In 29 years of Major League managing, Bobby Cox’s teams finished in first place in the regular-season standings 15 times. Whether the coaching is done at the PeeWee level, in the local city league, or in the top level of a sport that is an achievement. Top that.
Cox is so identified with the Atlanta Braves, for whom he led teams to 14 of those first-place finishes that it is easy to forget he also squeezed in four years of managing the Toronto Blue Jays in the early 1980s.
Hall of Fame
It turned out that Cox’s time spent in Canada was only a vacation from Atlanta, so it is understandable that his Blue Jays’ sojourn gets overlooked. It will also get little play Sunday when Cox goes into the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, N.Y. Most of the talk will be of Cox’s World Series championship and four additional National League pennants with the Braves.
Part of the reason will be the company Cox keeps over the weekend. Going into the Hall at the same time are Greg Maddux and Tom Glavine, two of the pitchers who made that run in Atlanta so successful for so long. There will be a lot of southern accents in upstate New York celebrating with that trio and T.J.’s Place or the Tunnicliff Inn on Main Street might even serve biscuits and gravy or grits instead for a day or two.
As evidence of how big a deal this will all be in Atlanta, the Braves, who have a game against the San Diego Padres at Turner Field, are scheduled to broadcast the induction ceremony on a big screen in the park as the pre-game entertainment.
He won big
Cox, 73, won 2,504 games as a big-league manager, but despite his longevity he still spent years paying his dues. Even more obscured than his time invested in Toronto is Cox’s time as a player. He spent parts of two seasons as a third baseman with the New York Yankees in 1968 and 1969 with a lifetime batting average of .225. Bad knees let him down.
When it became apparent that he was not going to be a big-league star, Cox remained in baseball working his way through the minors as a manager in the Yankees’ chain and was a Major League coach for them. When Cox first assumed command of the Braves in 1978 they weren’t very good and it took quite some time before they were transformed into a powerhouse.
Cox’s second time around with the Braves, between 1990 and 2010, was altogether different. He had returned as general manager, but decided he was better than any other manager he could hire. It was the right call. Cox guided Atlanta to 14 consecutive division titles, those five pennants and one World Series championship, and six times won more than 100 games in a season. Cox was voted manager of the year four times – and that included once in the American League.
Cox ranks fourth on baseball’s all-time list of managerial wins – behind Connie Mack and John McGraw, and fellow 2014 inductee Tony La Russa. Ranked fifth, right behind Cox, is Joe Torre, another one of the guests of honor Sunday.
As Cox gets his own plaque in Cooperstown he will most certainly be surrounded by good company.