Cox, Braves enjoy baseball partnership for life
Hall of Fame manager to continue serving as consultant, club legend
Good news: Robert Joseph Cox spent the past five years as a consultant for a Braves franchise that he helped make famous, and he just received a two-year contract extension. In essence, his long-time bosses are asking Bobby Cox to continue as Bobby Cox, which actually is great news.
This would be even better news: The Braves announcing sooner rather than later that Cox will receive a lifetime contract. He ranks among those baseball folks who should remain forever in a high-profile capacity with a given franchise, and for this column, I'm talking only about those who became huge beyond slugging, pitching, fielding or running.
You have Tommy Lasorda, the inventor of The Big Dodger in the Sky. He remains the heart and soul of baseball around Chavez Ravine, and he hasn't managed the team since 1996. Only the Clydesdales rival Red Schoendienst as a living and active visual of the Cardinals' legacy. Yes, he was a Baseball Hall of Fame player, but Schoendienst mostly has been a celebrated everything else for the Cardinals for the past 50 years.
Jack McKeon led a bunch of teams in various areas after he became a player-manager in the Minor Leagues during the mid-1950s. Even so, he is a Marlins man, especially since he managed the team twice and led it to a World Series championship. At 85 and as a Marlins consultant, McKeon still is just a phone call away from agreeing to manage them again.
Then there is Cox, 74, who is a legendary brick in the foundation of Atlanta Braves history. Well, Cox, along with Hank Aaron, Ted Turner and those doing the chopping and the chanting during games.
You also can throw in TBS, Dale Murphy, the Launching Pad (old Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium), Chipper Jones, Phil Niekro and the terrific trio of Maddux, Cy Glavine and Cy Smoltz. As for the latter, they joined Cox in Cooperstown with Niekro and Aaron. But you get the point: Cox is as much the essence of the Atlanta Braves as anybody who ever lived, and he has much to give. In fact, after he retired as manager following the 2010 season, Cox signed that five-year deal to become the franchise's Whisperer of Knowledge.
That's my term, not that of the Braves.
To them, Cox is officially a consultant for every phase of the team's overall baseball operations department -- the Major and Minor leagues, as well as Spring Training and scouting. He works with president John Schuerholz on special business projects, including the Braves' new stadium slated to open for the 2017 season. Cox also is a frequent confidant of Fredi Gonzalez, his successor and former third-base coach during a stretch of Cox's 25-season reign as Braves manager.
Cox isn't a meddler, though. When he travels the 90 minutes or so from his home in Adairsville, Ga., to games at Turner Field, Cox usually comes hours beforehand to converse with Gonzalez, coaches and an early arriving player or reporter or three. Then, long before the first pitch, Cox is back in his car for the journey back to his family room, where he watches virtually every Braves game from the comfort of his easy chair.
I'm still amazed. Not only by Cox's love affair with all things Braves, but by something else: We're five years removed from when he filled out his last lineup card, and I can't believe he's not back. You know, back somewhere as a manager.
Nothing against Gonzalez or anybody else serving as a skipper around the Major Leagues, but Cox was the poster child for keeping that job forever, either in Atlanta or someplace else in baseball. He managed so impressively for 29 seasons overall -- including those years with the Braves over two stints (1978-1981 and mid-1990 to 2010) and during his four years with the Blue Jays -- that he collected four Manager of the Year Awards from the Baseball Writers' Association of America and a bronzed plaque in Cooperstown.
Even now, you look back at Cox's resume, and you wonder if the whole thing is fantasy. For one, nobody manages or coaches a franchise to 14 consecutive division titles. That's because, when you're talking about baseball, football or any other professional sport in North America, nobody ever has -- except for Cox, who did just that with the Braves. He led them to a Wild Card berth, five National League pennants and a World Series championship in 1995.
In addition, the only other manager to join Cox with six 100-victory regular seasons is Joe McCarthy.
There also are those other Cox things, including his average of 89 victories per year with a Blue Jays franchise that struggled often before his arrival. Cox even took them to a division title during his last season in Toronto. Which bring us to one of those most forgotten Cox things: When he returned to the Braves from the Blue Jays in 1986, he wasn't hired as manager. Cox became general manager, and he was superb.
Among those acquired by GM Cox were Tom Glavine, David Justice, Steve Avery and Mark Lemke. He also worked the trade with the Tigers for Smoltz, then just a Minor League pitcher. Soon after Cox went from the Braves' front office back to the dugout in the middle of the 1990 season, Smoltz began his sprint toward Cooperstown, and so did his manager.
Cox is a lifer with the Baseball Hall of Fame and also with the Braves. Just make the latter official.