Monday, August 22, 2005

The Bounce

The ACC Divisions

Ordinarily preseason college football polls don't interest me much. This year is an exception because it's the first time the expanded-to-12-members Atlantic Coast Conference will play with two divisions -- the Coastal and the Atlantic. Here's a look at which school is where and how the experts see their relative strengths as we approach the 2005 season. First place votes are in parenthesis.

Coastal Division
1. Virginia Tech (62)
2. Miami (29)
3. Virginia (1)
4. Georgia Tech
5. North Carolina
6. Duke

Atlantic Division
1. Florida State (65)
2. Boston College (24)
3. NC State (2)
4. Clemson (1)
5. Maryland
6. Wake Forest

The Best in the Business

Grizzled baseball manager Bobby Cox is almost too good to be true. Perhaps more than any player, Cox keeps my love for Major League Baseball alive in an age plagued by tacky off-the-field issues.

So, if your taste runs toward stories about steroids, contract renegotiations and celebrity gossip, do yourself a favor and skip the rest of this piece.

With 13 division titles in a row in hand -- a feat that sets the standard for any major sport -- at this writing Bobby Cox, who walks like he’s stepping on tacks, has his Atlanta Braves atop the tough National League East by four games. It’s August and once again you can forget most of what the Braves-bashing pundits told you in April.

This season Cox has been forced by injuries to a long list of supposedly irreplaceable starters to put bunch of untested young players called up from the minors -- can you believe 21-year-old outfielder Jeff Francoeur? -- into his lineup. That, after losing key performers from last year’s squad in the off-season and starting the 2005 season shaky veterans in the outfield corners. Not to worry, the ever patient Cox adjusted and just kept on finding ways to win baseball games.

Cox, who wore a Richmond Braves uniform as a player in 1967, is often criticized because Atlanta has won only one World Series during its run of 13 divisional titles. But it says here, especially with baseball, winning over an entire season is more of a true test of a team’s mettle than how it does in any given best-of-seven postseason series. That isn’t to say the two tiers of playoffs and World Series aren’t compelling entertainment, at times, but in the long history of baseball the better team has failed to win the World Series many a time. For instance, the 1954 Cleveland Indians went 111 and 43 in the regular season, only to be swept by the New York Giants (97-57) in the Series (there were no playoffs in those days.)

As unfamiliar as some of the names in box scores for Atlanta games have been this season -- due to all the rookies -- the name that still counts the most remains that of Bobby Cox.
(Bobby Cox Illustration: F. T. Rea)

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