FROM THE CHEAP SEATS: Saying goodbye to the Skipper

The call came from Atlanta Journal-Constitution sports editor Tim Tucker on a brutally cold day in the winter of 1990.

Tucker: I.J., need you to run over Piedmont Hospital and interview Bobby Cox. The Braves just hired John Schuerholz as their general manager and we need some reaction from the manager.

At that time, I was a month away from taking over the Braves beat, one I would stay on for the next eight years, and I arrived at the hospital where Cox had just undergone two knee replacements. I remember walking into his room, with both of his legs suspended high above his body and both of his knees wrapped heavily. He was still a little groggy, but I can remember the conversation like it was yesterday. Cox had been the team’s general manager but was sent down into the dugout midway through the season and told the team would hire a new GM.

Rosenberg: Bobby, what do you think about the hiring of Schuerholz?

Cox: Great move. He will come in here and do a great job like he did in Kansas City.

Rosenberg: How do you feel the two of you will work together?

Cox: There will be no issues. He’s the GM and I look forward to it. Whatever is best for this organization.

I think of all the stories I have about Bobby, and there are hundreds of them, those last six words describes Cox the best. While many are critical of the fact that he has won just one world championship, while there are times when I think he makes poor decisions come postseason, he has always been about what is best for the Braves.

And that is why he has been so successful as a major league manager, taking the Braves to 15 postseasons in his last 20 full seasons. And that truly is one of the great accomplishments in sports history. That is why Cox will get into the Hall of Fame and why he will go down as one of the best skippers ever.

Sure, he should have won a championship in 1991 in the seven-game World Series loss to Minnesota, and again in ’96 when his team led the Yankees 6-0 in Game 4 and 2-1 in the best-of-seven series.

But there is something to say about consistency in a sport where few organizations, if any, have been able to stay competitive for as long as the Braves have.

COXISMS …

Interestingly, Cox and I rarely saw eye to eye when I covered him every day, as I was a reporter looking for a story or a good quote while Cox is a manager who protects his players and club at all costs.

I will never forget a Charlie Leibrandt performance in 1992 when the veteran lefthander gave up eight runs over two innings. Afterwards, in the clubhouse, Cox sat in his old desk and said with his right thumb and index finger ever –so-close, “He was just off that much.’’

Eventually, after so many of those ‘just off’ comments I would walk out of his office just laughing. Call it a “Coxism.’’

There were a few times when we would go a few days not talking to each other but we always made up. And over the years, I spent hours with him in the dugout talking about everything but baseball. Bobby loved talking about food and could tell you exactly where to eat in every city we visited. That came in handy when you were on an AJC expense account during the go-go years.

CLASSY GUY …

One final story about Cox came after I left the beat but returned to spring training a few years later with my young son Chase. The Braves gave me full access to the clubhouse and players and Chase got a photo with everyone from John Smoltz to Javier Lopez to Chipper Jones to bench coach Pat Corrales. Then we walked into the dugout where Bobby was sitting and he stood up and hugged me.

The pressure was off both of us as he knew, as a reporter I was just looking for a story, but now was there as a baseball fan with my son.

He then grabbed Chase and put him on his lap and I took a photo.

That photo, now 10-years old, still hangs on the wall of my son’s room. My son was smiling from ear to ear and Cox had a big grin on his face.

In retirement, I wish Bobby Cox the very best and in appreciation for all these great moments and seasons, hope he is rewarded with another world championship.

It would be a most fitting end to this man’s career.

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