Cox grateful to enter Hall of Fame with Braves aces
Skipper of dominant Atlanta clubs of '90s, '00s, credits many for success
COOPERSTOWN, N.Y. -- Throughout his legendary managerial career, Bobby Cox often talked about the emptiness he felt the day after a season concluded. Even when he guided the Braves to a World Series title in 1995, he awoke the next morning feeling disappointed about the fact that there was not another game to play.
With his focus always on the next game or season, Cox never allowed himself to fully savor the incredible accomplishment of guiding the Braves to 14 consecutive division titles. But nearly a decade after this unprecedented streak concluded, he finds himself in Cooperstown savoring a chance to celebrate this era with Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine and the countless fans who have flocked to upstate New York this weekend to see these Braves legends experience baseball's greatest honor.
"Can you imagine that a manager gets to go in with two of his own players?" Cox said. "It seems to me that it's never going to happen again."
Along those same lines, baseball may never again see another team win 14 consecutive division titles or capture six Cy Young Awards with three different pitchers in an eight-year span. But Braves fans will always have the memories of when their team did so, thanks to the special talents of Cox, Glavine and Maddux, who will all be inducted to Baseball's Hall of Fame this afternoon.
Hall of Fame coverage will begin at noon ET with MLB Tonight live from Cooperstown on MLB Network and simulcast on MLB.com and the At Bat app, with the induction ceremony beginning at 1:30 p.m.
"You're just as happy for them as you would be for yourself," said John Smoltz, who is covering this weekend's events for MLB Network. "I think over time you strip back the layers of things you couldn't control when you're going through it. Now is the time to completely enjoy everything that came with that incredible time.
"If I had to rank who I'm most happy for, with it all being relative to super-happy for everybody, it's Bobby."
While Glavine and Maddux were like his brothers, it is not surprising to hear Smoltz say he is most excited for Cox, who was always recognized as a player's manager.
"I wouldn't be here if it weren't for a lot of people," Cox said. "The reason we're here is we won a little bit."
Cox certainly benefited from having a starting rotation that included two 300-game winners and another likely future Hall of Famer (Smoltz is eligible next year) for seven seasons (1993-99). But the fact that the division-titles streak double that length might have had more to do with his ability to get the most out of the likes of Mark Lemke, Chris Hammond and lesser-talented players who thrived in Atlanta.
Hammond produced a 0.95 ERA in 63 appearances for the 2002 Braves. When the left-hander arrived at Turner Field a few weeks before Spring Training began that year, not many folks recognized him. He had retired in 1999 and had just three Major League appearances since the end of the 1997 season. But when he came around the corner and saw Cox, he received the upbeat and friendly greeting the manager gave all of his players.
"I guarantee he had no clue who I was, but he made me feel like I belonged," Hammond said.
While Cox was always beloved by his players, he never allowed himself to interact with them on a social level away from the ballpark. During his retirement years, he has enjoyed the chance to have some fun with some of his former players.
Cox said he really got a better understanding for Maddux when they came to Cooperstown for a tour of the Hall in March.
"Those three days we were here were as good a three days as I've ever spent in my life with any kind of orientation," Cox said. "It was just two people. I never allowed myself to play golf, shoot pool or have dinner with a player. I had to keep my distance. That was out the door when we were up here together. We had a lot of fun."
When asked if they shot pool, Cox smiled and said, "We did a lot of things."
When Cox delivers his speech today, he will take time to thank the countless individuals who guided him through a long journey that began when he signed his first professional contract with the Dodgers in 1959. He had the pleasure of working for both George Steinbrenner and Ted Turner. In addition, he still has fond memories of the four seasons he managed in Toronto, where he worked alongside two of his closest friends -- Paul Beeston and Pat Gillick.
But Cox will always be best recognized for what he did for the Braves organization, which was in shambles when he agreed to become the general manager after the 1985 season. With legendary scouting director Paul Snyder, he overhauled the farm system and then reaped the benefits after the likes of Glavine and Smoltz began arriving in Atlanta.
"When you've fought through it, you know the ins and outs," Smoltz said. "Everybody from outside can form their own opinions. But I'm just being honest, there were three or four years when we had no business being in the playoffs. We just had some issues. We had injuries or players who were struggling and somehow Bobby got us to believe that we were good enough."
And now fittingly, Cox is getting a chance to celebrate like a king within baseball's Camelot.
"I thought 17-Mile Drive in California was about the prettiest place you could ever drive or walk through -- Cypress Point, Monterey, Carmel, that area," Cox said. "I think this place has got it beat, to be honest with you. You just can't stop talking about the beauty. The Adirondacks, the lake, the people. It's the perfect place for the Hall of Fame."