It has been three years since Bobby Cox called it a career following the Atlanta Braves’ loss to the San Francisco Giants in the 2010 NLDS, and while Cox has still made several appearances at Turner Field since his retirement, fans of the team and its winningest manager knew it would only be a matter of time before the former Yankees farmhand found his way to Cooperstown.
The time that all Braves had been waiting for finally arrived on Tuesday, when it was announced that the expansion era committee had elected Cox, along with former managers Joe Torre and Tony La Russa, to the Hall of Fame. All three were elected in their first year of eligibility and were all voted in unanimously, an expected development considering that the three combined for 7,558 victories, 45 playoff appearances, 8 World Series championships, and 91 seasons as managers.
Bobby Cox’s journey from Tulsa, Oklahoma to Cooperstown is like a long and twisting road, a road that looked a lot like a dead end once he was forced to retire from playing due to lingering knee issues. Cox made his first run as a manager with the Braves back in 1978, taking a team that was the laughingstock of the NL West and made considerable progress, which included an 81-80 record in 1980 that served as the team’s first winning season in six years.
Braves owner Ted Turner felt he had no choice but to relieve Cox of his duties following a disappointing 1981 season, but not without some regret. When answering questions regarding the next Braves manager, who, coincidentally, would be Torre, Turner was quite blunt, saying “It would be Bobby Cox if I hadn’t just fired him. We need someone like him around here.”
Following an impressive four-year run as manager of the Toronto Blue Jays that included 355 wins and an appearance in the 1985 ALCS, Cox migrated back south to Atlanta, where he was initially hired as Braves general manager. While Cox made some very impressive moves as GM, including drafting Chipper Jones over pitcher Todd Van Poppel, the team simply was not winning, which led the then forty-nine year old to hand his general manager duties to future Hall of Famer John Schuerholz and return to the dugout.
What followed was a twenty-three year run that transformed the Atlanta Braves from lovable losers to contenders each and every season, an era that included seventeen playoff berths, five National League pennants, and just two losing seasons. Cox is still celebrated for the Braves’ 1995 season, in which the pitching by the likes of Tom Glavine, Greg Maddux, and John Smoltz propelled the team to a 90-54 regular season and a World Series championship, which still serves as the city’s only major pro sports title.
Despite holding the record for most consecutive divisional titles in any of the “major four” sports with fourteen titles from 1991 to 2005 (the 1994 season ended early due to the strike), Cox is often discredited for the success the Braves had during the 1990’s and is instead blamed for the team winning only one World Series despite having arguably the most talented team year after year. Collecting just one ring despite holding a lineup that over the years featured the names of Jones, Jones, McGriff, Klesko, Maddux, Avery, Smoltz, Glavine, Lopez, Justice, Nixon, Blauser, Gant, and Furcal and several other studs still leaves a considerable amount of fans and experts disgruntled, saying that a better manager would have helped Hotlanta garner more rings than their fingers could hold.
The fact of the matter is that any fanbase feels that it deserves the right for its team to post illustrious and unbelievable numbers in the playoffs, especially when it comes to the World Series. One title in five attempts over the course of nine years may seem like a bit of a hiccup to some, but considering the fact that the Braves had just five winning seasons in the twelve years prior to Robert Joseph Cox’s first arrival over thirty-five years ago, it is obvious that he practically took a piece of coal and feverishly worked his magic on it until it shined like a diamond.
Braves fans will remember Cox for the outstanding teams he fielded, his dominating pitching rotations and bullpens, his calm demeanor in the dugout and vociferous antics on the field (he still holds the record for ejections with 132), and his poise to remain steadfast and strong in an ever-changing NL East and league. Does Cox have a legitimate argument as the greatest manager in Major League Baseball history? It is a debate that could go on for eternity, no matter which name you select to support; all that matters is Bobby Cox took a forgettable Braves’ franchise and accelerated them straight to the front page, and for that he should always be remembered and respected.