Bobby Dews has done it all in his career with the Atlanta Braves. He's been a minor league manager, minor league coach, minor league administrator, and a major league coach in both tenures of Bobby Cox's career as the Braves' Manager.
It all started back in 1975 when Dews, a standout baseball player at Georgia Tech back in the 1950's, started a four-year run as a Braves minor league manager. Then in 1979, Bobby Cox called him to Atlanta to serve as his bullpen coach. Dews would become the third base coach for the next two years before Cox was fired in the fall of 1981. He then returned to the minor leagues as a manager and coach from 1982-1985. That fall, when Cox returned to the Braves as the General Manager, Dews was all set to go join the Houston Astros as their Farm Director, but Cox changed his mind.
"I had already signed and had talked about it with Dick Wagner (Houston's GM)," Dews admits. "Then Bobby was named General Manager and he called me the Sunday before I was to go to Houston and said, ‘I want you to be Hank's Assistant.'"
Hank was home run champion Hank Aaron, the Braves' Farm Director at the time. Dews decided to stay with the Braves, and he became an integral part of the front office machine that turned the Braves fortunes around in the late 1980s. Dews believes the mindset that Cox bought with him from Toronto was crucial in turning things around.
"There's an old question that comes up with baseball people," Dews says. "Do you have to win in the minor leagues to develop good players? The answer is no you don't have to win in the minor leagues. But we took it a step farther. We said, ‘No, you don't have to win. But to develop the type of players we want, you have to win.'"
The Braves had been losers for most of their time in Atlanta, but Cox, Aaron, Dews, and Scouting Director Paul Snyder were trying to change all that. The losing attitude had to go, and that meant stressing winning a little bit more than you'd like to do in developing your players. The Braves didn't just want to develop major league players; they wanted to develop major league winners.
"Wherever it was possible, we made an effort to sign veteran players," Dews explains. "We never did put an older player in place of a prospect. Wherever there was a chance to add an older player that could put us over the top and help us win the minor leagues, without taking time away from a prospect, we'd do that. We spent a lot of extra money doing that. Everybody that came up in the early 90s had been on pennant winning teams in the minor leagues. We thought it made a difference."
The strategy paid off as the new era of Braves baseball began in 1990. The team still struggled, but the pieces were in place to chance the fortunes, which happened the next year. Dews believes the success the players had in the minors followed them to Atlanta.
"My mission was to see these ballplayers were in a winning atmosphere," Dews says. "We hired good minor league managers and coaches that knew how to win. They understood though that they could never play a veteran over a prospect. We didn't sacrifice any player's development, but in fact it enhanced the player's development by putting someone next to him who was a good guy and a good veteran player. I always said that ‘Bull Durham' was the best baseball movie. We tried to do that. We put someone like Crash Davis with our kids. Guys who were smart and could play and would integrate into your team and help teach those kids how to play baseball."
Dews believes the philosophy put in place in the mid-80s was crucial in starting the tremendous run of success the team has been on ever since. He says the organization had tremendous patience with the young players, enabling them to develop on their own pace.
"It used to be that if a guy played five years of minor league baseball, that's about what it took to learn and do everything he needs to do to be ready," Dews says. "Whether it's getting 500 innings for a pitcher or 2000 at bats in for a player. Some people have more talent than others. Now they expect a player to make it in three years. What Bobby and Paul did was they went out and got the best talent. Their theory was to get the best athletes – good athletes that could do other things besides hit."
They found good athletes that could win, and they've been doing it ever since. Dews has been back on the major league coaching staff since 1997. His dedication with the major leaguers and even the minor leaguers is commendable. Even though he doesn't wear a shirt and tie anymore, he knows the importance of being patient with his ballplayers. It's part of the work ethic that makes the Braves coaches the best in the game.
Bill Shanks's new book "Scout's Honor: The Bravest Way To Build A Winning Team" is in bookstores now. You can reach Bill at firstname.lastname@example.org
Scout's Honor: Dews very important to Braves
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