Bobby Cox won 2,504 games on way to Hall

* Hall of Fame manager Bobby Cox won 2,504 games in his 30 years of managing, including 355 with the Toronto Blue Jays as the 1985 team had their highest win total ever (99). ....  

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Frank Thomas .... Greg Maddux …. Tom Glavine …. A Hall of a Class


By Bob Elliott

Someone once asked me to give an illustration of baseball passion.

I told them about watching the Atlanta Braves one night.

Chipper Jones was hitting.

The Braves were being edged 11-1 with two out in the bottom of the ninth.

“C’om Chip,” viewers at home could hear from the dugout mike.

A called strike one.

“C’om Chipper,” the voice implored.

Fouled back, now it’s 0-2.

“Good one to come, c’om Chip,” the voice cheered.

Jones popped up.

Ball game.

Of course, the voice belonged to Atlanta Braves manager Bobby Cox, who will be inducted into Cooperstown Sunday afternoon along with his fellow managers Tony La Russa, Joe Torre and his starters Greg Maddux and Tom Glavine, plus slugger Frank Thomas.

It didn’t matter that his Braves were down by a touchdown and a field goal.

It didn’t matter that two were out.

Until the Braves made the 27th and final out, Cox still had hope.

“No one managed his personalities better than Bobby Cox,” said his former Blue Jays catcher Ernie Whitt from Brooklyn, where he was checking in on Philadelphia Phillies minor league catchers.

“He ran the clubhouse, we had 25 personalities and he managed them. He put people in positions to succeed. If we went into a four-game series, we were trying to win three. A three game series, we were going for two of three. Bobby loved to compete.”

Even down 10 in the bottom of the ninth.

Best Blue Jays team ever? Well, you can argue all you want between the 1992 World Series or 1993 champs, but the team with the most regular season wins was Cox’s 1985 Jays.

With Dave Stieb, Doyle Alexander, Jimmy Key, Jim Clancy on the mound, plus position players Jesse Barfield, George Bell, Willie Upshaw, Lloyd Moseby, Tony Fernandez and Whitt won 99 games, clinching the American League East in Game 161.

On to post-season play and after leading the Kansas City Royals 3-1 in the best-of-seven AL Championship Series, the Jays lost three straight, including Game 7 Wednesday, Oct. 16.

Braves owner Ted Turner asked for permission to talk to Cox on the Friday and by Monday as the World Series switched to St. Louis, the Braves had a new general manager in Cox.

What if the Braves, who had the highest payroll, had not finished fifth with 66 wins, 29 games behind the Los Angeles Dodgers in 1985?

What if Turner, who fired Torre after the 1984 season, had hired a veteran manager rather than bringing in organizational man Eddie Haas, who lasted 121 games. Bobby Wine managed the rest of the season.

What if closer Bruce Sutter, coming off 45 saves, had not been injured and gone 23-for-35 (66%) saving games?

Well, the Braves would not have had a need for a new GM and Cox would still have been in Toronto ... for a while.

“Bobby Cox would have managed this team for a long time,” said Jays broadcaster Jerry Howarth. “He had respect from the players, he had support of Paul Beeston and Pat Gillick. Moving into the SkyDome he could have been like Earl Weaver’s stay in Baltimore.”

Instead Cox was a GM for only 4 1/2 seasons firing Chuck Tanner one Sunday night in Chicago in 1988 and taking over for Russ Nixon the final 97 games of 1990.

The next season Cox guided Atlanta to Game 7 of 1991 Series against the Minnesota Twins starting a 14-year, post-season run for the Braves. Of course, that is excluding the 1994 season when the Montreal Expos were in first at the time of the work stoppage.

“Bobby didn’t worry about anyone second guessing him,” Whitt said. “You make all the right moves and it can still turn out wrong -- that’s the beauty of the game. There are arm chair quarterbacks in football. It’s the same in baseball.

“Bobby would always take the blame, protect his players and when we had success he credited the players.”

Closer Joey McLaughlin, who went 17-for-34 (50%) converting saves in 1982-83, tried Cox’s patience.

“People couldn’t see Bobby up the runway talking to himself saying ‘I have to be dumbest son of a gun for running him out there again,’ we had a good team, we didn’t have a closer,” said Whitt. The end came for McLaughlin in Cleveland in 1984 when he allowed four runs -- two earned -- on two hits and five walks in 1 2/3 innings.

EXOS scribe Pete Williams came up with Cox’s six managerial lessons in 2010, his final year: 1. Never Speak Poorly of Anyone, 2. Pay Attention to Detail, 3. It’s Not About Me, 4. I’ve Got Your Back, 5. Know How to Pick Up a Colleague and 6. Be Consistent.

Whitt has moved on to his own managing chair guiding Team Canada to a gold medal in the Pan-Am Games and a bronze in the World Cup, both in 2011.

“Everything I ever did with Team Canada I’d usually think ‘what would Bobby do here?’” said Whitt. “I treated my players the way he treated his players to be successful.”

(Sixth in a series leading up to Sunday’s inductions in Cooperstown.)