Daryle Lamonica. Mickey Mantle. Ted Turner. Chipper Jones. Bobby Cox dealt with those sports legends, and he discussed them recently (4/21/2010) in an affable speech at the Atlanta Press Club.
Cox, the longtime Atlanta Braves’ manager who is retiring after the 2010 season, told his audience that he is unlikely to participate in the decision for his successor, that the decision largely will be that of General Manager Frank Wren. But the new Braves manager will have a strong tradition to succeed. Cox ranks No. 4 on Major League Baseball’s all-time list for managerial victories (behind only John McGraw, Connie Mack and the still-active Tony La Russa). The Braves also won Atlanta’s only pro sports world title under Cox in 1995. “I don’t want to be a part of it,” he said of choosing the Braves’ new manager, who will be the first since Cox took over during the 1990 season. “I turn 69 next month. … It’s time for a younger guy. I don’t move around as well as I used to. “
Cox also managed the Braves from 1978-81, when he was fired by then-GM John Mullen and owner Ted Turner. In between Braves managerial stints, Cox managed the Toronto Blue Jays into the 1985 AL Championship Series. A good judge of talent, Cox moved struggling catcher Dale Murphy to the outfield, and Murphy won two MVP awards for the Braves in the ’80s. Cox also chose Chipper Jones, the all-time National League leader for home runs by a switch-hitter, No. 1 in the 1990 draft, ahead of such phenoms as pitchers Todd Van Poppel and Mike Mussina.
Jones is the last remaining player from the Braves’ title team of ’95, and is now 37 (birth date: 4/24/1972) and has had a problem with injuries. Responding to my question about Jones’ career intentions, Cox noted that Jones’ contract runs through the 2012 season, “and he can do it.” Noting Jones’ career batting average of over .300, Cox said “that doesn’t disappear overnight.”
And speaking of Turner, the broadcasting mogul who hired Cox twice, Cox said, “Ted was fun. He did some crazy things. We’d sign a player just because he was entertaining, not because he could play.” Cox was referring to his first run as Braves manager, not when Turner hired John Schuerholz as GM. Together, Schuerholz and Cox led the Braves to 14 straight division titles from 1991-2005.
Cox also is in the record books as having been ejected from more games than any manager in baseball history. Asked about this during his Atlanta appearance, he pointed to the Braves’ perennial success as a factor. “We’re in every game, every pitch is important,” he said. “If we lose 10 in a row, it’s not the umpire’s fault. I argue more when we’re winning.”
Cox also enjoyed telling his audience about his rise from the minor leagues, and his early days with the New York Yankees. He grew up in the small farming town of Selma, Calif., where he played high school football against Daryle Lamonica, who went on to star with Notre Dame and the Oakland Raiders. Cox broke into Major League Baseball in 1968 with the New York Yankees, which also was the last season for the legendary Mickey Mantle. Does he ever regret not taking the football path, Cox was asked by moderator Furman Bisher, the longtime Atlanta Journal-Constitution sports columnist. (Bisher himself is a legend, as he is now in his 90s.). No, Cox said. “I’ve been very lucky,” he said. ” We’ve had some great ballplayers. The front office did their job.”