Larry Cox (THE TOPPS COMPANY)

Larry Cox

This article was written by Brian Bratt

Larry Cox (THE TOPPS COMPANY)A lifetime of baseball as a major league catcher, minor league manager, and major league coach would usually be thought of as a happy life; it was that for Larry Cox, but he unfortunately passed away at the age of 42 before he could complete his baseball journey.

Larry Eugene Cox was born on September 11, 1947,1 in Bluffton, Ohio, the oldest of the 12 children of Wilfred and Mona (Reeder) Cox. Wilfred was a World War II veteran who worked for General Motors.2 Mona was a homemaker.

Larry played legion and high school baseball through 1965. At Ottawa-Glandorf High School, he was an all-state catcher3 and pitcher, batted .340, pitched two no-hitters,4 and won seven games.5 According to the back of his 1981 Topps baseball card, in one high school game he hit two grand slams and drove in 12 runs.6 In the summer of 1964 he played on the first Ottawa American Legion Post 63 team to win a district tournament and advance to the state tournament. In the first game, he pounded two home runs in an 18-7 win over Ravenna., After winning the second game over Lima (with future major leaguer Steve Arlin taking the loss, 2-1), Post 63 lost the next two games and finished with a 2-2 record in the double-elimination tournament. Representatives of the National Association of Baseball Scouts named Cox to the all-tournament first team.7

The Philadelphia Phillies signed the 5’10”, right-handed hitting and throwing Cox as an undrafted free agent on February 8, 1966.8 He reported to the Phillies’ Northern League short-season single-A team, the Huron Phillies, where he caught 54 games, tied for the team lead in doubles (9), and finished second with 23 walks while hitting .219.

Over the next three seasons, Cox struggled to hit .200, but the Phillies liked his strong arm and decided to try him out on the mound. With Spartanburg in 1967, Cox allowed a hit and a walk while throwing two wild pitches in a scoreless inning of work. Cox took the mound again in relief seven times at the start of the season for Spartanburg in 1968, compiling a 2.14 ERA over 21 innings with 20 strikeouts and 18 walks. The Phillies sent him back to Huron that same season to try him as a starter. In four starts, he threw 27 innings (one complete game) with 22 strikeouts, 12 walks, two wild pitches, four home runs allowed, one win, two losses, and a 3.33 ERA. Cox didn’t enjoy pitching, however, and sent the Phillies a letter at the beginning of the 1969 season to tell them he would not be returning if he was going to pitch; as a result, the Phillies moved him back to catcher.9

The return to catching in 1969 at Raleigh-Durham didn’t improve his hitting, but his work behind the plate impressed Phillies management. In an early 1970 interview, Raleigh-Durham manager Nolan Campbell said, “Outside of Johnny Bench…Larry may have the best arm of any catcher in baseball. If he could hit, there is no telling where he would be now.” Paul Owens, Phillies farm director, said, “If Larry could hit .240, he would probably be with us in the majors right now. You don’t expect a catcher to hit .280 or .300, but he should hit around .240.”10

For the next two years Cox split his time between the double-A Reading Phillies and triple-A Eugene Emeralds. He almost saw his first major league action in 1970 when Tim McCarver and Mike Ryan were injured in the same inning on May 2 against San Francisco, but Cox “’broke a finger the day before McCarver and Ryan [were injured].’”11 In 1971 Cox and Bob Boone competed for playing time at Reading. Cox caught twice as many games, but Boone was moved up to triple-A Eugene in 1972 and eventually earned a September call-up with the Phillies. Meanwhile, the Phillies loaned Cox to the San Diego Padres, and he spent 1972 with the triple-A Hawaii Islanders of the Pacific Coast League.12 He was still a .229 hitter.

Cox went to spring training as a non-roster invitee in 197313 and joined Boone and Ryan on the major league roster as the Phillies carried three catchers “for the first time in years.”14 He made his major league debut against Montreal on April 18. Bill Robinson pinch-hit for Ryan in the top of the eighth inning, and Cox entered the game in the bottom of the inning. He wouldn’t be seen on a major league field again until May 24, 1974, spending the remainder of 1973 with Reading and Eugene.

Although Cox was identified as a “promising newcomer” early in 1974,15 “minor ailments” cost him time in spring training and gave Jim Essian a chance to exhibit his skills;16 as a result, Cox was reassigned to Toledo, the Phillies’ new triple-A team.17 One positive aspect of the demotion was that he was playing 55 miles from his hometown, though he felt he had major league-ready skills: “’I know I can do the job, too,’ Cox said. ‘I can handle the pitchers. . . I’ve been around long enough and no one’s going to steal on me…Maybe my minor league stats don’t show such a high batting average, but that’s not the total picture.’”18

Recalled by the Phillies in May,19 Cox earned his first major league start on May 24 at home against Montreal, going 0-4 in a 4-2 loss. Over his first 11 appearances of the season, Cox went hitless, but he broke that streak in the first game of a June 30 doubleheader against the Pirates, when he pinch hit for pitcher Frank Linzy in the top of the ninth and doubled to center field off Ken Brett.

Cox drove in his first career run on August 12, but, as was his luck, he injured his knee later in the game advancing to second on a sacrifice bunt and didn’t take the field again until September 11. Reflecting on the injury, he said, “It could have been a lot worse—and then again, it was better than falling off the bench.”20 Once he returned to the line-up, he was Carlton’s personal catcher for the remainder of the season, and scouts were impressed with his catching ability.21 His teammates also voted him a full share ($365.78) of the team’s third-place portion of the World Series pie.22

The Phillies intended to send Cox back to the minors to start 1975 until they realized he was out of options.23 In early May, they acquired catcher Johnny Oates from Atlanta, resulting in Cox’s appearing in only 10 games. Based on the strong showings of Boone and Oates in 1975, Cox was expendable, so the Phillies traded him to Minnesota for Sergio Ferrer on October 24. Unfortunately for Cox, his path to a starting position in the major leagues was blocked by 20- year-old phenom Butch Wynegar, who would be an AL All-Star in 1976. With veterans Phil Roof and Glenn Borgmann backing up Wynegar, it was back to triple-A for Cox, where he hit .265 with 22 doubles, five triples, 12 home runs, and 66 RBI. That performance was enough for the Seattle Mariners to purchase him.24

In 1977, Cox started the season on the disabled list with an injured finger25 but played in 35 games with 30 starts. His hottest stretch at the plate took place in three games against the Oakland A’s July 21-23 when he hit .538 (7-13) with two doubles, a home run (the first of his career), and three RBIs, pushing his season average to .302. That streak coincided with his playing in nine consecutive games (seven starts), but as a back-up, consistent playing time was hard to find. Still, he led all catchers on the team by throwing out 42% of base stealers.

Having carried five catchers in their first season, the Mariners deemed Cox expendable. Prior to the 1977 season, the Mariners and Cubs exchanged pitchers, with the Mariners owing the Cubs a player to be named later. On October 25, 1977, Cox was sent to Chicago.

From the start of 1978, Cox found himself in the familiar position of backup catcher, this time to Dave Rader. He appeared in 59 games. July was an especially good month as he hit .423 in 12 games (10 starts) with two doubles, a home run, and seven RBIs. On July 7 he hit a three-run home run off Tom Hausman, contributing to the Cubs’ 9-7 victory. He finished the game 2-for-4 and bumped his overall average to .260.

Luck, however, rarely seemed to be on Cox’s side. He landed on the disabled list “because of two split fingers on his throwing hand, souvenirs from an Ozzie Smith (San Diego) foul tip,” and that was after dealing with a bruised hand and gastritis.26 Despite those injuries, when he returned to the field, he hit .353 from September 1 on, finishing the season with a respectable .281 average. What was especially impressive was his clutch hitting: he hit .500 with 15 RBIs with runners in scoring position, .421 with men on base, .667 with a man on third, and .563 with two outs and runners in scoring position. He also led the team in RBIs per at-bat.27

Before the 1978 season ended, Cox was being mentioned as trade bait. In September, GM Bob Kennedy, trying to bring catcher Barry Foote to the Cubs, offered pitcher Ray Burris and either Rader or Cox to the Phillies.28 Eventually, on February 23, 1979, the Phillies succumbed to Kennedy’s overtures, sending Foote and three other players to the Cubs for Rader and two others.29 On March 20, Cox was headed back to Seattle after the Cubs traded him in exchange for Puchy Delgado.

Cox earned his first Opening Day start in 1979 against the California Angels. In the Mariners’ 5-4 win at home, he drove in the Mariners’ first two runs of the season with a home run off Frank Tanana in the bottom of the second inning on the first pitch he saw.30 Cox hit safely in seven of his first nine games, batting .400 with two home runs and three RBIs to start the year.

The May 15 doubleheader against the Royals was a banner day for Cox. Although the teams split the two games, Cox went 5-for-6, including 3-for-3 in the first game. Another highlight game took place three days later against the Rangers. Cox went 2-for-5 with a two-run single and three-run double to finish with five RBIs in the 13-5 win. On June 4 he joined five teammates (Bruce Bochte, Willie Horton, John Hale, Dan Meyer, and Ruppert Jones) in setting a team record for home runs in a game.

Cox incurred a strange injury on September 2 against the Blue Jays. In the bottom of the seventh inning with the Blue Jays leading, 6-2, shortstop Alfredo Griffin led off the inning with a single and advanced to second base on a hit and third base on an error. Rico Carty then hit into a fielder’s choice, catching Griffin in a run-down between third base and home, but as Cox tagged Griffin, “the Blue Jay brought his elbow and shoulder up across his face,” breaking Cox’s nose.31 Fortunately, Cox only missed one game as a result of the incident. In his 95th appearance of the season, against the Brewers on September 25, it might have been expected that Cox’s legs were tired after a season of crouching behind the plate; however, he hit triples in back-to-back at bats, the only catcher to do so that year. He hit .215 and allowed 82 stolen bases, throwing out just 32 percent of base runners.

In 1980, Cox enjoyed the most playing time of his career, 105 games, but one of them may have been his worst experience. It happened on May 1 at Anaheim, when he cost the Mariners two runs and a win. “In the seventh inning, with bases loaded and two out, Jim] Anderson hit [an] apparent double to right field, driving in Ted Cox (no relation) from third and Larry Cox from second; however, on appeal, umpires called Larry Cox out for failing to touch third base on his way to the plate. That was [the] third out and [the] inning thus ended without any runs scoring”32 because the force at third eliminated Ted Cox’s run from counting. The Mariners attempted to protest umpire John Shulock’s ruling, especially after it was reported that Shulock told the Angels’ Fred Patek that “Cox had tagged third base.” The league determined the incident could not be protested, upholding the 2-1 loss.33

On July 6 Cox lost 12 pounds in a game at Kansas City, where the temperature reached 126 degrees on the turf.34 He was in the midst of a hot streak of his own, in which he hit .305 over 21 games, but that raised his BA only to .200. When Maury Wills replaced Darrell Johnson as the Mariners’ manager, the change led to less playing time for Cox. At the 1980 winter meetings, Seattle traded him, with Rick Honeycutt, Willie Horton, Leon Roberts, and Mario Mendoza, to Texas for Richie Zisk, minor-leaguer Steve Finch, Rick Auerbach, Ken Clay, Jerry Don Gleaton, and Brian Allard.35

In 1981, Cox saw his first action of the season in the Rangers’ sixteenth game as a result of the presence of Gold Glover Jim Sundberg as the starting catcher. The five games Cox played prior to the start of the players’ strike were the only days off Sundberg had in the first half of the season. In his next to last appearance of the season on May 31 against Seattle, Cox rapped his last two major league hits. Earlier that spring, Cox had purchased a new home in Lima, Ohio. Once the strike had lasted four weeks, he packed up his family, moved everyone back to Ohio, and planned to talk to his friends there to see if any of them had any work he could do to make some money to survive the strike.36 Finally, major league baseball returned to action in August, but Cox was released a week after the second half began.

In January 1982, the Cubs signed Cox as a free agent, keeping him in the minors as an insurance policy. He started the season with the double-A Midland Cubs, but Chicago recalled him in May.37 The last starting assignment of his major league career came on May 23 at San Francisco in the second game of a doubleheader. Cox reached base three times with three walks, including the only intentional walk of his career in the second inning. He was eventually sent back to Midland, released, and hired by the Cubs as a minor league catching instructor.38

In 348 games over nine years, Cox played for four teams, finishing with a .221 batting average, 12 home runs, five triples, 31 doubles, and a fine reputation for handling pitchers and strong defensive play.

Cox made his managerial debut with the Quad Cities Cubs of the single-A Midwest League in 1983. He stayed with Quad Cities again in 1984 and managed a first-year catcher, Damon Berryhill, on whom Cox had a strong influence. When Berryhill, eventually a minor league manager himself after playing for ten years, looked back on his playing days, he said, “I kind of owe it all [making the major leagues] to Larry. He was a big part of getting me there. The way he went about his business and made sure I never slacked off and kept pushing really helped me out.”39

After two years in the Quad Cities, Cox made the jump to the triple-A Iowa Cubs of the American Association in 1985 and managed them through 1987. In 1988 he joined Don Zimmer’s Cubs staff in Chicago as the bullpen coach, and continued in that role in 1989 for the NL East champions. Zimmer liked that he was able to keep the staff together for both years, saying, “They’re a great group. They work hard, they communicate with me and the players, and they needle each other to death.”40 They were all asked back to coach again in 1990.41

Unfortunately, Cox wouldn’t get the chance to coach again. On February 17, he was playing racquetball with his son, Larry Jr., in Bellefontaine, Ohio, when he suffered a heart attack and died 25 minutes after arriving at the hospital.42 He was 42, survived by his wife Betty (née Gerdeman),43 whom he had married in 1967, and four children: Larry Jr., Tony, Kerri, and Brittney.44 Cox is buried in Gethsemani Cemetery in Lima, Ohio.45

In April 1990, the village of Ottawa collected donations to place a plaque honoring Cox near Memorial Field in Ottawa’s Memorial Park;46 the plaque site was renovated in 2019.47

Last revised: July 13, 2021 (zp)

Sources and Acknowledgments

In addition to the sources cited in the endnotes, the author also consulted Baseball-Reference.com. Special thanks to Tyson McGlaughlin (Ottawa-Glandorf High School athletic director) and Dan Kern (former Miller City High School (OH) athletic director) for the high school stats of Larry Cox, Dave Kersh for the history of Ottawa Legion Post 63 baseball teams, and Cassidy Lent for retrieving and reviewing Larry Cox’s file at the National Baseball Hall of Fame and sharing its contents.

This biography was reviewed by Paul Proia and Norman Macht and checked for accuracy by SABR’s fact-checking team.

 

Notes

1 “Larry Cox,” FindaGrave.com, https://www.findagrave.com/memorial/15053374/larry-cox, Accessed November 8, 2020.

2 “Wilfred E. Cox,” FindaGrave.com, https://www.findagrave.com/memorial/46730948/wilfred-e_-cox, Accessed November 8, 2020.

3 “Cox Donations Sought,” Putnam County (OH) Sentinel, April 11, 1990.

4 “Cox Could be in Majors, if He Could Hit, Manager Says!” Putnam County (OH) Sentinel, January 15, 1970.

5 Dan Kern, Email, September 21, 2020.

6 “1981 Topps Larry Cox,” Baseball Cards Come to Life!, June 5, 2020, http://borosny.blogspot.com/2020/06/1981-topps-larry-cox.html, Accessed November 26, 2020.

7 Dave Kersh, The 75th Anniversary of Ottawa Legion Baseball (Ottawa, OH: Warren Printing, 2005): 27-28.

8 “Larry Cox Trades and Transactions,” Baseball Almanac, https://www.baseball-almanac.com/players/trades.php?p=coxla01, Accessed November 26, 2020.

9 “Cox Could be in Majors, if He Could Hit, Manager Says!” Putnam County (OH) Sentinel, January 15, 1970.

10 “Cox Could be in Majors, if He Could Hit, Manager Says!” Putnam County (OH) Sentinel, January 15, 1970.

11 Bill Conlon, “Hawaiian Eye Helps Cox to Be a Hit With Phils,” Philadelphia Daily News, April 3, 1973: 58.

12 Allen Lewis, “On-the-Go Koegel Seeking Phil Port,” The Sporting News, February 17, 1973: 42.

13 Allen Lewis

14 Ray Kelly, “Cool Rookie Ruthven Fills Quaker Hill Bill,” The Sporting News, April 21, 1973: 18.

15 Ray Kelly, “Philadelphia Phillies,” The Sporting News, April 6, 1974: 5.

16 Ray Kelly, “Phil Foes Getting Big Jolt From Anderson’s Hot Bat,” The Sporting News, April 13, 1974: 18.

17 “Deals of the Week,” The Sporting News, April 20, 1974: 26.

18 Paul Giordano, “Door finally opens for Larry Cox,” Delaware County Daily Times,” March 27, 1974.

19 “Deals of the Week,” The Sporting News, June 8, 1974: 42.

20 Ray Kelly, “Phils’ Cox Has Brief Fling With Fame,” The Sporting News, September 7, 1974: 14.

21 Ray Kelly, “Phillies Ready to Go All-Out In Off-Season Bid for Bonds,” The Sporting News, October 19, 1974: 34.

22 “A’s, Dodgers Divvy Up Record Series Swag,” The Sporting News, November 23, 1974: 62.

23 “N.L. Flashes,” The Sporting News, April 26, 1975: 30.

24 Sid Hartmann, “Twins Sell Cox,” Minnesota Star-Tribune, October 21, 1976: 2D.

25 Hy Zimmerman, “Stanton, Meyer Fire Homer Barrage,” The Sporting News, May 7, 1977: 14.

26 Joe Goddard, “Jackrabbits Move In, Lumbering Cubs Move Out,” The Sporting News, August 12, 1978: 12.

27 Joe Goddard, “Cubs Seek to Polish Defensive Instincts,” The Sporting News, March 3, 1979: 35.

28 “Cubs Still Covet Foote,” The Sporting News, September 23, 1978: 37.

29 Joe Goddard, “Our Careers Start Now, Say Happy Martin and Foote,” The Sporting News, March 10, 1979: 33.

30 Hy Zimmerman, “Youth Having Its Fling on M’s Staff,” The Sporting News, April 21, 1979: 27.

31 Hy Zimmerman, “Horton Happy With M’s In Comeback Performance,” The Sporting News, September 22, 1979: 12.

32 “A.L. Box Scores – Seattle at California (N),” The Sporting News, May 17, 1980: 34.

33 Hy Zimmerman, “Confidence Keys Honeycutt Climb,” The Sporting News, May 24, 1980: 9.

34 Hy Zimmerman, “Mariners See Smoother Seas,” The Sporting News, July 26, 1980: 12.

35 “Wheeling, Dealing at the Winter Meetings,” The Sporting News, December 27, 1980: 33.

36 Randy Galloway, “Rangers: Cox in a Bind,” The Sporting News, July 25, 1981: 27.

37 Dave van Dyke, “Elia Juggling Act Makes a Big Hit,” The Sporting News, May 24, 1982: 27.

38 Bob Minard, “Springfield Shuts Out Q-C Cubs,” Moline Dispatch, July 21, 1982: 31.

39 Taylor Denman, “Getting to Know…Damon Berryhill,” Gwinnett Daily Post, June 7, 2018, https://www.gwinnettdailypost.com/sports/professional/g-braves/getting-to-know-damon-berryhill/article_ce40a70e-162d-5b6c-9c24-69def59c2489.html, Accessed December 30, 2020.

40 “Cubs,” The Sporting News, September 19, 1988: 39.

41 “Cubs,” The Sporting News, September 25, 1989: 19.

42 “Obituaries – Larry Cox,” The Sporting News, February 26, 1990: 39.

43 “Marriage Licenses,” The Lima News, February 2, 1967: 4.

44 Andrew Bagnato, “Larry Cox, 42, Coach With Cubs Since 1988,” Chicago Tribune, February 18, 1990, https://www.chicagotribune.com/news/ct-xpm-1990-02-18-9001140561-story.html, Accessed December 31, 2020.

45 “Larry Cox,” FindaGrave.com, https://www.findagrave.com/memorial/15053374/larry-cox, Accessed November 8, 2020.

46 “Cox Donations Sought,” Putnam County (OH) Sentinel, April 11, 1990.

47 Jennifer Peryam, “Glandorf Scouts complete upgrades to Memorial Park,” limaohio.com, February 6, 2019, https://www.limaohio.com/news/340329/glandorf-scouts-complete-upgrades-to-memorial-park, Accessed December 31, 2020.

Full Name

Larry Eugene Cox

Born

September 11, 1947 at Bluffton, OH (USA)

Died

February 17, 1990 at Bellefontaine, OH (USA)

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