COOPERSTOWN, N.Y. -- Bobby Cox understands immortality enough to head it off at the pass.
Cox, the great manager of the Atlanta Braves, spent part of his Hall of Fame induction speech on Sunday putting his career in perspective. Sure, he'd love to go down in history as one of the smartest managers who ever lived, but not if it robs him of a chance to be self-deprecating.
Cox, who got to go into the Hall of Fame with two of his own players -- pitchers Greg Maddux and Tom Glavine -- told a brief anecdote that illustrated why he had the complete support of his clubhouse. Sometimes, he said, the mistakes you make are more memorable than your success.
"Glavine's pitching this game. As usual, it's tight and late," said Cox. "I'm not looking at the situation. Runners on second and third, two outs. At least that's what I'm seeing. I go out to the mound and [third baseman] Chipper [Jones] comes in with the other infielders. I say, 'Hey, Tommy, what do you think? Why don't we just walk this guy instead of pitching around him?' He said, 'Skip, that's one of the better ideas you've had in the last month, but where are we going to put him?' So I looked at third, looked at second. There's runners there. I glance over at first, and there happens to be a runner there, too. So I said, 'Look, if this gets out to the press tomorrow, each one of you is going to be fined $1,000.'"
Cox never had to fine his players for divulging his secrets, and he picked the biggest moment of his baseball life to come clean. Cox, who led the Braves to a record 14 straight division titles, 15 playoff appearances, five National League pennants and the 1995 World Series championship, couldn't help but reflect on a charmed life on the diamond.
The three skippers inducted Sunday -- Tony La Russa, Bobby Cox and Joe Torre -- rank Nos. 3-5 all-time in managerial wins.
|Manager ||Wins ||Years |
|1. Connie Mack ||3,731 ||53 |
|2. John McGraw ||2,763 ||33 |
|3. Tony La Russa ||2,728 ||33 |
|4. Bobby Cox ||2,504 ||29 |
|5. Joe Torre ||2,326 ||29 |
|6. Sparky Anderson ||2,194 ||26 |
|7. Bucky Harris ||2,158 ||29 |
|8. Joe McCarthy ||2,125 ||24 |
|9. Walter Alston ||2,040 ||23 |
|10. Leo Durocher ||2,008 ||24 |
The 73-year-old traced his entire career path Sunday, starting with his childhood in Selma, Calif., and winding through his first professional tryout with the Los Angeles Dodgers. Cox went on to play for the Yankees (1968-69), and he later starred in managerial tenures with the Braves (1978-81 and 1990-2010) and the Toronto Blue Jays (1982-85), whom he won a division title with in '85.
Cox even spent five seasons as Atlanta's general manager (1986-90), and the experience left him with a profound respect for all levels of an organization. Cox credited his former general manager, John Schuerholz, and said he hopes to see Jones and pitcher John Smoltz in Cooperstown some day.
"I was lucky in my career working for great baseball people," said Cox. "To John Schuerholz, my general manager and now president of the Braves -- who gave us the players to win 14 straight division titles -- I can only say I hope to see you here soon. Because of free agency and monetary restraints on some clubs, it's difficult for a player to stay with one organization his entire career. But Chipper Jones did it. Chipper, you'll be standing here soon, and thank you for everything you've done for the Braves' organization. Thanks to all the players, coaches, scouts, trainers, clubbies and front-office personnel that passed through Atlanta and helped make the Braves' organization what it is today."
Leo Mazzone, the Braves' pitching coach from 1990-2005, was on hand Sunday, as were several of the team's former stars. But the nicest part of the ceremony for Cox was the ability to hear what his players thought of him. Maddux and Glavine both offered a brief message to Cox during their respective speeches, and Smoltz narrated a video tribute that ran before his speech.
Maddux, who went into the Hall of Fame without a hat to avoid slighting either Chicago or Atlanta, said that he was proud to achieve his lone World Series title with Cox and the Braves.
"Bobby taught us how to play winning baseball and enjoy our time away from the park," he said. "Thank God David Justice hit that big homer when he did, and Glav threw one more clutch game."
"I can't tell you how good he was at pumping you up," said Glavine of Cox, echoing comments made by Smoltz. "I can't tell you how many times I would pitch a bad game, and I'd read the newspaper the next day and read Bobby's comments and think, 'What game were you watching? And how did I not win?' Bobby, thank you so much for all your guidance. I appreciate all that you did for me."
Cox, fittingly, had his own people to thank. The baseball lifer thanked the executives in Toronto who gave him a chance to manage after he had been dismissed in Atlanta in 1981, and he made sure to mention the people who even gave him the opportunity to call the shots in the first place.
Cox said that former manager Ralph Houk and Hall of Fame executive Lee MacPhail were responsible for grooming him as a manager, but his baseball passion began long before. Cox, who set a Major League record by being ejected 158 times, said he inherited his love of the game from family.
"I had an awesome dad, mom and my sister, Joy. My father had five brothers and six sisters who loved the game of baseball. In fact, they formed the first Little League and Babe Ruth leagues in my hometown of Selma, Calif.," said Cox, reflecting upon his idyllic formative years. "My father made my first pair of spikes out of an old pair of shoes. I know they're watching from above today, and I will say this: If there's a game going on at the same time as this ceremony, I will guarantee you that my father is switching the TV back and forth and second-guessing both managers."
Cox is one of just 22 Major League managers in the Hall of Fame, and he got to share his induction day with two others in Joe Torre and Tony La Russa. That company -- along with Maddux, Glavine and former slugger Frank Thomas -- meant everything to Cox, and he made sure to mention that fact.
"I am truly humbled to stand here before you in Cooperstown with two men that pitched for me and two managers that made my life as a manager so challenging, and a hitter that we never did figure out how to pitch to him," said Cox. "To Tom Glavine, Greg Maddux -- and I have to mention the third member of the Big Three, John Smoltz -- I can honestly say I would not be standing here today if it weren't for you guys. Together, these guys won six Cy Young Awards by wearing a Braves uniform."
Cox, dismissed by the Braves after the 1981 season, went to Toronto and gave the Blue Jays three winning seasons in four campaigns before returning to Atlanta as general manager. He was back in the dugout for the Braves in June 1990 after they dismissed Russ Nixon after a 25-40 start, and the next season, they started one of the great runs in history.
Cox and the Braves won the NL West in '91, '92 and '93, and after the '94 season ended prematurely due to labor issues, the Braves captured the NL East in every season from 1995-2005. Atlanta won the pennant in '91 and '92, only to fall short in epic World Series to the Twins and Blue Jays.
Atlanta won the World Series under Cox in 1995, but the Braves lost in the Fall Classic to Torre's Yankees in both '96 and '99. Cox, who has six 100-win seasons and more than 2,500 victories in the Majors, said that he would go into baseball immortality with a treasure trove of memories.
"This has really been a great ride for all these seasons, every one with a changing cast of characters," he said. "And every one full of memories. I'll never forget the '91 season, and not too long after that, the '95 season when we went to the World Series and got all the way past Cleveland."
Spencer Fordin is a reporter for MLB.com.