Bobby Cox is known for being overly loyal to his players. He really has only two rules: Give 100 percent and be on time.
Rarely does the Atlanta Braves manager have a disparaging word to say about one of his players, and it's downright startling when Cox offers up someone for public embarrassment.
But that's just what he did Tuesday night, ordering Andruw Jones off the field in the top of the eighth inning when the center fielder loafed after a soft liner and allowed it to drop for a hit.
"He's only 21," Cox said, sarcasm dripping from his voice after the Braves lost to the Chicago Cubs 3-0. "I have to remember that, I suppose. But I didn't act that way when I was 21, nor did Hank Aaron or Willie Mays."
To remove a player from his defensive position in the midst of an inning, making him leave the field in full view of the crowd, is perhaps the most dramatic move any manager can make to show his displeasure.
Billy Martin nearly came to blows with Reggie Jackson after a similar episode during a 1977 game at Fenway Park. Gil Hodges shook up the Miracle Mets in 1969 by going on the field himself after Cleon Jones made a half-hearted effort on a ball hit to left. "Are you hurt?" Hodges asked, before waving to the dugout for a replacement and walking with his embarrassed star off the field.
"You don't like to do stuff like that," Cox said. "But to me, it was obvious that Andruw didn't try for that ball."
The scathing postgame commentary was totally out of character for Cox, who after a pitcher gives up eight runs will say things like, "He was throwing well but they blooped in a few hits."
For a team heading for its seventh straight postseason, the episode revealed a new side to the relationship between the manager and one of his most talented players.
"Either go home or play," Cox said. "Mistakes are nothing. But it's a mistake not to try."
Jones, who burst into national headlines as a 19-year-old when he hit two home runs in the first game of 1996 World Series at Yankee Stadium, seemed taken aback by Cox's comments.
"He thinks I don't respect the game," Jones said, dressing at his locker for the road trip to Philadelphia. "I respect this game. I love this game. I always give 100 percent, especially on defense. I don't play around on defense. I just lost my concentration."
What did Jones think when he saw Gerald Williams trotting toward him in center field to take his place?
"Well, I couldn't do nothing about it," Jones replied nonchalantly. "You can't send him back and say, `I'm staying out here."'
Clearly, Jones is one of the top young players in baseball, a rare mix of speed, power and defensive ability. In the minor leagues, though, he also was known as a player who liked to show off and didn't always give his best effort, traits that have not totally disappeared even under Cox's no-nonsense tutelage.
When asked if he planned to fine Jones, Cox replied, "I've taken so much money from him it's a joke. ... I don't know what to do. He's been sent home when he was in the minor leagues. We've done a lot of things with him."
Even before he was taken out Tuesday night, Jones already had drawn Cox's ire for a bonehead play in the third inning.
Dancing around at second base with the Cubs leading 1-0, Jones broke back toward the bag on Ozzie Guillen's single to center, apparently unsure if the ball would be caught. He finally got turned in the right direction but ran right through a clear stop sign by coach Bobby Dews.
Jones was thrown out at the plate by 10 feet, and the Braves missed a chance for a potentially big inning in a duel between Kerry Wood and Greg Maddux. Afterward, Jones could be seen laughing with a teammate in the dugout.
"He's got to grow up," Cox said. "It's a simple as that. No one is bigger than the game."