10/12/10 3:24 AM ET
Braves effusive in praise for retiring Cox
Decorated manager unequivocally a favorite among players
By Mark Bowman / MLB.com
Over the course of the past 25 years, while serving as both general manager and manager, Cox served as the rock of a Braves organization that will forever appreciate all that he provided and share some of the tears that he shed Monday night, when he proudly wore the tomahawk across his jersey one last time.
"He is one of a kind," Braves closer Billy Wagner said. "There will never be another Bobby Cox, who has so much influence not just on your life, but your career. Even when you played against him, you were a fan of the Braves."
Wagner will now journey into the same retirement lifestyle that awaits Cox. The 39-year-old closer made his Major League debut in 1995, when Cox was six seasons into the managerial term that concluded with this NLDS loss to the Giants.
"It hasn't hit anybody yet that he is not going to be manager next year," Braves outfielder Matt Diaz said. "There are a lot of us who won't believe it until Spring Training rolls around and there's somebody else yelling at us from the dugout."
Whether it's Fredi Gonzalez or a surprising candidate leading the Braves next year, it's quite obvious that it will take them a while to develop the kind of bond Cox shared with the organization that gave him his first big league managerial job in 1978, and then brought him back to serve as the general manager before the start of the '86 season.
Thus it certainly wasn't surprising to see tears well up in Cox's eyes as the fans responded to Monday's season-ending loss by immediately beginning to chant, "Bobby, Bobby, Bobby."
Moments later, the beloved manager -- who gave the city of Atlanta a record 14 consecutive division crowns, five trips to the World Series and a World Series championship -- couldn't help but break down and cry while attempting to address his final team, one that personified his fighting spirit while dealing with the string of adversity that hit this year.
"It was rough," Chipper Jones said. "I've never seen Bobby crack. It's tough to listen to and watch. But it tells you how much this game has meant to Bobby -- how much this team and organization has meant to Bobby, and how proud he was of this particular team. There wasn't a dry eye in the place."
When asked what Cox had meant to him, Brooks Conrad had to take a deep breath and attempt to at least control the tears. After spending most of the previous nine years in the Minors, Conrad spent this entire season in the Majors.
Forced to take Conrad out of the lineup following a three-error performance in Sunday's loss to the Giants, Cox took time Monday to talk to the 30-year-old rookie and reassure him that the club was still well aware of everything he had contributed during the season.
"I don't think you see that a whole lot in this game," Conrad said. "It's a cutthroat game. It can be brutal at times. When you've got a guy backing you no matter what, it's pretty cool. He's got every one of our backs no matter what, and I was proud to play for him."
|1.||Joe McCarthy *||3,487||.615|
|2.||John McGraw *||4,769||.586|
|3.||Walter Alston *||3,658||.558|
|5.||Sparky Anderson *||4,030||.545|
|6.||Leo Durocher *||3,739||.540|
|9.||Tom Lasorda *||3,041||.526|
|10.||Bill McKechnie *||3,647||.524|
|11.||Clark Griffith *||2,918||.522|
|12.||Dick Williams *||3,023||.520|
|15.||Casey Stengel *||3,766||.508|
|17.||Bucky Harris *||4,410||.493|
|18.||Connie Mack *||7,755||.486|
Cox recorded 2,504 wins -- fourth most in Major League history -- and won four Manager of the Year Awards. He stands alongside Joe McCarthy as the only manager to ever post six 100-win seasons.
But Jones finds himself among the many who believe Cox's finest managerial effort may have occurred during this final season.
"I think 99 percent of the rest of the teams in baseball that would have had to deal with the injuries to the players we had injured, all those teams would have folded," Jones said. "There's no doubt in my mind. That's what happens when you've got gutty, gritty ballplayers that leave it all out there every night."
After the Braves endured a nine-game losing streak in April, they went on a run that took them to the top of the NL East standings by May 31, and they remained there until the first week of September. Injuries took a toll on the club down the stretch.
Still, despite having lost his Hall of Famer (Jones) and team MVP (Martin Prado) to season-ending injuries, Cox managed to guide this Braves club into the postseason.
"Me leaving is nothing," Wagner said. "But Bobby being a legend is just like the word says -- a legend. You'll never find another manager who plays every game like he does, truly cares about you and is as loyal as a Bobby Cox. I just wish I would have been able to play for him longer."
Like Wagner, Tim Hudson considers himself lucky to have had the opportunity to play for the same man who was serving as the Atlanta manager back in their teenage years when the Braves were their favorite team.
"It's been a pleasure and honor to play for him," Hudson said. "I'm proud that I played for one of the best managers a player could ever ask to play for. He's a manager that feels like a teammate, a friend and a father figure. That's not something many people can say they've done in their Major League career. I think everybody in this clubhouse is really lucky to say that."
With the season and his career complete, Cox walked around the clubhouse still in his uniform, shaking hands with his players and taking a chance to say goodbye to the game that he has enriched since the day the Dodgers signed him to his first professional contract in 1959.
"It was emotional," Braves reliever Peter Moylan said. "It was something you hope you never had to go through. I would have much rather gone through that with a championship ring. We played hard for six months and just came up short."
Mark Bowman is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.