Robert Joe Cox was born in Tulsa, Oklahoma, on May 21, 1941. He recalled his younger days: “We moved from Oklahoma when I was about three years old. My childhood was great. The San Joaquin Valley is noted for grapes and fruit. It was a farming community. So anytime you live in a farming community you have a great upbringing. As kids, we worked in the fields with all of the other kids and parents. I grew up in Selma, California, which is a very small town [near Fresno]. It was a climate that you could play a Friday night football game and take batting practice Saturday morning. It was year-round athletics, actually. Which was great!”1
The Cardinals had a Class-C farm team in Fresno. “I became a huge Cardinals fan and I can remember as a little kid cutting out the newspaper Stan Musial pictures. My idol growing up was Stan Musial.”2
Cox graduated from Selma High School and then attended Reedley (California) Junior College, where he was active in sports. “I played them all — football, basketball, and baseball. That’s what we did. Actually, one of my ambitions was to be a major-league player and then a high-school football coach. That is what I kind of had in mind.”3
In 1959 Cox signed with the Los Angeles Dodgers for $40,000 as an amateur free agent.4
In 1960 the 5-foot-11, 180-pound, right-handed Cox, started his professional baseball career with the Reno Silver Sox in Reno, Nevada, of the Class-C California League at the age of 19. He played second base and batted .255 with a .389 on-base percentage, a .411 slugging percentage, and .801 on-base plus slugging percentage (OPS). All figures but his batting average were above league average (and there he was just one point below the .256 league average) and he ranked first in range factor, assists, and double plays. Reno won the league championship.
On October 1, 1961, Cox married Mary E. Xavier in Fresno County, California. They had five children, Bobby Jr., Connie, Debbie, Shelly, and Randy.5 They divorced in 1977.6 Mary had a nephew named Joseph Xavier, who was drafted by the Oakland Athletics and played in the minors from 1985 to 1990. His last season was with the Greenville (South Carolina) Braves of the Double-A Southern League.
From 1960 to 1964 Cox was in the Dodgers system. The Chicago Cubs drafted him before the 1965 season, when the Dodgers didn’t protect him in the minor-league draft. The Cubs traded Cox to the Atlanta Braves on April 28, 1966, and the Braves traded him to the New York Yankees in December 1967.
Cox spent nine seasons in the minors as a player and one as a player-manager. He mostly played third base (522 games) and second (499). He ranked first and second numerous times in defensive categories. His slash line for 10 seasons in the minors was .275/.359/.451/.810. He was among the league leaders a number of times in various categories and he was a member of a second championship team in 1967, the Triple-A Richmond Braves (International League).
Cox played for the Cardenales de Lara in the Venezuelan Winter League for three seasons, 1967-1970.
His major-league debut came for the Yankees and manager Ralph Houk on April 14, 1968. It was a one-run game, the Twins leading, 4-3. With one out in the bottom of the ninth and runners on first and second, Cox pinch-hit against Al Worthington and struck out.
Cox made his first major-league start at third base on April 27, against the Detroit Tigers at Yankee Stadium. He went 0-for-3. There were better games, such as June 21 in Minnesota, when Cox was 3-for-4 with a home run and four RBIs.
Mickey Mantle was in the last year of his big-league career and Cox was able to play alongside him for one season. “1968, that was Mickey Mantle’s last year. I couldn’t wait to meet him. First year in the big leagues, get to play alongside Mickey — that was a big thrill. Mantle was from Oklahoma, and I was born in Oklahoma. So he tried to help me as much as he could. … Even then, he was still the fastest guy on the team.” Asked what his most memorable moment with Mantle was, Cox said, “We turned a triple play, the last triple play the Yankees had. Mickey was playing first.”7
Cox had a .957 fielding percentage, placing him above league average. He ranked fourth in range factor, fifth in assists, and fifth in double plays in the American League. All of the hard work in the minors paid off as he was named to the Topps All-Star Rookie Team.
When the 1969 season started, Cox was used for pinch-hitting duties and did not start until May. He played in 85 games that year and was a starter in 56. In the final at-bat of the final game of his career, Cox hit a sacrifice fly for an RBI against Luis Tiant, winning the game against the Cleveland Indians.
The slash line for Cox during his major-league baseball career was .225/.310/.309/.619. His fielding percentage was .950 compared with the league average of .952 and a range factor of 3.06 compared with 3.08.
The Yankees sent Cox to the Triple-A Syracuse Chiefs (International League) for 1970. After the season he was released.
Cox’s playing career ended at the age of 29 due to a series of “injuries and illness.” “Cox battled knee injuries during his time in the majors and never got a chance to be an everyday player beyond 1968.”8
But there was good news for 1971. “I really didn’t have the courage to ask to stay in the game, because I was quitting after the 1970 season. … Then Lee MacPhail, who was the director of player personnel, flew down to Richmond, where Syracuse was finishing the season. He met with me and suggested that I stay in the game. The Yankees had a managerial opening in Fort Lauderdale and he thought that I would be good for that. So, I accepted.”9
Cox managed the Fort Lauderdale Yankees, a Class-A affiliate in 1971. He was promoted to the Double-A West Haven Yankees for 1972 and won the Eastern League American Division championship. Cox moved up to Triple-A Syracuse in 1973 and guided the team as it improved from a 64-80 record the previous season to 76-70. He stayed with the team from 1973 to 1976, each year improving and winning the International League championship in 1976.
During the years Cox managed the Chiefs, he also managed the Cardenales de Lara in the Venezuelan Winter League from 1974 to 1977.
A promotion in 1977 put Cox in a New York Yankees uniform as the first-base coach and the team won the World Series with Billy Martin at the helm.
Of that season, Cox later said, “I had already managed six years in the minors and managed winter ball in Venezuela. That year was just special because I did get to coach with Billy and we did win a world championship. I have fond memories of that season. Ralph Houk was a big influence when he managed me with the Yankees. Certainly, Billy was. Dick Howser was a coach on Billy’s staff. So was Yogi Berra and Elston Howard. So I got to know those guys really well. Pick their brains here and there. But basically when you go into managing, you are what you are. You don’t want to change much.”10
In 1977 the Braves had the worst record in the National League. Club owner Ted Turner hired Cox to manage the team, replacing Dave Bristol. Cox immediately set the tone in the clubhouse upon his arrival. Every spring training he would hand down six rules:
- No beards.
- No uniform pants covering the shoe tops.
- Dress code.
- Mind the curfew.
- Be on time.
- Play hard at all times.
Andruw Jones learned a lesson about not playing hard when he didn’t run all-out at a ball hit to center field. Cox pulled him off the field in the middle of the game. Eddie Perez, who played for Cox years later, said, “He taught me to not only be dressed good (at the ballpark), but dress good outside. … He said, ‘We’ve got to dress nice. There’s people around. We have to look like a professional player.’” Over the years Cox would bend on the beard rule and allow the pants to go a little bit lower.11
In addition to landing his first major-league managerial job, 1978 was also a good one for Bobby in other ways. Cox and Pam Boswell of Rome, Georgia, married. They have a 48-acre farm in Adairsville, Georgia, and a home in Marietta, near Atlanta.12 They had three children, Keisha, Kami, and Skyla.13
Statistically, the 1978 and ’79 Braves were last or near last in numerous defensive, pitching, and hitting categories, and finished last in the National League West Division. They ranked last in the league in attendance with less than one million.
Among the numerous young players in 1978 were third baseman Bob Horner, a 20-year-old rookie, straight out of college, who had not played in the minor leagues; and Dale Murphy, 22, who was in his first full year and playing first base. The Braves were the youngest team in the NL with an average age of 25.5.
The Braves finished fourth in 1980. Cox’s success at developing players in the minors and putting them in the best position to succeed was working with the young team. For example, he moved Murphy to center field, where he won five Gold Gloves, was an All-Star seven times, and was the league MVP two years in a row.
Cox made an interesting move for the 1981 season when he hired 74-year-old Luke Appling to be one of his coaches. One writer said, “He teaches hitting and provides an earthy link between the game’s beer-and-pickled-egg past and today’s double-knit conglomerates.”14
Having the best coaches he could find was something Cox believed in. “At one point people thought Bobby was digging his own grave by having three former managers (Jimy Williams, Don Baylor, and Pat Corrales) on the bench,” wrote a Braves historian. “He wanted the best people around him to try and make the team as successful as he could.”15
The good news was that by 1981 the Braves had improved to sixth in defensive efficiency and the team ERA was fifth, but the runs per game were eighth in the NL. The Braves finished fifth in the West Division, but the attendance improved to ninth in the league. The bad news was that Ted Turner fired Cox.
“I hated to leave because I knew the team was getting ready to do something after all of those years,” Cox said in 2009. “It was a struggle there. But we had a lot of young kids coming up and it didn’t take much more for us to get over the hump.”16
Fortunately for Cox, he was hired to manage the 1982 Toronto Blue Jays. Either Cox was attracted to managing young teams that finished in last place or the general managers with young teams wanted him. The Blue Jays were the youngest team in the American League East. They had finished in last place five consecutive seasons. No one knew what was going to happen since Cox’s track record with the Braves the previous four seasons was 266 wins and 323 losses. But the Blue Jays’ GM, Pat Gillick, had confidence in Cox and believed he could develop the young team.
The Blue Jays tied with the Cleveland Indians for last place in 1982 with some young players playing in their first full seasons. But under Cox’s tutelage, they improved to 89-73 in 1983, finishing fourth with the youngest team in the AL East. In 1984 they finished second and in 1985 they were the division champions with the best record in the league. In the postseason the Kansas City Royals beat the Blue Jays in seven games in the League Championship Series. Cox was voted the AL Manager of the Year. The Blue Jays were 10th in attendance in 1982. They were second in 1985.
Ted Turner admitted near-instant regret for his decision in 1981, but he was able to hire Cox back for the 1986 season, as general manager.17 Chuck Tanner was the manager and Paul Snyder was the scouting director.
Of going back to Atlanta, Cox said, “When Ted offered me the job, number one was family and number two was baseball and family comes over baseball. My family was in Atlanta and we still had kids in school.”18
As the new GM, Cox had to find a way to reverse what had been happening with the team. They finished last three consecutive seasons. His priority was pitching and defense. “In order to have great pitching, you’ve got to have great defense. We just didn’t. … our defense was horrendous, not good at all.”19 The core of the team that won 14 consecutive division titles was players accumulated by Cox while he was the GM. “Those teams were built on being strong up the middle, having good defense helps the pitching and having good pitching helps the defense. And pitchers had to field their position and cover first base.”20
Cox said, “We had a four- or five-year plan. Most of it was on drafting, farm system, developing. We spent all of our money drafting players. We didn’t want to lose anybody. If a scout wanted somebody, we signed them. That really got the foundation going and all that had to do with Paul Snyder, our scouting director.”21
The Braves finished last in the six-team NL West in 1986 with a 72-89 record. Meanwhile, Cox was busy restructuring the team and the farm system and the development process as well as drafting and trading players. With pitching his priority, Cox was nurturing and trading for future Hall of Famers Tom Glavine and John Smoltz respectively.22
The 1987 team finished 69-92 but moved up to fifth place. Their 1988 record was 54-106, the worst record in the NL. In 1989 the team improved to 63-97 but still had the lowest winning percentage in the league.
Cox had the ability to spot talent. Once he and Snyder went to Jacksonville, Florida, to watch a high-school game. The Braves had been scouting a player in the area who attended The Bolles School, a private school in Jacksonville. When they arrived Cox told Snyder, “Don’t show me which one he is. I wanted to try to pick him out.”23That player was Chipper Jones. He was the number-one draft pick in 1990. After a 19-year career, all with the Braves, Jones was a first-ballot inductee into the Hall of Fame.24
Cox talked about hiring himself to be the Braves manager with 97 games remaining in the 1990 season. “I liked being a manager much more than a GM actually,” he said. “It’s more fun to be around the players on a day-to-day basis. The game itself presents a great challenge each and every day. That’s the fun part of baseball.”25
Russ Nixon was managing the Braves to start the 1990 season but after a 25-40 start, Cox took over and they finished in last place again. The team had an average age of 27.6, second youngest in the majors.
The restructured minor-league system and development process were starting to produce stars. Ron Gant was promoted to the Braves as a second baseman but Cox converted him to the outfield and he received MVP votes in the 1990 season as well as other seasons.
Another of the young stars from the Braves minors was David Justice, who won the Rookie of the Year Award for 1990. Cox said, “He’s got as sweet a swing as I’ve ever seen. … This is as true a swing as I’ve ever seen.”26
The pitchers Cox had been developing in the farm system, along with those picked up in trades, were now the bulk of the pitching staff: Tom Glavine, John Smoltz, andSteve Avery, among others.
When John Schuerholz was hired as the GM of the Braves in 1991, he was asked about keeping Cox as the manager and he said, “I don’t think I could consider this job without Bobby Cox in the dugout. That’s how highly I regarded the man. Some of my friends thought I was crazy to come to Atlanta. … But I knew Bobby and Paul Snyder had put together a robust minor-league system and brought some good young arms to the Braves. I also noticed that when those young pitchers would make a good pitch, balls would go through legs, balls were thrown into the stands, and there were a lot more bad hops than good hops.”27
Cox and Schuerholz had known each other and made some trades while Schuerholzwas the GM of the Kansas City Royals. Schuerholz said, “I can’t say enough about Bobby. He had such admiration for the people who put on the uniform and were able to perform at the major-league level. He treated people with honor and respect and had high expectations of individuals and teams. That was very clear to the people involved with him and people played up to those standards.”28
According to Terry McGuirk, who later became the team’s chief executive officer, “Bobby might have showed his best talent as GM. He took an absolutely bankrupt situation and put together the talent, the coaches, the scouts, and the support system. But I don’t think he was ever really comfortable in the role.”29
After becoming GM, Schuerholz, went to work to improve defense. He traded for and signed as free agents Terry Pendleton at third base (who won the 1991 batting title and was the National League MVP); Rafael Belliard at shortstop; Otis Nixon in center field; Lonnie Smith in left field; Deion Sanders as a fourth outfielder; and Sid Bream at first base. They now had a good mix of young players and veterans.
Cox made sure that in the clubhouse everybody was treated equally. There were no areas for certain groups or levels of players, and there would be no music because Cox wanted to create a businesslike atmosphere, with his players concentrating on baseball.30
Cox was handed a new deck of cards every spring. But he always managed to make the most of what he had. On the rare occasion when he found a joker in the deck, Cox cut ties quickly. Players like Deion Sanders, Kenny Lofton, John Rocker, and Bret Boone did not fit his formula of a businesslike clubhouse devoid of such distractions as the raucous rock music that permeates and often divides other locker rooms.31
Cox had a full season with a team that was solid on defense and had good starting pitching. He led the team to the West Division championship in 1991 with a 94-68 record, one game ahead of the Los Angeles Dodgers. One of the reasons for the turnaround was Smoltz. “I was suffering from a complete collapse of confidence … but my manager, Bobby Cox, never stopped believing in me the entire time,” Smoltz said. “It’s hard to describe this, I guess, but Bobby just had this ability to believe in people and he had this gentleness about him. Bobby never lost confidence in me. … He believed in something that other people didn’t seem to see: my potential.”
“It was really right here, at this specific point, that my manager changed the course of my career. No, that’s not accurate. He saved my career. I mean, you can imagine the kind of flak he was taking for continuing to hand me the ball every five days. The critics were clamoring for the hook, for anything. The sentiment became ‘Send him down. Or send him to the bullpen. Do something, Bobby! The kid has obviously lost it.’ Who knows what would have happened to either of us had I not eventually turned things around; I could have easily cost us both a job. If I have said it once, I have said it a thousand times: I will always be grateful for Bobby Cox.”32 Smoltz had a record of 2-11 during his 1991 struggles and 12-2 after he and Cox turned things around. In 2016 Cox said, “I love sticking with people and I’ve stuck with a lot of people that really succeeded when people didn’t think they would.”33
The Braves won the National League pennant by defeating the Pittsburgh Pirates in seven games in the NLCS. Six of the games were low-scoring affairs and three of the games were 1-0 with the Braves winning two of them, including the final game when Smoltz pitched a shutout.
The World Series, against the Minnesota Twins, was a fierce battle with five of the seven games decided by one run and three of the games going into extra innings, including the final game when the Twins won 1-0 in the bottom of the 10th inning. This was the first time both teams had gone to the World Series after finishing in last place the year before.34 Another rarity occurred was that each team won all its home games. That has only happened three times. The Braves had their chances to win Game Seven. They had runners in scoring position numerous times but never had the clutch hit to score a run.
Asked what the key was to not only recognizing talent but also putting players in the right situation to succeed, Cox said, “I think it’s your gut instinct, really. I’ve done a lot of scouting in my life. I used to scout when I was a minor-league manager. During spring training I would go out with the scouts and watch high-school games. Then when I became a GM, I became even more familiar with scouting. Credit Paul Snyder. He’s the best that ever lived. If you watch baseball long enough, I think your instincts will tell you what to do.”35
The 1992 Braves had a couple of changes for Cox. One of the minor-league players he nurtured, Mark Lemke, became the full-time second baseman and there were some pitching changes. The Braves improved to 98-64, winning the NL West again and the pennant.
Then they faced the team Cox had been building a few years before, the Blue Jays, and they lost the World Series in six games. The Braves’ closer, Alejandro Peña, wasn’t available for the postseason. Cox was forced to use other pitchers to finish games. Four of the games were decided by one run and Toronto won all four. The Braves had opportunities with runners in scoring position to tie or win those games but it didn’t happen. The final game went 11 innings and the Braves had the tying run on third base in the bottom of the 11th, but lost.
A couple more pieces were added in 1993. “After debating whether to sign (Greg) Maddux or Barry Bonds, who both hit free agency after the 1992 season, the pitcher won out.”36 The Braves almost signed Barry Bonds, but one wonders how he would have fit into the “everyone is equal clubhouse” of the Braves.
On July 22 the Braves were 55-42, 10 games out of first place. They had just traded for Fred McGriff and he ignited them as they went 8-1 the rest of July. They stayed hot and on September 11 they took over first place and stayed there for the rest of the season. From July 23 to the end of the season the Braves were 49-16 (.754). They went from 13 games over .500 to 46 games over .500 in a matter of 65 games, finishing at 104-58.
Cox said he wanted great pitching and great fielding and he got it. The pitching staff was first in the league by a wide margin in ERA and ERA+. On defense they were tied with the Giants for best in the league in a statistic called Defensive Efficiency.37
“He’s got half the club on his shoulders and is carrying them. Fact is I don’t know if I’ve ever seen anyone do that. That’s Mister Clutch.” Cox was talking about Ron Gant after he had 18 runs batted in during an eight-game span in September 1993 to keep the Braves ahead of the Giants late in the season. Author Tom Verducci argued that the amazing stretch wasn’t Gant’s greatest achievement; “it may have been that he moved Bobby Cox, his phlegmatic manager, to positively gush.”38
In the NLCS, Atlanta faced the Philadelphia Phillies and lost in six games. The Phillies won three games by one run. In two of those games the Braves had numerous chances to score with runners in scoring position, including the final inning in each game.
During the offseason Cox had knee replacement surgery on both knees.39
There were some new players in the 1994 starting lineup. Javy Lopez was signed as an amateur free agent from Puerto Rico when Cox was the GM. Ryan Klesko, drafted by GM Cox, was now a rookie in left field. Klesko and Lopez finished 3rd and 10th respectively in the Rookie of the Year voting. Cox moved other players to new positions during the season and gave another of his draftees a chance to play; Kent Mercker became a starting pitcher.
On August 11, 1994, the remainder of the season was canceled after the players union struck.
Cox did what he always did in 1995 and adapted with the changes in the roster. Chipper Jones came in second in Rookie of the Year voting. Cox, showing again that he was not afraid to change a player’s position, moved Jones from shortstop to third base.
The Cox philosophy of great pitching and great fielding continued, with the Braves having the best team ERA and ERA+ and the fielders ranking fourth in the league. The team finished first in the newly-realigned East Division. (The actual change in divisions occurred in 1994.)
The Braves won over the wild-card (established in 1994 and first used in 1995) Colorado Rockies in the Division Series.
In the NLCS, the Braves won four straight over Cincinnati to claim the pennant.
The 1995 World Series could be called a rematch of the 1948 series when the Cleveland Indians defeated the Boston Braves in six games.
The sixth game in 1995 was a 1-0 nail-biter. The Braves led in the Series, three games to two. Glavine was pitching a one-hit shutout after eight innings and 109 pitches. Cox had to decide whether to continue with Glavine or go with his closer.
An Atlanta team had never won a championship in baseball, football, or basketball. Cox’s decision would be for one game, but that one game had a tremendous amount of excitement or disappointment riding on it. Cox went to the bullpen for the ninth inning and brought in the closer, Mark Wohlers, who had pitched in three of the previous four games. Wohlers recorded outs one and two in short order. It all came down to one more out. Carlos Baerga, the number-three hitter in the lineup for the Indians, came to bat. On the first pitch, Baerga sent a fly ball to deep left-center field. Center fielder Marquis Grissom gave chase and hauled it in, and the Braves were World Series champions.
The World Series championship was the third in the history of the Braves franchise. They won in 1914 as the Boston Braves and in 1957 as the Milwaukee Braves. Their victory in 1995 made them the only team to win a World Series in three different cities.
The 1996 Braves finished first and beat the Dodgers in the NLDS, three games to one. They overcame the St. Louis Cardinals in seven games in the NLCS to clinch another pennant. They faced the Yankees in the World Series and lost in six games. The Yankees won Games Five and Six by one run, 1-0 and 3-2.
Ted Turner owned the Braves from 1976 to 1996. After the 1996 season his Turner Broadcasting merged with Time Warner. His role with the Braves was diminished. The purse strings got tighter after Turner left.40 The Braves were used to Turner spending money on what they needed. Now things were changing.
In 1997 and 1998 the Braves won in the NLDS but lost in the NLCS. In 1999 they were back to the World Series but were swept by the Yankees.
John Smoltz missed the entire 2000 season after having Tommy John surgery. In 2001, while Smoltz was working his way back to the starting rotation, Cox began using him as a reliever. Then Smoltz became the closer and was extremely good at it for the next three seasons. When the team ran low on starting pitchers, Cox moved him back into the starting rotation for 2005.
Between injuries, free agency and salary restrictions, it was becoming more difficult to continue winning, but Cox was working his magic and the Braves continued their streak of first-place finishes. From 2000 to 2004 they won their division but lost in the Division Series four of the five seasons. In 2001 they won the Division Series but lost to Arizona in the Championship Series.
In 2005 the Braves (90-72) finished first for the 14th season in a row but lost to Houston in the Division Series. Asked in 2009 if 2005 was his finest season of managing because of coping with injuries and 18 rookies during the season and still finishing first, he replied, “I never expect guys to struggle. So when they come up here, I expect them to compete with the team on the other side and not be awed by them or anything else. They’re treated just like the veterans. … There’s only one reason why you’re up here and that’s because you have talent. I do have patience and if somebody gets off slow, I am going to stay with them, because they have talent.”41
The first-place streak ended in 2006. For Cox personally, counting the 1985 Blue Jays, Cox had 15 consecutive seasons of first-place finishes when he managed a team for a full season.
During their 14-season streak, the Braves played in 25 postseason series and won 12 of them. Some may point out that the Braves won only one World Series during that time, but John Smoltz had an interesting approach to the question: “Superior pitching wins baseball games, but power pitching is a bonus in the postseason. And starting pitching is great, but timely hitting is better. We went to the World Series five times. Over those five Series we played a total of twenty-nine games. More than half of those games — seventeen to be exact — were decided by one run and we lost twelve of those.”42
“The fact that John Schuerholz and Bobby Cox gave us a chance to win it all every year –remember, to win it all, you HAVE to make the playoffs first — was amazing. We won when the team was rebuilding, while most teams don’t go to the playoffs when they are in transition. We won because our manager could take a variety of different teams with certain weaknesses and win, teams that had a lot of injuries, and still make it.”43
Broadcaster Jim Kaat, a three time All-Star and longtime pitcher in the big leagues, said, “That Atlanta team had everything except a quality closer. If you could put somebody like Mariano Rivera on that club, they would be unbeatable.”44 Baseball analyst Tim Kurkjian said the same thing: “They didn’t have a top-quality ‘closer.’”45
“We had so many different types of teams during our streak,” said Cox. “We had slugging teams, speed teams, and really young teams but always had pitching. It was fun managing teams stacked with base-stealers. … I liked to turn the runners loose. … I’m not only proud of every team I ever managed but proud of the fans and the organization. No manager can win without the right people around him. That starts in the front office, with the general manager and player-development people, but also the coaches.”46
The closest team in major league baseball to the Braves are the Yankees with nine straight division championships, from 1998 to 2006. The longest streak in other major professional sports is held by the New England Patriots with 11.
Former Mets GM Omar Minaya observed, “If they were to give a Pulitzer Prize in baseball, Bobby Cox and John Schuerholz and their whole organization deserve it. What they’ve done is more than impressive. … The 14-year run was possible because Bobby was so adaptable. Playing the hand Schuerholz gave him, he won with different types of teams: some dominated by pitching, some loaded with sluggers, others with speed merchants, and still others with veterans. One year, the Braves even used 18 rookies but still managed to win.”47
In 2006 the team record was 79-83, for a third-place division finish. Gone were the days of Maddux and Glavine in the rotation although they still had Smoltz, who was now 39. The only remaining position players from the heydays were Chipper Jones and Andruw Jones. From 2007 to 2009 the Braves finished third, fourth, and third respectively.
Tom Glavine came back for the 2008 season to finish his career with Cox and the Braves. Smoltz was in his last year with the Braves. (He was the only player who was with Cox from the beginning of the 14-season streak to the end of it.)
On June 8, 2009, Cox posted win number 2,000 with the Braves, making him just the fourth major-league manager to win 2,000 with one team, joining Connie Mack, John McGraw, and Walter Alston.48 Cox finished with 2,504 total wins: 2,149 with the Braves and 355 with the Blue Jays.
Before the 2010 season, Cox announced that he would step down at the end of the campaign. The Braves finished in second place in the division with a 91-71 record, making them the wild-card team, in the postseason one last time for Cox. They lost to the Giants three games to one in the Division Series. All four decisions were by one run. Chipper Jones had season-ending knee surgery in August, and in the second game of the series the Braves closer, Billy Wagner, suffered an oblique-muscle injury and did not play afterward. The Braves made seven errors, which were factors in two of their three losses. After Game Two, manager Bruce Bochy led his players to a standing ovation for Cox while the fans (in San Francisco) stood and cheered, “Bobby, Bobby, Bobby!” and the umpires congratulated Cox.49
Asked about the errors costing the Series, Cox, a player’s manager right to the end, expressed disappointment but remained supportive of his players. Cox congratulated Bochy and the Giants and wished them good luck. He said he was touched by the Giants and fans ovation.50
The respect for Cox throughout baseball was shown when the Braves played in different cities in 2010. “Being able to understand and see everybody in baseball, every team, every player just appreciating what he brought to the game of baseball and to see how everybody was just sending him off was something special to see from the same dugout with him, (Tim) Hudson said, it was awesome.”51 City after city meant gifts and ceremonies, a celebration of his impact. While in Washington to play the Nationals, Cox was invited to a reception on Capitol Hill, hosted by U.S. senators.52
Another important contribution from Cox to the Braves was the team’s rising attendance. When he became the manager they were last in the majors with less than one million per season. During Cox’s time they were first, second, and third for numerous seasons, topping three million multiple times.
In September 2014 the Braves brought Cox back to help them choose their next general manager and director of player development after GM Frank Wren was gone.
Tom Glavine spotlighted Cox’s qualities when he told the author of a team history, “What made him a great manager was that he was so good at handling his players. He was so good at getting the best and most out of his guys. He treated everybody with the utmost respect and made everybody understand that whether you were a superstar or the 25th man coming out of spring training, you were going to be an important piece of the puzzle. He made guys not only understand that but believe it.”53
Marquis Grissom summed up for the author why the players played so hard for Cox. (Grissom had played for three managers before he arrived in Atlanta in 1995.) “He’s the best, from all the managers that I had. Every day he would ask me, ‘How you doing? How’s your family doing?’ (He was) able to push all of us in the right direction and get the best out of all of us, and I think that says the world about Bobby Cox — and if you can’t play for him, you can’t play for nobody.”54 Tim Hudson said, “He was a manager who felt like a teammate, a friend and a father figure. I’m proud that I played for one of the best managers a player could ever ask for.” Said John Smoltz, “A small part of Bobby Cox changes you as a baseball player. Twenty years with the man changes your life.”55
Cox’s philosophy of having great pitching and great defense produced the most wins during the 1990s. The Braves’ record from 1990 through 1999 was 925-629 (.595). The second most wins during the ’90s belonged to the Yankees, at 851-702. (.548).
Cox was never one to take credit for anything. That honor was reserved for his players. Cox defined the term ‘player’s manager.’ In fact, he cared so much that he was known to send some of his former players money if they were ever in need.57
Hall of Fame GM John Schuerholz said, “It is sad that the story of the Atlanta Braves ends with the word ‘but.’ People talk about the great run we had. All my cohorts in the business say, ‘What a remarkable accomplishment. No one will ever do that.’ The media examines what we have done as productive, but the end of the sentence is, ‘But only one championship.’ Is that what we have become, a society that wants to look at greatness in an effort to find a failing instead of celebrate success?”58
The Braves had just one manager, Cox, during a 15-year stretch in which the 29 other teams employed 149 managers. Over the course of winning 14 division titles, the Braves had 272 players wear their uniform. John Smoltz was the only member of the organization in all 14 championship seasons, although he was on the disabled list for the 2000 season. There were 144 pitchers to appear for the Braves, and only five started as many as 160 games: Tom Glavine (400), Greg Maddux (363), Smoltz (319), Steve Avery (181), and Kevin Millwood (160). They used 20 catchers, 35 first basemen, 24 second basemen, 28 third basemen, 20 shortstops, 57 left fielders, 30 center fielders, and 56 right fielders.59
Cox and Joe McCarthy are the only major-league managers to have six seasons of 100 or more wins.
Of his relationship with GM Schuerholz, Cox said, “It’s as good a relationship as there could possibly be in sports, I think. We get along great. John runs everything by me. I’m involved in everything that John wants to do. Some GMs don’t operate that way anymore. I respect him a great deal. I think he respects my knowledge of what we should do: what trades, free agents, and my reasons for and against some of those.”60
Through the 2019 season, there have been 711 major-league managers.61 Cox ranks number four in wins. The top five are Connie Mack with 3,731 victories in 53 years; John McGraw with 2,763 in 33 years; Tony La Russa with 2,728 in 33 years, Bobby Cox with 2,504 in 29 years, and Joe Torre with 2,326 in 29 years. McGraw has the best winning percentage of the five managers, .586, Cox is second at .556, followed by Torre, .538; La Russa, .536; and Mack, .486.
Cox ranks first among the five managers in the statistic “Actual Wins Minus Expected Wins.” It is a measure of the extent to which a team outperformed or underperformed its talent. His rating is 34.8. He is followed by La Russa, 20.4; Mack, 13.9; Torre, -5.5, and McGraw -11.9.62
Bill James, in a series of articles on Hall of Fame managers, ranks them according to points they score in numerous categories he devised. His top six: McGraw, 250 points; McCarthy, 237; Cox, 206; Mack, 197, La Russa, 196; and Torre, 177.63
The Baseball Writers’ Association of America named Cox the Manager of the Year a record four times, tying him with La Russa. Three managers have won in three different decades, Cox, La Russa, and Buck Showalter. Cox is the only manager to win the award in consecutive years. The Sporting News named Cox the Manager of the Year eight times. The closest is Jim Leyland with four.64
On August 12, 2011, Cox was inducted into the Atlanta Braves Hall of Fame and his number-6 jersey was retired.65 In 2014 he was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame, along with La Russa and Torre, the same year as Tom Glavine, Greg Maddux, and Frank Thomas.
Before the HOF ceremony started, Tom Seaver was giving instructions on things to remember during the speeches. He said, “All right boys, don’t forget your wife’s name. Seriously, practice it right now.” Talking to Cox, he said, “Now, what’s your wife’s name?” “Pam,” Cox replied. “Don’t forget it.” Seaver said. Cox didn’t. While waiting offstage before the ceremony, Leo Mazzone, the Braves longtime pitching coach and Cox’s right-hand man, noticed that Cox was nervous, and as he had done for Atlanta pitchers so many times, played psychologist. “I told (one of Cox’s daughters) to text him a message that said, ‘We’ve been in a lot tougher jams than this one,’” Mazzone said. Cox later admitted that his hands shook as he started his speech. Cox started with a joke, “A few years ago I was sitting with Steve Stone, the broadcaster for the Chicago White Sox, at an Arizona Fall League game, and this guy comes up and says, ‘Steve, can I have your autograph?’ He says, ‘Sure.’ He signs it, and he says, ‘Hey, you don’t want Bobby’s autograph?’ That guy just stared at me and he says, ‘Yeah, I know you. You’re that guy from Atlanta who gets thrown out all the time, right?’ I said, ‘Yeah, that’s me, but (Tommy) Lasorda, if he didn’t quit so early in his career, he would’ve had the record that I’ve got now.’”66
Cox was ejected 165 times by major-league umpires.67 About arguing with umpires, he said, “I generally don’t go onto the field that much … but 90 percent of the time it’s because my player is upset. And I’ve got to get in there right away and keep him in the game or at least stick up for him. My relationships with umpires, in my mind, is great. I like them, every single one of them. Being a major-league umpire is the single toughest job in sports. It’s hard. Those guys are good. But again, I have to stick up for my players. I can get really upset and other times I’m not and I will talk softly and not be as irate.”68 He was ejected from three postseason games and as of 2019 was the only manager to be ejected from two World Series games.
On April 2, 2019, Cox suffered a possible stroke one day after he attended the Braves’ home opener at SunTrust Park.69 Taken to a hospital, he was seeing visitors the next day. He was taken to a rehabilitation facility a few weeks later and was walking.70
“I’ve been more busy after I retired than when I was working,” Cox said in 2012. He was named chairman of the board of the Atlanta area Northside Bank. He was also a partner in the Lake Point Sporting Community and Town Center project. He and his wife became involved in a number of charity projects, particularly the Homeless Pets Foundation.73
Former Brave Greg McMichael summed up Cox’s career: “Bobby Cox’s contribution to baseball was, building an organization to sustain winning, going from a manager to a general manager and how to lay the foundation for a team to restructure their farm system, develop players, draft and trade for players, and then go back to managing that core group of players and do something no other team has ever done. When he was managing, he always had the player’s back, never through anyone under the bus, didn’t blame individuals, and didn’t say things to the press about his players. He did what was best for the team.”74
Last revised: February 15, 2021
In addition to the sources cited in the Notes, the author consulted
Bradbury, J.C. The Baseball Economist (New York: Penguin Group [USA] Inc., 2007).
James, Bill. The Bill James Baseball Abstract 1984 (New York: Ballantine Books, 1984).
Whitaker, Lang. In the Time of Bobby Cox (New York: Scribner, 2011).
A huge thank-you to the Aiken County (South Carolina) Public Library, Amanda, Carolyn, and Janet.
All baseball facts and statistics for players and managers are from baseball-reference.com.
4 Robert E. Luckett, “Bobby Cox, b. 1941,” New Georgia Encyclopedia, November 18, 2002. georgiaencyclopedia.org/articles/sports-outdoor-recreation/bobby-cox-b-1941.
6 State of California Marriage Index.
7 Charles Bethea, “Q&A with Bobby Cox,” Atlanta Magazine, May 1, 2010 .
11 Cory McCartney, Tales from the Atlanta Braves Dugout (New York: Sports Publishing, 2016), 164.
12 Doug Walker, Cox Settling into Life after Baseball,” Rome (Georgia) News Tribune, August 5, 2012.
14 Steve Weller, “His Tales Are Tall, but Braves Listen,” South Florida Sun-Sentinel (Fort Lauderdale), March 2, 1985.
15 Dan Schlossberg, When the Braves Ruled the Diamond (New York: Sports Publishing, 2016), 31.
17 Romo, “Walk Off: The Bobby Cox Story,” romoball.blogspot.com, October 18, 2010.
19 Schlossberg, xv.
20 Phone interview with Greg McMichael, February 12, 2020.
22 Schlossberg, 29.
23 Chipper Jones with Carroll Rogers Walton, Chipper Jones Ballplayer (New York: Dutton, 2018), ix.
24 McCartney, 84-90.
26 Bill James, The New Bill James Historical Baseball Abstract (New York: The Free Press, 2001), 829.
27 Schlossberg, 6.
28 Schlossberg, 13.
29 Schlossberg, 30.
30 Schlossberg, 27-28.
31 Schlossberg, 33.
32 John Smoltz with Don Yaeger, Starting and Closing (New York: William Morrow, 2012), 236.
33 McCartney, 116.
34 John Thorn, Pete Palmer, and Michael Gershman, with Matthew Silverman, Sean Lahman, and Greg Spira, Total Baseball: The Official Encyclopedia of Major League Baseball, 7th Edition (New York: Total Sports Publishing, 2001), 2487.
36 Schlossberg, 9
37 Baseball-reference.com, league statistics for teams in 1993.
38 Tom Verducci, Sports Illustrated, September27, 1993, 43-44.
40 Schlossberg, 17, 23.
42 Smoltz, 220-225.
43 Smoltz, 219.
44 Schlossberg. 54.
46 Schlossberg, xviii.
47 Schlossberg, 14.
51 McCartney, 174
52 McCartney, 175.
53 Schlossberg, 31.
54 McCartney, 157
55 Schlossberg, 265.
57 Adam Ferguson, “Goodbye Bobby Cox: The End of an Era for the Atlanta Braves,” Bleacherreport.com, https://bleacherreport.com/articles/488856-goodbye-bobby-cox-the-end-of-an-era-for-the-atlanta-braves.
62 Total Baseball, 2414.
63 billjamesonline.com, February 18,19, and 20, 2013.
66 McCartney, ix-xii.
71 Dave Lezotte, “Bobby Cox to Be Inducted into International League Hall of Fame,” January 20, 2019. milb.com/gwinnett/news/bobby-cox-to-be-inducted-into-international-league-hall-of-fame-303280110.
74 Greg McMichael interview.