Braves’ Cox, Jones go way back

Chipper Jones was a high school senior the first time he met Bobby Cox.

Cox, then the general manager of the Atlanta Braves, saw something special in the 18-year-old kid, whom the Braves were to make the first player selected in the 1990 draft.

“He told me, ‘Don’t listen to what other people say,’ ” Cox recalled. “He said, ‘I’m going to sign. I want to play baseball.’ You just felt he was going to be special.”

Jones has been.

And Cox has been allowed a chance to enjoy every special moment of Jones’ career. Shortly after Jones was drafted and signed in the summer of 1990, Cox returned to the dugout, as the manager of the Braves. He has been filling out the Atlanta lineup card every since, and for the better part of 15 years, Jones has been a cornerstone in that lineup.

The two have technically been together at the big-league level since Jones made his big-league debut in September of 1993, although Jones spent the entire 1994 season on the disabled list.

“It’s pretty rare,” said Jones.

Rare?

It’s never happened before. No player has ever spent more time in the big leagues playing for just one manager than Jones with Cox. There was Don Drysdale, who pitched for Walter Alston and the Dodgers from 1956 in Brooklyn through 1969 in Los Angeles. And that’s as close as it gets.

And then there is Ron Villone. Talk about diversity. Villone is in his 15th big-league season. The Washington Nationals are the 12th different team he has played for — and he has had two separate tours with Seattle and St. Louis.

When Jim Riggleman replaced Manny Acta as the manager of the Nationals at the All-Star Break he became the 14th different manager to write Villone’s name on a lineup card, and that includes Jack McKeon, who had him with both Cincinnati and Florida, and Mike Hargrove, who managed Villone with Cleveland and Seattle.

Since Jones’ debut back in September of 1993, the 29 other major league teams have had 150 managers, an average of slightly more than five a team. The only thing close to the stability Jones has enjoyed with Cox is in Minnesota (Tom Kelly and Ron Gardenhire) and San Diego (Bruce Bochy and Buddy Black).

By contrast, Cincinnati has had eight managers, and Florida, Baltimore, Toronto, Detroit, Kansas City and the Dodgers have had seven each.

“I can’t even guess what it would be like to play for one other manager, much less 13 or 14,” said Jones. “I have been with Bobby so long, it would be culture shock. I know John’s (Smoltz) big worry about the situation in Boston was getting used to a new manager, but he said it isn’t a big deal because Terry Francona is a young Bobby Cox.

“All I can tell you is I am certainly happy to be here. I hope I am here as long as Bobby is here.”

The feeling is mutual.

“Oh, I’ve yelled at him, at least a couple of times,” Cox said with a smile.

Cox doesn’t raise his voice much, though. It isn’t Cox’s way.

Oh, he can make a point, if he has to, but the Cox way is to create an atmosphere in which the players police themselves.

“There are certain things where constructive criticism comes better from a player,” said Jones. “You don’t see or hear from him too much. He makes out the lineup, takes care of the bullpen and decides when we are going to hit and run, but he leaves it up to the players to be professionals and relies on the team leaders to police the clubhouse.”

And it has an impact. Gary Sheffield spoke about his first couple days in Atlanta. He was playing music, rather loud. Smoltz walked over and quietly informed Sheffield, “We don’t do that in here. We respect each other.” Sheffield put headphones on.

“The rules are pretty much no-nonsense,” said Jones. “We don’t wear earrings. We don’t have scraggly facial hair. We don’t have music blaring. Bobby makes no bones about it. You do it Atlanta’s way or you won’t be here.”

For the longest time, Atlanta’s way was successful. The Braves ran off a professional sports record 14 consecutive division titles. For Cox, it was 15 consecutive full seasons in which he managed and won a division title, taking into consideration 1985 when he led Toronto to the first division title in that franchise’s history.

The last couple of years, however, the Braves have given way to the Mets (2006) and Philadelphia (2007-08). The Phillies are back on top this season, although the Braves did go into Thursday in second place at 5-1/2 games back.

“I have to admit I got spoiled by the first 12 years, going to the playoffs every year,” said Jones. “Our level of play has been down but it is coming back up. I want to be here to help us get back to the top in the National League East. It’s where we were when I got here. I’d like to have us there when I leave.”