Braves mourn death of longtime coach Bobby Dews
ATLANTA (mlb.com) -- Had Bobby Dews been around to see the outpouring of appreciation directed toward him on Sunday, he would have likely displayed his shy smile and made some comical comment before walking toward the comfort provided by the shadows.
Over the course of the past four decades, Dews has enriched the lives of countless individuals associated with the Braves' organization. Players loved both his humor and unselfish determination to make them better. Executives and fellow coaches appreciated both his knowledge and wit. Fans and media types appreciated that kind, loving heart that helped him live life to the fullest.
In some ways, it is sad to realize that these memories are all that remain of a man who seemingly realized his goal to become a true renaissance man. But at the same time, this world is blessed by the memories created by Dews, who passed away Saturday night at the age of 76.
"He was a good man and dear friend to his Braves family," Braves president John Schuerholz said. "He will be truly missed."
Dews was recently moved to an assisted living home when his declining health deteriorated after he suffered a stroke while undergoing a heart procedure just before Thanksgiving. Though he did not spend much time around the Braves over the past few years, his impact on the organization was clearly evident via the social media messages expressed from generations of Braves players that stretched from Dale Murphy to Freddie Freeman.
"His life was one we could all appreciate," Braves Hall of Fame manager Bobby Cox said. "In fact, I'd say we all want a part of Bobby Dews inside of us."
It was Dews who spent those countless early morning hours during Spring Training hitting fly balls to Murphy, who made the successful transition from catcher to Gold Glove outfielder. He helped Cox transform Atlanta's farm system during the late 1980s and proudly held a spot on the Hall of Fame manager's coaching staff for more than 10 years.
"[Dews] pulled me aside a few years ago and said, 'Murph, I just wanted you to know I came up with that idea to move you to the outfield,'" Murphy said. "We had a good laugh. Dewsy was always thinking about the game and how to make us kids get better. He had seen guys switch positions, and I am forever grateful that he thought I maybe could, too. I wouldn't have had much of a career if it weren't for Bobby Dews."
An avid fly fisherman who stayed true to his South Georgia roots, Dews starred as a basketball and baseball player at Georgia Tech before spending a decade as a Minor League player within the Cardinals' system. Though he never realized his dream to play at the Major League level, he managed to enrich the lives of so many via the passion he brought to the baseball field on a daily basis.
Age certainly never limited Dew, who became Atlanta's bullpen coach in 1999 at the age of 60. Over the course of the eight seasons he held this position, he routinely squatted behind the plate to warm up pitchers in the bullpen. He could only laugh when this led one of Philadelphia's kind fans to peer in his direction one night and yell, "You're my boy, Blue!" -- a reference to one of the elderly characters in the wildly popular comedy "Old School."
When the Braves played in the Hall of Fame Game in Cooperstown during the summer of 2004, a 65-year-old Dews served as Atlanta's catcher during the first plate appearance of the exhibition game. The thrilling experience was shared by Cox, who developed an indelible bond with Dews that dated back to when he employed him as a member of his Atlanta coaching staff from 1979-81.
There was reason to laugh about the story of how one umpire refused to eject Dews during a Minor League game that was played during the early 1980s. Dews had been ejected the night before and then happened to share a few drinks with the umpires at a neighboring bar after the game. Still feeling the effects the next day, Dews had no intention to sit in the hot sun. So after a close play at second base during one of the early innings, he raced out to argue, determined to get tossed. But after a while, the umpire simply said, "Bobby, if I have to be out here, so do you."
But at the same time, there was a time during his life when this subject was not so comical. As the world has gained an even greater appreciation for the power of addiction, Dews' triumphant battle against alcoholism served as one of his greatest accomplishments. He got clean at the behest of Cox during the late 1980s, and he remained so over his final three decades on this Earth.
Dews possessed a wealth of knowledge and a unique sense of humor that routinely drew laughs from those around him. He would often playfully tell of how he used to room with "The Georgia Peach." When this elicited somebody to inquire if he meant Ty Cobb, Dews would smile and say something to the effect of, "No, a beautiful women I met in downtown Atlanta."
After spending his final year on Atlanta's coaching staff in 1996, Dews stayed around the organization as an advisor and instructor. But as he faded into retirement, he pursued his passion as a writer and published multiple books, some of which were based on a life that will forever be celebrated by the many who had the pleasure to know him.
"He was a special guy," Cox said. "He helped so much in getting this organization going."