Even retired, fire to compete still burns hot for Cox
LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- Two months shy of his 72nd birthday and embarking on his third year of retirement, Bobby Cox still has that competitive drive.
"I'm going to manage the [Atlanta] Minor League All-Star team against the big league club at our Double-A affiliate Mississippi next week," Cox said. "I think we can win."
Cox winked and smiled.
"We played the game at [Triple-A] Gwinnett last year, and I managed the team," said Cox. "We lost to the big league team, 5-4, but it rained. We didn't get our last at-bat. Don't know what might have happened. The kids play great."
What is known is that Cox can manage. He proved that in a 29-year big league managerial career that had a tough beginning, resulting in him being dismissed after four years with the Braves in a moment best known for owner Ted Turner being asked whom he wanted to be the new manager and replying, "Bobby Cox."
Cox eventually returned as the Braves' manager, but first he went to Toronto in 1982. In his fourth season with the Blue Jays, he led the club to the first postseason appearance in franchise history, earning American League Manager of the Year honors.
He resigned after that year to rejoin Turner as the Braves' general manager. Midway into the 1990 season, Cox went back in the dugout, where his 20-plus-year return as the franchise manager included a record 14 consecutive first-place finishes, 15 postseason appearances, a World Series championship (1995) and only two losing seasons in his final 20 years. He also won three National League Manager of the Year Awards.
"Working with [team president Paul] Beeston and [general manager Pat] Gillick made it hard to leave Toronto," said Cox. "Those were four of the greatest years of my life, but the family was in Atlanta. It was a chance to go back home. And the Braves were good to me."
The smiles emerged.
"I worked for Pat Gillick in Toronto and John Schuerholz in Atlanta," Cox said. "You wouldn't work for two better guys. They aren't the type to panic. You didn't lose three or four games and think you might lose your job. You were thinking about what to do to get back on track."
The Braves are still good to Cox. He is now a special assistant, which keeps him involved in what's happening with the franchise. Cox spends Spring Training with the team, "talking with the coaches in the morning, watching batting practice, scouting the games, and hanging out over on the Minor League side."
Cox is a regular at Turner Field during the season, chatting with his replacement and close friend, manager Fredi Gonzalez, although he makes the visits early enough that few players see him around the clubhouse. He makes visits to each of the Minor League teams.
"I do keep busy," said Cox.
And it's not all baseball.
Cox is a director at the Northside Bank in Adairsville, Ga., where he has a farm; he's involved with the creation of a sports complex in Emerson, Ga., which will feature 32 fields for use by girls' softball teams, Little League teams and high school teams, along with an indoor facility and soccer fields. And he is active in charity events.
"You want to give back to a community that has given you so much," he said.
Oh, and Cox tries to play golf, although a torn muscle in his left wrist has limited him this spring.
"Played earlier in the week," he said. "It was the first time in five weeks."
Baseball remains the focus of his life, particularly the Braves, and Cox admits he might take their losing harder now -- because of his friendship with Gonzalez -- than he did when he was the manager. And nobody has ever questioned how losses ate at Cox, even if the wins easily outnumber the defeats.
"We'll be watching a game at home," he said, "and it's hard to watch on TV. That's the worst. Something happens, I jump up and my wife says, 'Bobby, sit down and relax. There's nothing you can do.' She's right, but you want to do something."
Cox did win quite a bit when he was managing. He is fourth on the all-time win list with 2,504 and also in games managed with 4,508. He is 503 games above .500 in his career, behind only John McGraw (815) and Joe McCarthy (792).
"Sure, you miss it," said Cox. "It was a major part of your life. I managed for 35 years, including [six years in] the Minor Leagues. I love it. You know I'm going to manage at the Legends Game in Cooperstown this summer. I'll manage one team, and Cito [Gaston, his hitting coach and managerial successor in Toronto] is going to manage the other. It's going to be fun."
It's a chance for Cox to compete, again.