From nervous to jubilant, Bobby Cox joins the Hall of Fame
As they were driving toward Florida on Sunday morning, Bobby Cox told Fredi Gonzalez that he was more nervous than he would have been when facing Barry Bonds with the bases loaded.
This year’s annual Winter Meetings were going to be different than any of the countless others Cox had experienced during his distinguished career as a manager and general manager. Along with providing him a chance to reconnect with the many friends he has gained over the past six decades, this year’s event was going to provide him the opportunity to gain baseball’s ultimate honor.
All of the nervousness and excitement that Cox felt over the past few weeks was replaced with overwhelming joy on Monday morning, when he learned he will be inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame in July.
“They say when you get elected to the Hall of Fame, it will change your life and it has,” Cox said. “I’ve got goosebumps. It’s the greatest honor you can ever have.”
Cox gained entry into Cooperstown’s hallowed Hall courtesy of the votes cast by a 16-man Expansion Era committee. Two of this generation’s other great managers — Joe Torre and Tony La Russa — were also elected through this process.
Along with sharing this honor with two of his distinguished peers, Cox could fittingly be inducted at the same time as two of his greatest pitchers — Greg Maddux and Tom Glavine. Maddux and Glavine will learn whether they have been elected as first-ballot Hall of Famers on Jan. 8.
“Those were the two guys who helped get me this far,” Cox said. “It would be unbelievable. I’ve got my fingers crossed for both of them.”
Maddux and Glavine were instrumental to the success achieved by Cox, who ranks fourth among all managers with 2,504 victories. Hall of Famers Joe McCarthy, John McGraw and Walter Alston are the only managers who compiled a better winning percentage than Cox (.556) while notching at least 2,000 wins.
A little more than 40 years later, it is safe to say Cox made the wise choice to accept Lee McPhail’s offer to begin his managerial career in 1971 with the Yankee’s Class A affiliate in Fort Lauderdale. Three years earlier, Cox had reached the Majors and gained the pleasure of being teammates with Mickey Mantle during Mantle’s final season with the Yankees.
But as he battled constant knee discomfort, Cox began evaluating other employment options. He had always desired to be a high school football coach. Fortunately, the opportunity to stay in the baseball world proved more appealing.
Cox proved successful as a Minor League manager and got his call to the Majors to serve as Yankees manager Billy Martin’s first base coach in 1977. During his one-year stint in that role, he spent a lot of time with Martin, Reggie Jackson and George Steinbrenner, who took an immediate liking to Cox.
The following year, Cox was introduced to another eccentric character named Ted Turner, who gave him his first shot to serve as a Major League manager in 1978. As he announced Cox had been fired after the 1981 season, Turner said, the best candidate for the job would be “someone like (Bobby Cox).”
Those words proved prophetic just a few years later. After leading the Blue Jays to the playoffs for the first time in 1985, Cox opted to come back to his family in Atlanta to serve as the Braves general manager. During his five seasons in that role, he rebuilt the organization’s Minor League system and planted the seeds for the tremendous success the club would have after he returned to the bench midway through the 1990 season.
The Braves went from worst to first and were one win away from winning the World Series during their memorable 1991 season, which marked the start of the club’s unprecedented run toward capturing 14 consecutive division titles.
Cox guided the Braves to the World Series five times during the 1990s and helped the city of Atlanta capture its first major sports championship with the 1995 World Series title. After his club’s run of consecutive division titles ended, he directed the Braves through a few transition years before he guiding them back to the postseason one last time before he retired in 2010.