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Cox not one to go 'cold turkey' in baseball retirement Columnist

ATLANTA -- So there we were, Bobby Cox and I, chatting in the home dugout at Turner Field about life these days for the retired managerial icon of the Braves. After a while, it was time to address the rather hefty elephant sitting between us: Does he ever get the urge to come back?

Cox tried to stifle a grin, and then he shot a quick look in my direction before his 72-year-old eyes darted away.

He didn't have to say a word, but he did.

Before I elaborate, Cox is huge in baseball history, and here's a quick reason why: You can make the case without too much of an effort that he was the greatest manager ever. Is that quick enough for you? If not, there's more: After the 2010 season, he finished his 29 years of managing -- which included four years with the Blue Jays -- with more victories than anybody not named Connie Mack, John McGraw or Tony La Russa.

None of those other managers accomplished what Cox did, though -- Cox reached the postseason a record 15 consecutive times in full seasons as a manager. He did so during his last year with the Blue Jays in 1985, and after he began the second of his two stints with the Braves as a full-time manager in 1991, he lengthened that streak.

There's even more. In addition to 15 division titles, Cox grabbed five pennants and a world championship. He was named Manager of the Year four times, and he is the only person ever to receive the award in consecutive seasons. He also prospered as a manager no matter the composition of his rosters. Veteran ones. Young ones. Injured ones. And you never heard any of his players say anything negative about their manager who always complimented his guys in public, but wasn't afraid to slam them with his tongue in private.

Cox loved managing so much that he arrived hours before the opening pitch, just to pull on his uniform as soon as possible. He enjoyed sitting around the clubhouse, the dugout or somewhere else in the ballpark with his cigar blowing smoke across the room.

Then there were the spikes. Have to mention the spikes. Cox was the last man in the history of the game to wear spikes. The point is, how do you go from all of those baseball things after decades as an accomplished manager to spending most of your time on your farm in Adairsville, Ga., taking care of your garden?

The answer: You don't.

You do the garden thing and something else.

"I've got the baseball [television] package at home, so I can see a lot of games," said Cox, chuckling, recalling how he regularly retreats to the privacy of his recliner in his family room with remote in hand. "It's mostly the Braves every single night. Hardly ever miss a game. And I still get down here [to Turner Field] 20-something games a year, probably. And I talk to Fredi [Gonzalez] all the time. You know, just to stay involved with the game a little bit.

"Going cold turkey is hard to do. I don't know how anybody could do it. They retire, and they never see another game. Not for me. Be around it. Get my baseball fix, and I'm fine."

Suddenly, with Cox's eyes sparkling, that elephant between us in the dugout grew larger. Among the many things that inquiring minds wanted to know: Since Cox was a highly engaged manager -- exemplified by his record 158 ejections from games -- is he as involved with the Braves from his recliner as he was from the dugout?

Cox laughed.

"You know, it still gets nerve-wracking watching the games. They're all so tight," Cox said. "Since the Braves play a lot of tight games, you're on the edge of your seat all the time. Just like managing."

And just like the manager in Cox, the fan in Cox doesn't spend a lot of time during games with arms folded and mouth closed. He laughed again, adding, "I'm trying to sit back and relax while watching, but I'm driving my wife crazy. She has gotten on me about yelling and screaming with the Braves on. Yeah, I do that. Ah, you're rooting for them so hard, and there's nothing you can do."

That elephant kept getting bigger. I mean, Casey Stengel managed the Mets in 1965 at 74. Nearly four decades later, Jack McKeon became the oldest manager ever to capture a championship when he did so at Cox's current age of 72 with the Marlins in 2003. Eight years after that, McKeon managed the Marlins again at 80.

Mack ended his managerial career at 87.

Even after Cox's last game in 2010, when the Braves lost at home in the NLDS to the Giants, he looked vibrant enough to reach McKeon territory and slightly beyond. Now he appears more refreshed after a couple of years of planting vegetables in his garden between throwing baseball tantrums in front of his television set.

Which brought us face-to-face with that elephant. So has Cox ever had thoughts of returning as a manager?

"Well," Cox said, with a little pause. "It crossed my mind a couple of times, but once you announce you're retired, you know, stick with it. I wanted to go out as a Brave, so..."

So ... what about another team? Has anybody called Cox to ask if he wished to become a team's manager or general manager? He also worked splendidly as the Braves' general manager during the latter 1980s, when he gathered much of the talent for the Braves teams he managed during the 1990s and early part of this century.

Cox responded quickly, saying, "Like I said, as long as I'm around baseball, I'm fine. Just in a small manner. It doesn't have to be daily. Physically, I'm fine. It was just time to get a younger guy in here, and Fredi has done a fantastic job. Fredi's really good."

Cox was really great.

Terence Moore is a columnist for

Atlanta Braves