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There's no one like Bobby

Photo by Daniel Kay

Photo by Daniel Kay

After Bobby Cox was sent down from the Yankees to Syracuse in 1969, he subsequently got a call from Lee MacPhail, the general manager. MacPhail scheduled lunch with Cox, who was unaware of what the Yankee boss had on his mind.

There was only one topic on MacPhail's agenda: Would Bobby like to become a manager, starting the next year at Ft. Lauderdale?

It sounded like a good idea for Cox, who knew his residency in the Bronx as a player was pretty much over. He might make it back to the big leagues again but more than likely he would bounce around in AAA competition. Cox also knew he would like to remain in baseball permanently. If you can't stay on the field as a player, developing a career as a manager has its allure. Managing would keep him in baseball.

Not long afterwards, Cox would go to New York annually, along with other farm club mangers, to meet with MacPhail to provide reports and evaluation of the players on their rosters.

Bobby's reports were always positive and glowing -- for every player.

One day MacPhail said, "Bobby I get the sense that you think all your players will make it to the big leagues. You'll be lucky if one of them makes it."

Cox was not taken aback by MacPhail's cogent logic, understanding that while his boss was probably right, he actually believed his players could make it to the big leagues if they underscored the work ethic, "played hard in a professional way," and developed the right attitude.

That became his philosophy as a manager. Cox treated every player like he was going to make it to the big leagues. He hung around the batting cage with the .220 hitter as much as he did the gifted player whom everybody knew would reach the big time.

The retiring Braves manager is a man with a selfless bent. He considers the welfare of his players above satisfying his ego. Come to think of it, he doesn't have an ego. Pride, yes, but not a self-serving ego that spawns self-promotion.

The team has always been first on his list of priorities. How can you be successful without deferring to the team? He gets it, to use a popular assessment in today's lexicon, when it comes to communicating with his players-but that doesn't guarantee success. In sports, you cannot always control your destiny. There will always be dynasties -- the Yankees, the Green Bay Packers-but for most sports teams, it is difficult to win a championship. The Cox formula, when dissected, reveals fewer fault lines. It was good enough for him to enjoy 14 consecutive division championships, a remarkable record that may stand for the ages.

Cox, who appears all business, is sentimental about baseball. While he isn't a collector, which he sometimes regrets, Cox did seek out Joe DiMaggio at an old timers' game at Yankee Stadium. Initially he was embarrassed to ask the Yankee Clipper to pose with him for a photograph. He made the Yankees' roster when Mickey Mantle was still playing. The ball Mickey signed for Bobby, he gave to former Braves infielder Mark Lemke.

When Cox gets in his car, the last thing he tunes in to is talk radio.

"You can't listen to that stuff, it will drive you nuts," Cox said.

Instead, he will find a country music station.

The subject his being ejected from games-a record 150-plus times-always comes up. The way he sees it, that's just the number of times he has stood up for his players.

"I always try to have their backs," he said.

What about the umpires?

"Hey, those guys have a tough job," Cox saix. "I've done some umpiring, and it is not easy. They don't hold grudges, and I certainly don't, even though I might disagree with their judgment. I'm trying to help us win a ball game. I'd do anything for those guys, and I think they would do the same for me."

With the Braves in first place, what could be more fitting than Cox leaving their dugout with another championship?

Maybe climbing Mt. Olympus and shaking hands with Zeus. If you know any oracles, ask them to smile in Bobby Cox's direction and pile on some good fortune.