Braves pay tribute to Cox's impact in Atlanta
Ceremony highlights manager's many feats during long tenure
ATLANTA -- Bobby Cox has humbly journeyed through a legendary managerial career attempting to deflect all of the necessary praise in the direction of his players and those who helped him build the great rosters that have proven so successful in Atlanta over the past 20 years.
As the Braves honored Cox's career with an emotionally stirring pregame tribute before Saturday afternoon's game against the Phillies, the old skipper once again attempted to deflect attention away from himself.
But the standing-room only crowd and approximately 60 former players who had come to Turner Field to celebrate his career simply wouldn't allow Cox to get his way this time. This was a day reserved for the skipper to deservedly be showered with praise.
"Bobby, thank you. You were truly the best ever, a gift and a blessing to all of us," Braves president John Schuerholz said while concluding his speech during the pregame ceremony.
The Braves organization presented Cox with a 2010 Lexus near the end of this ceremony that proved emotional for Cox.
Unfortunately the longtime skipper's players weren't able to deliver in the hours that followed while playing in front of an Atlanta record crowd of 54,296.
Saturday's 7-0 loss to the Phillies left the Braves tied with the Padres at the top of the National League Wild Card standings entering Sunday's regular-season finale.
"[The ceremony] was unbelievably great -- more than one could ever expect," Cox said. "I'm thankful to the fans and the game. I wish we had given them a better game."
Before Cox retires at the conclusion of this season, the Braves took this opportunity to honor the man who led them to 14 consecutive division titles, five National League pennants and a 1995 World Series title.
But those Braves who were either drafted or developed during Cox's five-season reign as Atlanta's GM are well aware of the fact that his Hall of Fame legacy extends far beyond his 2,503 managerial victories -- fourth most in Major League history.
"There's no doubt that he's the most influential man in Atlanta sports history as far as I'm concerned -- he and Hank Aaron," said Chipper Jones, who Cox chose to take with the first overall selection in the 1990 First-Year Player Draft. "There have been icons that have come and gone. But I don't think any will have the lasting impact throughout the entire game that Bobby has had."
With his former players seated in front of him on the infield grass, and his current team situated along the first- and third-base lines, Cox sat with his wife, Pam, to his left and seemingly attempted not to be overcome by the emotions of the ceremony.
Cox later admitted that he nearly broke down after Jones finished his speech and hugged the only manager he has ever known.
"I'm so thankful to have been here all these years, and I appreciate all the organization has done," Cox said.
Like Commissioner Bud Selig, former Braves owner Ted Turner sent his well wishes via video. Turner took advantage of this opportunity to point out that he was the only man to ever fire Cox during his long managerial career.
Turner gave Cox his first Major League managerial job in 1978, and fired him four seasons later. After a successful four-year stint as the Blue Jays manager, Cox returned to Atlanta to serve as the Braves' GM, a role that would allow him to plant the seeds that allowed the Atlanta Minor League system to prove so fruitful during the 1990s.
Cox's current managerial tenure began midway through the 1990 season.
"He was the most influential man for many of us in our baseball lives," said Jones, who was part of three of the five Braves teams that competed in the World Series during the 1990s.
When it came time for Cox to speak, he took time to thank Schuerholz (who served as Atlanta's GM from 1991-2005), Stan Kasten, the former club president who was present for this ceremony, and the many others who helped him construct the rosters that were highlighted with the presence of stars such as Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine, John Smoltz, Gary Sheffield and David Justice.
Each of these aforementioned stars joined lesser-recognized contributors like Keith Lockhart and Paul Byrd to celebrate the influence that Cox had in their lives. So too did Phil Niekro, Dale Murphy, Gaylord Perry and Bruce Benedict, who were part of the celebrated skipper's earliest clubs.
This year's team presented Cox and his wife with an 11-day Mediterranean Sea cruise and an artistically-designed group of bats and balls signed by each of the players.
The ceremony included some boos when Cox took time to congratulate the Phillies for winning a fourth consecutive division title. But many of those same fans changed their mood a few moments later when Cox took one more opportunity to express his gratitude to those who helped him along the way.
"I just want to thank you, the fans, for all your support for all these years; you're the one that made it possible," Cox said.
Mark Bowman is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.