerial ejections only. Hall of Fame manager John McGraw (right) has a total of 131 major league ejections, but 14 came as a player. The active managers are listed in bold.

"He doesn't do it with a lot of fanfare," said Brewers manager Ned Yost, who spent 12 years as one of Cox's coaches in Atlanta.

"They all kind of run together," said Kasten.

"They're all pretty much alike," said Schuerholz. "They're all pretty much caused for the same reason. And they all end up with the same ending."

OK, we did hear one heart-thumping tale from the battle front. It came from Pat Corrales, now a coach in Washington, who spent the previous 17 years coaching in Atlanta, the last eight of them as Cox's bench coach.

"I grabbed him one night," Corrales reported. "I could see him starting to blow. So I grabbed him around the chest. And he said, 'I'll fire you if you don't let me go.' I said, 'Then you're going to have to fire me, because I'm not letting go.' Then I just hung on until I realized he wasn't going to do anything."

But suppose he had let go? Would the scene that followed have been any more memorable than any of the 130 times when nobody stopped Cox? Of course not.

"He just walks out there like only Bobby Cox can, and you can tell by the walk he's going to get ejected," said Braves assistant GM Chuck McMichael. "Once he gets out there, it never takes him long to get thrown out. He just gets in his piece and walks off. It's classic.

"I can't imagine," McMichael chuckled, "that John McGraw could possibly have been any better at getting ejected than Bobby Cox. It's hard to imagine anybody who was more classic than Bobby is at just going out there and making his point."

If you didn't know, thanks to people like us, that he was about to break this record, you'd never suspect it, either, because "fiery" isn't a word you often hear folks use to describe Bobby Cox.

In fact, said Kasten, "I'm always amused that the No. 1 criticism you hear of him is that he's too laid-back."

"He's the nicest guy in the world," said Yost. "Just don't get him mad at you. If he ever gets mad, he turns into Mike Tyson. He doesn't care who you are or what you are."

Heck, he doesn't even care if you're an umpire, apparently.

And that's the weirdest part of this record. Bobby Cox likes umpires. And umpires like him. Bobby Cox also respects umpires. And umpires respect him.

"This is not because he doesn't respect umpires," Yost said. "In fact, the umpires love him, because they know Bobby respects them. He just has a real strong desire to protect his players. And when he feels one of them has been wronged, let's just say he's going to let it be known."

"One thing about Bobby," said veteran umpire Jerry Crawford. "He never rips you in the papers afterward. He gets ejected. Then he just goes about his business the next day. I've had times where he's gotten mad with me, and I've gotten mad with him. But we come out the next day, and everything's fine."

From 1 to 130

What's the most times Bobby Cox has been ejected in a season? Which umpires have tossed him the most? Why was Cox ejected from so many games? Check out our detailed chart of his ejections.

There was one time, way back three decades into their past, when things weren't so fine between Cox and Crawford. They were both working in the International League then, and Cox inadvertently sprayed Crawford with tobacco juice during a run-in, "and I probably said quite a few things to him that I shouldn't have said," Crawford recalled.

But they both moved on and grew to like and admire each other, and Crawford noticed something afterward: From then on, if Cox was chewing anything in the dugout -- tobacco or gum -- he always yanked it out of his mouth before he came out to argue.

"I believe I had a direct effect on that," Crawford said. "I don't think he wanted to [do] that at the time. It just happened. And after it happened, he probably was upset it happened, and he wanted to make sure it didn't happen again."

That might give you the impression, however, that Cox's eruptions are planned -- or staged in some way for some greater purpose. But his friends say that's a myth.

"He doesn't do it for effect," said Corrales. "He just blows. He gets mad. And he doesn't do it to stir his troops up. He does it because he thinks he's right."

And when it's over, it's really over. No grudges. No feuds. No vindictive confrontations that get nasty and personal. He has managed to accumulate all these ejections in a way that actually seems to help him get more calls, not fewer. And that's no simple managerial art form.

"There are some sub-layers to it," Schuerholz said. "Maybe he doesn't win those arguments, but he wins their understanding. And it's a reminder to the umpires that, 'Hey, I'm in every game, and every play could be the difference between a win and a loss, and that's very important to me.'"

I regard it as a passionate by-product of a guy who has given his soul to the game throughout his career, and gives it on every play, and has the passion to stand behind what he believes. And when you get right down to it, what's wrong with that?

Braves GM John Schuerholz on Cox's ejections

So when those calls start going the wrong way, and one call he doesn't like turns into two or three or four, the veteran Cox watchers hear a little voice in their head -- a voice that says, 'Uh-oh. Here it comes.'"

"I've been out there coaching third base, and I could see it coming," Yost said. "Normally, when I coached third, he and I were always on the same page, all game long. But when he'd start to get mad, we'd get off that page. And I'd be saying to myself, 'OK, Bobby. Let's calm down now.' But you knew it was only a matter of time before Mount Vesuvius erupted."

Well, it has erupted 130 times now. And there will be more eruptions where those came from. The Richter scale will rattle. And history will be made.

The question to ponder, though, is: What should we make of that history?

Should we applaud? Should we smile? Should we shake our heads in bemusement?

Should we salute this man? Or should we be telling our kids, "Please don't try this at home?"

Hey, if you ask us, it's a record that has been woven into the fabric of what makes Bobby Cox the greatest manager of his time. Cox himself calls it "kind of embarrassing." But not everyone agrees.

"I regard it as a passionate by-product of a guy who has given his soul to the game throughout his career, and gives it on every play, and has the passion to stand behind what he believes," Schuerholz said. "And when you get right down to it, what's wrong with that?"

Well, nothing, as a matter of fact. So if it's a record worth saluting, we have just one more question:

What should the Braves give their favorite manager to commemorate this record properly?

"I'm not sure yet," Schuerholz laughed. "How about a brass thumb?"

Jayson Stark is a senior writer for ESPN.com. His new book, "The Stark Truth: The Most Overrated and Underrated Players in Baseball History," has been published by Triumph Books and is now available in bookstores. Click here to order a copy.