The Braves will salute him and, at the same time, the game will raise its glass to him, a toast to the modest man/manager who seemingly invented perennial success and did so with such dignity that the teams he conquered weren't particularly riled. If losing were inevitable -- and, in some cases, it was -- let it be the Braves of Bobby Cox that did the winning.
Had Durocher done his homework -- or if he'd been a bit more prescient -- he would have concluded that nice guys can finish first, too. And the best guys finish first almost all the time. Cox's Braves finished atop their division 14 times. Fourteen. We know that; it's not news anymore. But being a historic fact doesn't make it any less remarkable. Fourteen. A touch of the incredulous ought to be heard when the number, as it pertains to Cox and the Braves, is spoken.
What the Royals haven't done since 1985, what the Pirates haven't done since '92, and what the Expos/Nationals never have done -- not really -- since 1969, the Braves did 14 times in 14 tries with Cox managing. With all due respect to the uncrowned Expos of '94, is anyone certain the Braves wouldn't have chased down Felipe Alou's crew if the full schedule had been played that year?
It is the No. 6 that will be put in mothballs at Turner Field on Friday. They might as well decommission No. 14 at the same time. No one else will wear the Bravos' 6, and no other team will get to 14, not the nice guys, the good guys, the bad guys, the guys in pinstripes or the guys with the B's on their bonnets. Fourteen division championships in 14 full seasons. Even now, it doesn't compute. The game makes no provisions for such extended success.
If Cox's guys had been competing in the high jump, they would have set the bar at 9 feet, 2 inches. If it were golf -- the favored activity of Smoltz, Glavine and Maddux -- they'd have won 10 straight Masters and shot a few 59s along the way. If it had been the uneven bars, they would have scored ... well, a 14 on a scale of one to 10.
We witnessed it and still found it difficult to accept -- like a man on the moon or well-performed magic.
In the bowels of the building attached to Marriott Marquis in downtown Dixie once was a store that sold magic tricks. It was entertaining and mystifying, not to mention expensive. We'd pass it en route to lunch or to buy the papers. Then, at night, we'd go the old Chop Shop and watch Bobby's team make magic. No rabbits from hats, no quarters disappearing and then reappearing behind ears. But his guys could pull a victory out of a three-run deficit or make a threat disappear in the top of the inning and have it reappear in a puff of cigar smoke in the bottom.
Say so long to No. 6
|Bobby Cox's No. 6 becomes the sixth No. 6 to be retired. The others are: Steve Garvey, Padres (not the Dodgers); Al Kaline, Tigers; Stan Musial, Cardinals; Tony Oliva, Twins; and Johnny Pesky, Red Sox.|
|Among the others who wore No. 6 with the Atlanta Braves were coach Grover Resinger in 1966; Clete Boyer, 1967-71; Davey Johnson, 1973-74; manager Connie Ryan, 1975; coach Chris Cannizzaro, 1976-77; Randy Johnson (the infielder), 1982-84; Billy Sample, 1986; Darryl Motley, 1986-87, Lonnie Smith, 1988; John Russell, 1989. Cox wore No. 6 as Braves manager from 1978-81 and from 1990-2010.|
|Cox also wore No. 6 as manager of the Blue Jays from 1982-85. He wore No. 14 in his years as a player with the Yankees in 1968-69 and No. 33 as a Yankees coach in 1977.|
To say his players appreciated him is to say Sinatra could sing and De Niro can act. They prospered under his genial guidance and support. They heard him rooting from the dugout as no other manager would. They saw him in untold nose-to-nose debates with umpires. They knew he had their backs. They liked him. What wasn't to like? He let them win when they could and made them win when they couldn't. He was Southern Comfort in a man.
Now in the afterglow of all that winning, so many express their appreciation of Cox through the prism of his manner, his niceness and kindness. Even the umpires like him. But a critical portion of the picture of his managerial career becomes distorted by his popularity. The Braves' No. 6 is on its way to the shelf primarily because this guy was so remarkably accomplished.
Three men -- Connie Mack, John McGraw and Tony La Russa -- have more victories on their resumés than does Cox, and each has managed more for at least 33 years. Cox's time in the dugout measured 29 years. Only eight men have managed more teams to the World Series. And, now, can we please cease and desist on this perceived flaw in Cox's record that he won one World Series? It's not merely one, it's one. It is an achievement, not to be viewed as an aberration.
From McGraw to Murtaugh to Mauch to McKeon to Mattingly and back to McKeon, they all know the true test -- the greatest challenge -- is the regular season. In 29 regular seasons, Cox's teams finished first 15 times, including once with the Blue Jays in 1985. Fifteen. Only Torre has matched that.
In Torre, La Russa and Cox, we've been watching three of the greats. They'll all be there in Cooperstown in the not-too-distant future with Sparky, Earl and Whitey, members of the previous generation. Bochy, Gardenhire and Scioscia are working on their resumés now. But none of them will touch 14.
Six is a wonderful number in baseball -- Musial, Oliva and Game 6 in '75; Kaline, Garvey and Torre with the Yankees; Buckner, Pesky and Mick in his first season; Lazzeri, Blair and Game 6 in '86; Bando and Furillo. Mathewson was "Big Six." Antonio Alfonseca had six toes. Lezcano was Sixto.
And the Braves won six Cy Young Awards -- Maddux's three, Glavine's two, Smoltz's one -- during Cox's tenure as manager.
Other sports had their No. 6s; the NBA has Dr. J. and Bill Russell and the sixth man, the NHL has the six Sutter Brothers and the Original Six. The Steelers have six Lombardi Trophies. And Sonny Sixkiller lives on because of that surname.
We know "Six geese a laying" and that Senators serve six years. We are guaranteed a speedy trial by the sixth amendment. We have six guns and six packs and Six Flags; Rocky VI, Beatles VI and all the world's hexagons. Six-ounce Coke bottles, six degrees of separation and cricket's equivalent to a home run is worth six runs. D-Day was 6-6. So was Cazzie Russell.
Surfside 6 was an address. The Devil's area code is 666. And if all things are equal, then it's six of one, a half-dozen of the other. We all end up six feet under.
And now we have Robert Joseph Cox who forever will be No. 6 in Atlanta. Some might argue he is No. 1. Imagine a baseball manager of such rank in a football-mad town. We'll settle for six. It is his unmistakably and permanently. They ought to concoct a drink in Dixie and call it a Cox No. 6.
And serve it with a 14 chaser.
Marty Noble is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.