Cox stands out among greats in Braves history
Leader of 14 straight division winners to have his No. 6 retired
ATLANTA -- As he reminisces about his storied managerial career with the Braves, Bobby Cox does not remember why he spent it wearing the No. 6 jersey. It matched the number worn by his favorite player, Stan Musial, and he believes he might have worn the number while serving as the Yankees' manager at their Triple-A affiliate in Syracuse from 1973-76.
For Cox, it was simply a number that adorned the back of a jersey that he proudly wore. For his former players and Braves fans, the No. 6 will always conjure memories of a beloved manager who has arguably been the most influential man in the history of the Braves organization and all professional sports in Atlanta.
"I think the No. 6 in Atlanta, especially in today's age of media and attention, Bobby is as big as Hank [Aaron]," Braves third baseman Chipper Jones said. "Bobby's number in this day and age is as recognizable as Hank's, and that's lofty, lofty [praise].
"Hank put the Atlanta Braves on the map, and Hank is probably the biggest baseball icon of all time. But Bobby, all the success the Braves have had over the past 20 years, he's directly responsible for that. In this era, Bobby's number is as big as Hank's."
Those who visit Turner Field after this weekend will see Cox's No. 6 positioned with Aaron's No. 44 along the second-level facade in the left-field corner. The only other numbers to be retired by the club are No. 3 (Dale Murphy), No. 21 (Warren Spahn), No. 31 (Greg Maddux), No. 35 (Phil Niekro), No. 41 (Eddie Mathews) and No. 47 (Tom Glavine).
"I can't imagine it," Cox said. "I can picture it in my mind, but it will be strange to see it up there."
Cox will be inducted into the Braves Hall of Fame during a Friday afternoon luncheon, and then he will travel to Turner Field a few hours later to see his No. 6 officially retired during a ceremony that will precede that evening's game against the Cubs.
Murphy, Niekro, Maddux, Glavine and John Smoltz are among the many of Cox's former players who will be present for the events.
"It will be wonderful," Cox said. "I'm looking forward to it. It's going to be a fun one."
|"Bobby is one of those guys who probably should have had his number retired when he was still on the job. He was that good over that many years."|
|-- Terry Pendleton|
Twenty years after making memories still celebrated by Braves fans everywhere, Steve Avery, Glavine, Smoltz, David Justice, Mark Lemke and 1991 National League MVP Terry Pendleton will reunite in Atlanta this weekend to be recognized and share a celebration with Cox, who served as both the architect and captain of those Braves teams.
"Bobby is one of those guys who probably should have had his number retired when he was still on the job," Pendleton said. "He was that good over that many years. I think it was special to have played for him and to have coached for him."
While serving as the general manager for the Braves from 1985-90, Cox overhauled a bad Minor League system and made it one of the game's most respectable by dedicating his resources to scouting and development. He provided solid teaching and direction to prospects like Glavine, and he made wise choices when it came time to draft guys like Jones, who was taken with the first overall selection in the 1990 First-Year Player Draft.
Once Cox removed the tie and donned the uniform again to serve as the team's manager midway through the 1990 season, the seeds were in place for what became one of the most successful runs any organization could hope to experience.
From 1991 until Cox retired at the end of last season, the Braves won 14 division crowns, five NL pennants and one World Series title in '95. Fittingly, a 15th trip to the postseason came as he concluded his legendary career last year.
"He's the one who pieced it together with all the Draft picks and the one who brought some veteran guys like myself and a few others to Atlanta," Pendleton said. "Then he's had a major part in it ever since."
As he has settled into retirement this year, Cox has watched nearly every Braves game, staying in constant contact with current manager Fredi Gonzalez and pitching coach Roger McDowell. At the same time, he has finally allowed himself to spend some time reflecting on a career that included the fourth-most wins (2,504) by a manager in Major League history.
"I'm just starting to allow myself to think about some of that stuff," said Cox, who still feels most comfortable deflecting attention away from himself and toward the players, coaches, administrators and family members who made it possible for him to enjoy a long and prosperous career in baseball.
When Cox was experiencing a two-year career as the Yankees' third baseman in 1968 and '69, he wore the No. 14. Once he began his first stint as the Braves' manager in '78, he began wearing No. 6, which had previously been worn by current Nationals manager Davey Johnson while he hit 43 homers for Atlanta in 1973.
Once former Braves owner Ted Turner fired Cox after the 1981 season in his first stint as the team's manager, there certainly wasn't anybody thinking they would return to a place called Turner Field 30 years later to see his No. 6 immortalized in Braves lore.
"He never played an inning for the Atlanta Braves," Jones said. "He never threw a pitch and he never got a hit. But he was responsible for 2,000-plus wins."
Mark Bowman is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.