Former players flock to Atlanta for Cox's tribute
Nearly 80 return to Turner Field to honor Braves icon Saturday
ATLANTA -- Ask any Atlanta Braves player, present or former, about Bobby Cox, and it won't be long before they state, "He had our backs." On Saturday afternoon, nearly 80 former players had Cox's back.
They funneled in and out of the clubhouse and mingled amongst the players prior to the scheduled pregame ceremony, then required nearly 80 seats in front of the podium during the ceremony honoring the Braves skipper and celebrating his 29 years as a manager and quarter-century with the Braves.
"You always wonder what people think about you," said former Braves left-hander and current broadcaster Tom Glavine, who played under Cox in Atlanta from 1987 through 2002 and his final pro season of 2008. "It's the old saying, you find out when you're having your funeral, see who shows up. Thank God that's not what we're here for today, but I think the amount of people that are here shows the respect that people have for Bobby and the admiration they have for him."
"He's one of the best managers that any of us will ever know," added current third baseman Chipper Jones, who was drafted first overall by Atlanta in the 1990 First-Year Player Draft, when Cox was still the club's general manager. "I don't think he really realizes how much of baseball he's impacted.
"He took a chance on me. I owe him a lot for drafting me and allowing me to come into a wonderful organization, which he kind of laid the ground work for and been able to prosper over the last 20 years."
It didn't matter whether players spent their entire career with Cox or just a precious fragment of it. His effect was profound and went far beyond player-manager.
"More than anything, it's how he treats his players and how he has always treated his players," said former infielder Jeff Blauser, who played in Atlanta from 1987-97. "The fact is that if you play for Bobby, you want to do well for Bobby. You want to return the good things that he shows to his players, the confidence that he shows his players. You always wanted to make sure that you played in such a way that you proved to him that he made the right decision by putting you out there. He showed all the confidence in the world in his players. He still does."
Blauser added that Cox was always a player's manager, but not in the clichéd sense.
"What that means is he's one of the guys," said Blauser. "He's a player who happens to be a manager."
"Guys loved playing for him, and to this day, you really don't hear an ex-player say anything bad about him. It's always good stuff," said former first baseman Fred McGriff, who played for Cox from 1993-97 and missed playing with him in Toronto by a year, as well. "I think he was probably the best manager I've ever had."
That's common sentiment to many who are, or have ever been, inside the Braves' clubhouse -- many of whom came to Turner Field on Saturday.
"I think what you'll see today is a testament to Bobby," said Blauser. "We're talking about the alumni, you'll see a testament to who he is as a person, more than who he is as a baseball person."
"You can look around and see 80 players have come back," said current catcher Brian McCann. "I don't know if that's happened with any manager that's retired. If anybody would take time out of their day and you get guys that come back, it speaks to who he is as a person."
It extends beyond the home clubhouse, as shown by the visiting Philadelphia Phillies, who stood on the top step of their dugout watching the ceremony.
Cox's legacy will last forever, figuratively in the hearts of those players who traveled to Atlanta from all over to honor him, as well as literally in the championship banners hanging in left field. The Braves skipper sees the latter differently, however.
"Those 11 pennants up there, I had a very small hand in it," Cox stated as part of his speech, before thanking current team president John Schuerholz, senior vice president Hank Aaron, executive vice president and general manager Frank Wren and former owner Ted Turner.
"The other reason is the guys right here," Cox continued, pointing at the gathering of alumni.
As always, Cox had his players' back.
"They don't make them like him," said McCann. "He's meant a lot to me. I'm going to miss him a lot."
Jon Cooper is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.