Bobby Cox has been to Europe only once and wasn’t terribly impressed. He says “Gah-dawgit” and pulls off his cap to muss his hair when a memory eludes him. He uses long silences to make a point about as often as he uses an obscenity that rhymes with the surname of former Phillies first baseman and familiar nemesis John Kruk. A plug of Skoal hidden in his lower lip receives most of his attention. At spring training in Florida, the Braves manager humors clubhouse interviews with his cleats off, one foot propped on his desk, in a startlingly empty office. There’s not a trace of photographic evidence of Sid Bream’s slide or Otis Nixon’s catch.
Indeed, there’s nothing on the bare white walls that a lifelong Braves fan might consult to divine the mystic psyche of the great old skipper who will retire after this season.
Cox was born in Tulsa, Oklahoma, but grew up in Fresno, California. A third baseman with a good glove, if light bat, he was selected by the Cubs in the 1964 minor league draft, then traded to the Braves in 1966. But his major league debut came in 1968 with the Yankees, where he played for two years before his knees gave out and he became manager of their Class A club. By 1977, Cox was the Yankees’ first-base coach. He was hired away to manage Ted Turner’s cellar-dwelling Braves the following year. Fired in 1981, he returned as general manager in 1986, then in 1990 became manager—a position where, as history will note, he stayed and flourished.
If Tom Glavine was an accountant and Greg Maddux a surgeon, Cox was, and remains, a plumber, pure and simple. The sixty-eight-year-old makes a point of shuffling right on ahead, bad knees and all, into the ball fields of the future: “I can’t remember half the stuff that went on,” he says. “I’ve never let myself really look back.” If he did, he’d recall, among other things, fifteen division titles (including a record fourteen in a row), five national league pennants, a World Series ring, and, along the way, 2,413 wins—the fourth most of any manager in the history of America’s game. The records mean nothing; all he wants is one more deep playoff run. And so it is that the man who led the Braves from worst to first back in a prior millennium grunts this on his last first day of spring training: “All you want is a crack. And we’ve got a good crack at it.”
For such an illustrious career, it’s pretty empty in here.
I’ve got a few pictures in Atlanta, in the clubhouse. Maddux, Glavine, and [John] Smoltz in one big one. Lots of coaches’ pictures. What’s your favorite time of year as a manager: spring or fall?
Spring training and going down the stretch in a pennant race are the two best experiences you can have.