ATLANTA—Bobby Cox is a baseball lifer.
“I’ve got hobbies,” he said. “NASCAR is big, and golf. I play golf at least two off days each season.”
Guess it is pretty obvious why at the age of 67, in his 50th year of pro ball, Cox still puts on the uniform every day, fills out the Braves lineup card, and hasn’t given the slightest thought to walking away from his big league managerial job.
He did put talks about a contract extension on hold—he’s signed only through this season—but at some point, Cox said he’s sure a new deal will be finalized. It’s not like he plans a hold out or has any outrageous demands. There never has been a drawn out negotiation with Cox in his managerial tenure. It’s just that right now his focus is on getting the Braves back to the top of the National League East. Retirement is not on his bucket list.
“How do you walk away from something you like?” he said. “It hasn’t passed me by. Things change, but you just adapt.”
Things sure do change.
When the Diamondbacks made their early season managerial change, A.J. Hinch became the 190th different manager employed by the 29 other major league teams since Cox returned to the dugout as manager of the Braves in June 1990 The Reds have had 12 managers in that stretch. The Marlins, Cubs, Orioles, Royals and Blue Jays each have had nine managers—and Florida didn’t debut until 1993, nearly two years after Cox’s return.
Cox’s current run with Atlanta—he also managed the Braves from 1978-81—has seen baseball add expansion teams in Arizona and Colorado in 1993, and Tampa Bay and Arizona in 1998; adopt a three-division set-up, which resulted in the Braves moving from the NL West to the NL East in 1995; and adopt interleague play.
He won a professional sports record 14 consecutive division titles, and did it with a steady reinforcement of talent. During those 14 years, the primary starters on the Braves included five different catchers, eight first baseman, five second baseman, three third baseman, four shortstops and 20 outfielders. He had 18 different pitchers make at least 20 starts in a season, and nine different pitchers serve as the closer.
The cynics point out that the Braves won only one World Series in those 14 seasons.
“We would have liked to have won more and probably had a couple teams that were better than the one that did win the World Series, but I’m proud of what we have done,” he said. “I came here (in 1986) to win and we’ve done that. And I feel we can do it again this year.”
Cox has won more challenges than he has lost in a career that also included a four-year stint in Toronto, where he led the Blue Jays to the first three winning seasons in franchise history, as well as its first division title, in 1985. He returned to Atlanta as the general manager in 1986.
He’s never going to catch Connie Mack, who had the advantage of being the owner as well as manager during his 53 years in the dugout with the Philadelphia A’s. Cox’s 28 years as a manager have him tied for fifth all-time with Joe Torre, trailing only Bucky Harris (29 years), Tony La Russa (31 years), Jon McGraw (33 years) and Mack. He ranks fifth in games managed with 4,222, fourth in games won with 2,346, and has managed his teams to a record 15 first-place finishes.
Of the top 11 managers on the all-time win list, only La Russa, Torre and Cox, all still active, are not yet in the Hall of Fame.
And while Cox has never had an ownership interest in the Braves, he definitely painted the picture of success. The Atlanta franchise was a mess when then owner Ted Turner persuaded Cox to return as GM in 1986. In 1984, the Braves began a seven-year stretch of losing seasons. They finished last in the NL West four times, and fifth place (next to last) twice. They averaged 94 losses those seven seasons.
Cox oversaw a complete revamping of an Atlanta farm system that became the basis for success, though he is quick to credit Paul Snyder, whom Cox put in charge of the farm and scouting departments.
“I got credit as the general manager, but Paul did the work,” he said. “I don’t like getting into everybody else’s business. When you have a farm director you need to let him direct. When you have a scouting director you need to let him scout.”
In truth, however, Snyder and Cox were a team, and Snyder relied on Cox’s insights in getting the job done. In 1990, when the Braves had the No. 1 pick in the draft, they traveled together, making the final decision to pass on the potential of Todd Van Poppel’s right arm, and opt for a high school shortstop named Larry Jones instead.
Shortly after that draft, Cox replaced Russ Nixon in the dugout, carrying both the field manager and GM titles until the end of that season, when the Braves hired John Schuerholz away from Kansas City to handle GM duties.
“I wanted back down on the field,” Cox said, “and I knew I couldn’t do both. Anyone who thinks they can do both those jobs is out of their mind. I knew we were on the right track and I knew John was a good choice.”