Hall-bound Bobby Cox: The ideal player's manager

Published on NewsOK Modified: December 9, 2013 at 1:11 pm •  Published: December 9, 2013

ATLANTA (AP) — Bobby Cox had only a few rules.

Play hard. Be on time. No loud music or (in later years) yapping on cells phones in the clubhouse.

That formula carried the longtime Atlanta Braves manager to one of the most successful managing careers in major league history.

The 72-year-old Cox, who was unanimously elected to the Hall of Fame on Monday along with fellow retired managers Tony La Russa and Joe Torre, guided the Braves to an unprecedented 14 straight division titles and 15 playoff appearances. When he retired after the 2010 season, he was the fourth-winningest manager with 2,504 victories, trailing only Connie Mack, John McGraw and La Russa.

"The greatest manager any of us will know," longtime Braves third baseman Chipper Jones said.

The only blemish on Cox's record: The Braves captured only one World Series title despite all those trips to the postseason. Most disappointing was a loss to Torre's Yankees in 1996 after the Braves dominated the first two games in New York.

But there was no denying Cox's skills in the dugout — chomping on a cigar, a little rough around the edges, endearingly self-deprecating and always a staunch defender of his guys.

If a pitcher gave up a bunch of home runs, Cox would inevitably say the wind was blowing out — even if the flags were hanging limp around the stadium. If a fielder botched a ground ball, Cox would usually point to some sort of tricky hop that no one else saw. If a batter struck out with the bases loaded, Cox would insist he was simply the victim of a brilliant pitch that not even Babe Ruth could've touched.

He was the epitome of the "player's manager."

"One of the priorities for me is handling people," Cox said Monday. "You've got to create an environment where they're knocking down that clubhouse door when they get there in the afternoon or evenings. You want them to have fun as well as being better competitors than the other team."

As a player, Cox wasn't much — a light-hitting infielder for a couple of years with the Yankees. A rare highlight came in 1968 when his throw across the diamond to Mickey Mantle completed a triple play; the Yanks didn't turn another one for 42 years.

Managing, it turned out, was his true calling.

Cox landed his first big league job with the Braves in 1978, lasting four years — with only winning season — before he was fired by owner Ted Turner. It would go down as one of Turner's biggest regrets, one he rectified after Cox guided the Blue Jays to the AL East championship in 1985. '

Lured back to Atlanta as general manager, Cox oversaw a dismal era in the late 1980s — including a 106-loss season — but began hoarding young pitchers. Most notably, he dealt veteran Doyle Alexander to the Detroit Tigers for a minor leaguer named John Smoltz.

Cox soon returned to the dugout and gave up the GM duties to John Schuerholz. They were a duo that blended perfectly, opposites in appearance but always eye-to-eye when it came to baseball. Atlanta went from worst to first in 1991, losing to Minnesota in a classic seven-game World Series. The Braves would win their division in every completed season through 2005, a remarkable record that may never be broken.

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