Although Bobby Cox’s playing days were cut short by injuries, he set out on a trail that led him to a long and successful career as one of the game’s most highly regarded managers.
In an amazing run, Cox, the one-time infielder would skipper big league teams for three decades, accumulating more than 2,500 victories by the time he retired after the 2010 season. His greatest accomplishments came during his second stint with the Atlanta Braves, when he led the franchise to 14 straight division crowns and a World Series title.
Born May 21, 1941 in Tulsa, Okla., Cox graduated from Selma High School in California’s San Joaquin Valley before signing with the Los Angeles Dodgers as an amateur free agent in 1959. As a minor leaguer – splitting his time between second and third base – Cox spent five seasons in the Dodgers’ farm system before being selected by the Cubs in the November 1964 minor league draft. After being traded to the Braves in April 1966, Cox was acquired by the Yankees after the 1967 season, where he made his big league debut in 1968.
After two seasons as a big league third baseman with the Yankees, bad knees would eventually force Cox to retire as a player. But a career as a manager beckoned, and Cox progressed rapidly.
The 30-year-old Cox began his managerial career in the Yankees’ farm system with Fort Lauderdale of the Florida State League in 1971. After a season with West Haven in the Eastern League, he skippered Syracuse for four seasons, winning the International League’s Governor’s Cup in 1976 before serving as the Yankees’ first base coach in their championship season of 1977.
After 10 years with the Yankees as a player, a minor league manager and a big league coach, Cox became Atlanta’s eighth manager in 12 years in December 1977. Of the 36-year-old, who was two years younger than Braves pitcher Phil Niekro and became the youngest manager in the National League, Braves owner Ted Turner said Cox was picked “because we have a young team and wanted someone who was young and had his future ahead instead of behind him.”
Of his managing philosophy, Cox said, “I’m my own manager. I have no ‘book’ on the subject; I don’t pattern myself after anybody especially.”
Cox’s first stint managing the Braves would last from 1978 to 1981, resulting in a 266-323 record. When Turner was asked at a 1981 press conference who the likely next manager of the Braves would be, he replied, “It would be Bobby Cox if I hadn’t just fired him. We need someone like him around here.”
After four years managing the Toronto Blue Jays, which included leading the young franchise to 99 wins and to within one game of attaining a World Series berth in 1985, Cox returned to Atlanta as general manager in October 1985. After overseeing a farm system that would lay the foundation for future success, he became Atlanta’s manager on June 22, 1990. Cox was able to devote all his time to managing when John Schuerholz was named GM of the Braves in October 1990.
Starting in 1991, the Braves began a remarkable string of 14 consecutive division crowns that led to five National League pennants (1991, 1992, 1995, 1996 and 1999) and in 1995 the first professional sports world championship for the city of Atlanta.
A hallmark of this era in Braves history was the starting pitching trio of Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine and John Smoltz. During Cox’s tenure as their manager, the Braves won six NL Cy Young awards – Maddux’s three, Glavine’s two and Smoltz’s one.
“(Cox) was the single greatest influence on me as a player, in terms of teaching the game, respecting the game, carrying yourself the right way on and off the field,” Glavine said. “All that stuff was important. He was very much like a fatherly figure in that regard.”
“A small part of Bobby Cox changes you as a baseball player,” Smoltz said. “Twenty years with the man changes your life.”
Known as a “players’” manager, Cox treated his players the way he’d want to be treated.
“I played for a lot of different managers and been around all through the leagues, and some I didn’t care to play for at all. I didn’t want to be one of those guys,” Cox said. “When you get the reputation as a players manager, players have got to put out. If I’m fair with them, they’ll give me everything they got.”
Cox retired from managing at the conclusion of the 2010 campaign, having spent 29 seasons as a big league skipper. His 2,504 wins rank fourth all-time and include a franchise-best 2,149 victories with the Braves.
Voted the Manager of the Year by the Baseball Writers' Association of America four times (1985 with Toronto and 1991, 2004 and 2005 with Atlanta), Cox was also honored by the Sporting News, in a poll of his peers, as the league's top skipper eight times.
“If I was a ballplayer,” said umpire Bob Davidson, who was responsible for six of Cox’s big league record 158 ejections, “I’d want to play for Bobby Cox.”
Cox was elected to the Hall of Fame in 2014.