ATLANTA — With Bobby Cox, it usually starts this way: Sitting in an obscured corner of the dugout, he’ll remove his cap with one hand, rub the other through his hair and begin grumbling in a not-so-subtle tone that’s sure to catch the umpire’s attention.
Before long, Cox is bolting from the dugout on two surgically replaced knees, waddling along like a duck trying to make it across a busy highway. It might come across as amusing — until he unleashes a rapid-fire stream of obscenities with such venom that one might think these men in blue had just done something horrible to his family.
Of course, their offense is usually nothing more than barking strike when Cox thought it was a ball, or calling a runner out when he saw it the other way. No matter. He’ll stomp around angrily, his head twisting this way and that with impertinent disgust, his arms flying wildly for emphasis, a 66-year-old man resembling a petulant child who’s just been told he can’t go outside to play.
And then it’s done. The offended umpire hears the magic word — sorry, it’s never fit for print — and whirls his right arm in a half-circle. Cox knows the drill. He goes back where he came from, muttering all the way, and keeps right on going.
He’ll watch the rest of the game from the clubhouse.
Mr. Ejection has been tossed out again.
‘‘It’s kind of embarrassing,’’ the Atlanta Braves manager said during a reflective moment.
Cox entered the weekend just one ejection shy of John McGraw’s dubious mark, a badge of belligerence that doesn’t show up in any official record books but was diligently compiled by the Society for American Baseball Research.— Most
SABR unearthed 131 ejections for ‘‘Little Napoleon’’ during his Hall of Fame career, though 14 of those came when he was a player. Cox already has more ejections than any other manager, leaving him just a couple of angry tirades away from passing McGraw as the overall MVB Vociferous Bickerer.
Looks like he’ll go down kicking (the dirt) and screaming (at the umps).
‘‘Bobby doesn’t care what anyone thinks of him,’’ longtime Braves pitcher John Smoltz said. ‘‘He’s going out there to fight for the cause.’’
Actually, the very people who should demand Cox sign up for anger-management classes come across as his biggest fans. The umps say all those ejections are nothing personal — they’re trying to do their jobs, he’s trying to do his. When Cox steps over the line, he gets the heave-ho. Then all is forgiven.
‘‘The umpires have the utmost respect for Bobby Cox,’’ said Richie Garcia, a longtime arbiter who now works as a major league supervisor. ‘‘The reason for that is he doesn’t carry things over. What happens one night isn’t carried over to the next.’’
That’s because Cox considers the men in blue ‘‘a part of us,’’ not some mortal enemy.
‘‘If I have an argument with an umpire today, tomorrow it’s forgotten,’’ said Cox, the only manager — or player, for that matter — to get tossed from two World Series games. ‘‘Hopefully, it’s both ways.’’