Cox’s hiring sets Braves on championship path

Written by: Craig Muder

It was a seed that would take 14 seasons to bear fruit, with an international sojourn along the way. But on Nov. 22, 1977, the Atlanta Braves would initiate one of the game’s greatest dynasties when they hired Bobby Cox as their manager.

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Coming off a 101-loss campaign that was the team’s worst since 1935, the Braves were in need of a rebuild. Owner Ted Turner tapped Cox, who served as the Yankees first base coach during their 1977 World Series-winning season and had established himself as a top managerial prospect in the minors.

The 36-year-old Cox immediately became the youngest manager in the big leagues.

“We’re hoping Bobby can lead us to the promised land as soon as possible,” Turner told the Associated Press.

Cox, who agreed to a two-year contract, was realistic about the team’s chances.

“We lost 101 games last year, so obviously there is the need for a lot of work,” Cox told the AP. “Our top pitcher (Phil Niekro) won 16 games and lost 20 and our next-best pitcher (Dick Ruthven) won seven games. We definitely need pitching, that’s all there is to it. You can’t win without pitching.”

In time, Cox and the Braves would assemble a pitching staff that would feature Hall of Famers Tom Glavine, Greg Maddux and John Smoltz. But that would come after another decade would pass, during which time Cox would be dismissed by the Braves and hired by the Toronto Blue Jays before returning to Atlanta as general manager and then later once again as field manager.

In 1978, the Braves improved to 69-93 in Cox’s first season. By 1980, the Braves were 81-80 but finished at 50-56 in the strike-shortened season of 1981. At that point, Turner relieved Cox of his duties – lamenting what he believed to be a necessary but painful step when he replaced Cox with another future Hall of Famer skipper: Joe Torre.

The Braves won the National League West title in 1982 but struggled for much of the rest of the decade. Cox took over as general manager in October of 1985 after a successful four-year run in Toronto.

After stocking the farm system with talent, Cox returned to the dugout midway through the 1990 season. In 1991, the Braves went from worst to first by winning the NL West and coming within one game of the World Series title.

It would be the first of 14 straight completed seasons where Atlanta would finish atop the division.

But when Cox took over the Braves for the first time in the fall of 1977, all that was on the horizon.

“We want to turn it around as soon as possible,” Cox said. “I want to come out of Spring Training with the players thinking we’re pennant contenders. That’s a feeling we have to have and it will be my job to make them feel that way.

“I’m my own manager. I’ll manage the way I want to.”

Cox’s way produced 2,504 wins – the fourth-best total of all time – and a spot in the Class of 2014 at the Hall of Fame.

Craig Muder is the director of communications for the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum

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