The fifth-place finish cost him his job. In 1980, the Braves had finished above .500 for the first time since 1974.
But when impatient maverick owner Ted Turner, at a news conference following the Cox ouster, was asked who was on his short list for manager, Turner said: "It would be Bobby Cox -- if I hadn't just fired him. We need someone like him around here."
It took four years, but Turner not only got somebody like Bobby Cox, he got the real thing.
After four successful years with the Toronto Blue Jays, Cox returned to Atlanta in 1986 as general manager, and in June of 1990, fired Russ Nixon, named himself manager and returned to the dugout.
As GM, he had spent four successful years adding talented players such as Tom Glavine, Ron Gant, Steve Avery, Pete Smith and David Justice. He had the first overall pick in 1990 and tapped a youngster named Chipper Jones.
Those series of events came to mind on Monday when Cox, Tony La Russa and Joe Torre were elected to the National Baseball Hall of Fame. The announcement was made at the annual Winter Meetings.
The three managerial greats will be inducted into the Cooperstown, N.Y., shrine on July 27.
If former Atlanta pitchers Greg Maddux and Glavine, as predicted, are elected by the Baseball Writers' Association of America, the 2014 Hall of Fame ceremony will have a strong Atlanta flavor. The announcement for the writers' ballot comes Jan. 8.
During his four years under future Hall of Fame GM Pat Gillick in Toronto, Cox lifted the Blue Jays to the 1985 American League East title that earned him the first of four Manager of the Year Awards. But then Turner came calling.
After assuming the lead spot in the Braves' dugout, Cox began one of the most successful stretches in baseball history.
He and GM John Schuerholz combined for an incredible run of 14 consecutive division titles, and a World Series championship in 1995.
Cox, now 72, retired after the 2010 season with 2,504 wins (fourth on the all-time list), 4,508 games managed … and 161 ejections.
Bobby Cox getting kicked out of games is legendary.
He's the only manager -- or player -- to be ejected from more than one World Series game, having accomplished that feat twice. Folks make light of his battles with umpires, but this really tells much about Cox, the manager, Cox who supported his players to the brink -- or ejection.
Atlanta Journal-Constitution reporter David O'Brien relates this story: Outfielder Jeff Francoeur was in a battle with an umpire in a 2006 game. Cox raced onto the field to back his player. Both Francoeur and Cox were ejected.
Francoeur recounted this to O'Brien:
"I'm like, 'What do I do?' Francoeur asked Cox. Bobby said, 'Go have a couple cold beers and get in the cold tub or something and relax. And then you'll probably have to write a $500 check. Or you can do what I do, write a $10,000 one and tell them when [the money] runs out, let me know.'"
When asked Monday about his election to the Hall of Fame, Cox said:
"They say when you're voted to the Hall of Fame, your life changes. And it has, I've got goose bumps and it's the greatest honor that we could ever have.
"And hopefully two guys that helped get me to the Hall of Fame, Tom Glavine and Greg Maddux, will be inducted, as well. It would be quite an honor to go in with those two guys. I just hope Glav and Mad Dog can be on the stage with me. That would be the final finishing touch, going in with those two."
Torre's amazing career managing the Yankees was the clincher for his election, but it should be mentioned that when Turner fired Cox after the 1981 season, Torre was hired to manage the Braves.
The Braves won the NL West title in 1982 and finished second in 1983 under Torre. In '84, they slipped to 80-82 and Torre was fired after the season.
Former big league manager Pat Corrales, for years Cox's bench coach, said, "95 percent of the time, he didn't need any help. He was just an outstanding manager. He treated his players as human beings. He's always been one of my favorite guys.
"Year in and year out, John Schuerholz would make changes on the team, freshen it somewhat, and it never bothered Bobby. He loved his players and always stood behind them. He deserved this honor."
Cox signed with the Dodgers as a young player, and while in their system in the Minor Leagues, he was helped by Tommy Lasorda, who would himself become a Hall of Fame skipper.
"He never made it to the Majors with the Dodgers," said Lasorda. "You know, managers in the Hall of Fame is quite a fraternity. Baseball has been around for over a hundred years, and with these three guys, there are only 23 managers in there. It's a tough fraternity to make. All three of them are well-deserved.
"The thing I remember most is [Cox] always had the respect of his players."
Former Cleveland and Texas GM John Hart, now an analyst for MLB Network, believes players loved playing for Cox and the other newly elected Hall of Famers because of respect and character.
"That's what the players relate to -- whether they like you or don't like you, whether you play them or don't play them, they respect the character," Hart said. "That's been the standard all have exhibited. On top of that, each in their own way, they have been true to their own code as to how they want to be baseball people."
And it was those qualities that vaulted Cox, Torre and La Russa to the ultimate stop in baseball's long journey.