Brian Snitker, Bobby Cox, and the Friendship That Shaped Atlanta

ATLANTA – Ranch style house maybe 15 minutes from the basketball court. Atlanta Braves manager Brian Snitker makes a detour to visit almost every home stand these days.

He’s there to talk to Bobby Cox. Sometimes Cox says something.

Cox, now 80, has recovered 11 years from the managerial career that earned him a place in the Hall of Fame, and more than two years after a devastating stroke. The man who spent decades in bunkers from San Diego to Boston fooling players, chirping at referees and putting on his boots, can’t get to the basketball court these days.

That’s why Snitker goes to him.

A balm for Cox, who has won more games than any but three managers. But it’s also a consistent ritual for Snitker, which players, coaches and managers believe have shaped his approach to the club that Cox has led for 25 seasons. For nine of those years, Cox led Atlanta to the National League Championship Series, where Snitker owned the franchise for a second consecutive season. Atlanta beats best of seven series 2-1 Incredible loss to the Dodgers Tuesday. Game 4 will be held in Los Angeles on Wednesday.

No playoff team has benefited more from a mid-year makeover than Atlanta, who grunted early in the last 54 games of the regular season and then finished with a 36-18 score. some of its July purchasesOutfielders have enjoyed stellar returns this month, including Joc Pederson and Eddie Rosario. But much of Atlanta’s architecture, beginning with Snitker’s hiring in 2016 and extending to his team’s composition and clubhouse atmosphere, can be traced back to his manager’s relationship with Cox.

“Everything he knows comes from Bobby,” said Eddie Pérez, who caught Cox and coached both Cox and Snitker. “He spent so many years in the minor leagues and guess who was in the big leagues? Bobby Cox is teaching everybody how to do everything.”

Snitker, 66, began watching Cox closely nearly 40 years ago when Cox was a manager in Atlanta and Snitker began to build a coaching career in the franchise’s farm system. At the time, Snitker recalled that Cox was less than taken aback by the baseball enthusiast for his welcoming attitude towards the most low-profile people in the sprawling Atlanta organization.

Snitker spent most of his time in the juniors, although he did occasional work with the major league team, including two early terms as bullpen coach during the years Cox was not managing the team. Returning permanently to the team in 1990, Cox hired Snitker as their third base coach in 2007 and soon found himself in the shadows.

“I would be talking in the radar room at 6:30 because I was looking forward to that time of day,” Snitker said in an interview at his home shelter in Truist Park, Atlanta. We used to talk about the match, but we talked about everything. It was a really great time every afternoon or every evening, it was one of those priceless times.”

The coach, commonly known as “The Snit” in the game, has become Cox’s daily student: watching how he navigates baseball riddles, how he soothes and controls super-talented talent, and even chats with reporters.

Cox entered semi-retirement in 2010 when he left the management position and took on a front desk job. Cox’s immediate successor, Fredi Gonzalez, kept Snitker for several more seasons.

Snitker was leading Atlanta’s Class AAA team in the suburbs in May 2016 when the club fired Gonzalez, whose middle record disappointed a city accustomed to the playoffs. Snitker traveled across town to become temporary administrator; Atlanta considered a number of candidates, including Pérez, to take the job permanently. In conversations with team managers, Cox made his choice stand out.

“Bobby is not a shrinking violet, and Bobby made it extremely clear who he supports and why,” said Terry McGuirk, the team’s president and a fixture of sports administration in Atlanta for decades.

Cox did what he wanted and took a permanent role in the head of the new manager by design or coincidence.

“When I called, he answered and when I first got this job I was always calling him and asking what I was going to do here or how I was going to do it,” said Snitker, who abruptly hosted Cox for the pregame. coffee sessions. “It was my sounding board.”

Cox wore a jersey at Truist Park in April 2019 and said “play ball!” was named. to start the season. He suffered a stroke the next day. Snitker went to the hospital, “because I didn’t want to be anywhere else,” he said.

It was soon discovered that Cox, whom Snitker had known for decades, had disappeared. His speech was largely lost and his right arm was paralyzed. He did not leave the hospital for more than a month before being transferred to a rehabilitation center and eventually home.

Snitker’s visits became regular events, causing Cox to explode with delight, especially if his latest successor came with a peach milkshake.

“Sometimes he doesn’t remember my name, the names of the children, the names of the grandchildren, but someone from baseball might come and talk about playoffs or World Series games from years ago and tell you who he is. He’s been married to Bobby Cox for almost 43 years,” said Pam Cox, “shooting on the third inning.” “Baseball was his life and he lived for it.”

Cox last visited the ballpark in 2020, when he was watching a game from McGuirk’s suite in a stadium kept empty by the coronavirus pandemic. But now, Snitker only sees him at home, where they sit on the recliner and remember games or think about analytics or the madness of playoff schedules. Snitker hugging and squeezing Cox’s left hand and saying “I love you” pretty much does all the talking because he has to do it so often.

Stating that John Schuerholz, who was the general manager of Atlanta during Cox’s tenure, and Leo Mazzone, the shooting coach of Atlanta’s heyday, also visited frequently, Pam Cox said, “I get emotional sometimes just watching it.” “It’s like watching your father and son bond.”

Immediately after Atlanta’s victory over Milwaukee in a one episode series, McGuirk said Snitker was at the clubhouse and made a plan to visit Cox the next day with a bunch of postseason hats and shirts. He had already dropped by earlier in the week, on a series off day.

There is a feeling around Atlanta that the club is in its current position due to Cox’s continued influence. Pérez, hero of the 1999 NLCS, where Atlanta won the final pennant, and Jesse Chavez, who was under Cox for an episode of 2010 and returned to Atlanta’s bullfight this year, said they believe Cox’s style emerges daily under Snitker’s direction. .

“I see a lot of similarities in terms of watching the game, letting the game control itself until I have to make a decision,” Chavez said. Pérez said Snitker’s belief in his players mirrored Cox’s.

Baseball officials have recently struggled to find a manager who maintains the kind of dominance Cox indirectly has over Atlanta. Chavez, who played for eight more teams, felt that Cox’s continued ties to the team could only be rivaled by Tommy Lasorda’s longstanding relationship with the Dodgers. death in January.

While few people see Cox these days, first goalkeeper Freddie Freeman, who made 20 appearances for Atlanta last season for Cox, said he regularly updates on Snitker’s visits.

“We’re pretty sure he watches every game and puts on his boots, and he’s running it on TV there,” Freeman said. (Indeed, Snitker said that Pam Cox would sometimes report, “Oh, she got mad last night.”)

Snitker, now head of Atlanta, admits that Cox’s greatest glory is in the past, and that “Skipper” can only summon so much now. Sometimes he can still understand how Cox was in his early years. Other times are much harder, the phone is now silent, the office is now empty.

Snitker said softly, “It’s hard to talk to him and not bounce things.” “I lost a great mentor there. I know you’re still my biggest fan, it’s still rooting like hell for me.”

Proving this point, Cox was staring at the TV the next night watching Snitker and the club he turned out to help build from the beginning.

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