ATLANTA -- Whenever asked who had the greatest influence on his managerial style, Bobby Cox says that he learned a little bit from every manager he ever had during his professional playing career. Some showed him the wrong approach and others showed him the significance of protecting and respecting the players.
Cox has crossed paths with many great baseball minds since he played his first professional season with the Dodgers in 1960. But none of the men seemed to influence him like Ralph Houk, who served as the Yankees manager when Cox wore the pinstripes during the 1968 and '69 seasons.
"I loved Ralph," Cox said. "He was just outstanding."
After his Braves suffered a tough 12-inning loss to the Padres Wednesday night, Cox returned to the clubhouse and was informed that Houk passed away earlier in the day in Winter Haven, Fla. He was 90 years old.
"Great guy, great guy," Cox said while dealing with the emotions of a loss and the reality that he'd lost both a friend and a mentor.
When bad knees forced Cox to essentially end his playing career at the end of the 1970 season, Houk was one of the men who influenced the Yankees' brass to give the intelligent, hard-working player a chance to manage in the Minor League system.
While Houk was managing the Tigers in 1978, Cox was in Atlanta enjoying his first opportunity to serve as a big league skipper.
Thirty-two years later, Cox has the fourth-most managerial wins in Major League history and the satisfaction of heading into his retirement at the end of this season knowing that many of his players respected him as much as he respected Houk.
"Ralph Houk was a big influence on me with how he treated people," Cox said a few years ago. "Our personalities are both pretty tough. I can be as tough as anybody. But that comes when it comes."
Houk was a decorated veteran of World War II before he began a 20-year big league managerial career by leading the Yankees to consecutive World Series titles in 1961 and '62. While strict, he showed Cox the benefit of treating the least talented player on his roster with the same kind of respect that was shown to a superstar like Mickey Mantle.
During his younger years, Houk used to occasionally travel to Atlanta to see Cox and watch the Braves play. But many of their most recent visits occurred during the Spring Training months, when the Braves were working out just a short distance from Houk's Winter Haven residence.
Braves special assistant Dom Chiti lived near Houk and informed Cox earlier this year that the long-time skipper's health had steadily worsened since he'd lost his wife last year.
"I know that he was really mourning her death," Cox said. "He was a great guy, a great guy."
Mark Bowman is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.