COMMENTARY | Bobby Cox will likely be headed to Cooperstown after the Hall of Fame's Expansion Era Veterans Committee announces its electees in a few weeks.
Atlanta Braves fans will celebrate, but New York Yankees fans should also be able to say that another one of their own will be enshrined in Cooperstown. Cox was in pinstripes for Mickey Mantle's final game, Thurman Munson's first game, and Reggie Jackson's three-homer game in Game 6 of the 1977 World Series.
Cox's decade with the Yankees is more than just a footnote in his career. New York is where he made his major league debut and began his coaching career.
1968 All-Rookie Team
In 1958, at age 18, Cox signed with the Los Angeles Dodgers for a $40,000 bonus. He was drafted by the Chicago Cubs in what was akin to a Rule 5 draft in 1964, traded to the Braves in 1966, and traded to the Yankees after the 1967 season for Dale Roberts and Bob Tillman.
The following year, Cox made his major league debut and was named to the 1968 Topps All-Star Rookie Team after batting .229 (7 HR, 41 RBIs, .300 OBP) as the Yankees' starting third baseman. The team didn't fare well (83-79, fifth-place in the American League) but featured two other players who would find a second career as managers -- Dick Howser and Mel Stottlemyre. It would also be Mantle's final season.
Cox played 85 games for the Yankees in 1969 -- Munson's first year in New York -- but knee injuries shortened Cox's playing career. In 1970, he played for New York's Triple-A squad in Syracuse, where he batted .219 in 90 games.
A Start in Coaching
In 1971, the Yankees named Cox manager of the club's Single-A team in Fort Lauderdale, where he managed future major league manager Grady Little. The club went 71-70 with Cox appearing in 4 games, including 3 as a pitcher. (Career minor league pitching line: 0-1, 5.40 ERA, 4 K, 10 IP.)
The following season, Cox was named manager of the Yankees' Double-A team in West Haven, Connecticut, guided the team to an 85-56 record, and earned himself another promotion -- to the club's Triple-A team in Syracuse. In four seasons at Syracuse, Cox's teams went 304-261 (.538 winning percentage), finished second twice and third twice.
1977 World Series, Then Atlanta
Cox made it back to the big leagues in 1977, when he was named first base coach for the Billy Martin-led Yankees that would go on to win the World Series against the Dodgers, the team Cox had first signed with almost two decades earlier.
After the series, Cox was lured away to the Braves, in part due to Martin's success.
"The main thing I wanted was to manage," Cox told Cox Newspapers (no relation) after being named as the Braves manager. "The Yankees already have a good one in Billy Martin."
At the time, Cox was only 36 -- the youngest manager in the National League. Cox was picked over other candidates that included former (and future) Yankees manager Yogi Berra because he was "someone was young and had his future ahead of him," then-owner Ted Turner told the UPI news agency.
Among Cox's first moves as Braves manager was luring Yankees pitching coach Cloyd Boyer to join him in Atlanta. He also hired Pete Ward to serve as first base coach.
At Least One Sure Vote
Cox will need to be named on at least 12 of 16 ballots to gain election to the Hall of Fame, and it's almost certain that 1 of the men set to vote on the Expansion Era Veterans Committee ballot will be a huge Cox supporter -- Andy MacPhail, former executive for the Baltimore Orioles, Cubs, and Minnesota Twins.
It was MacPhail's father, Hall of Famer Lee MacPhail, who traded for Cox and gave Cox his first coaching job when the elder MacPhail served as the Yankees' general manager.
"I knew I'd never make it back to the major leagues as a player," Cox recounted in his Cox Newspapers interview. After being cut by the Yankees, he said, "Lee MacPhail came to me and asked if I wanted to manage the Yankees' Fort Lauderdale club. I thought about it for a day or two and decided to take the job. That was the turning point. I knew it was what I wanted to do."
The former Yankee ranks fourth all-time in wins among managers and compiled a 2,504-2,001 (.556) record in 29 seasons. The Cox-led Braves won the 1995 World Series and five National League pennants during his 25 years with the Braves. Cox also spent four years managing the Blue Jays.
Howard Z. Unger is a freelance journalist in Brooklyn, New York. For the past 15 years, he has written about sports, media, and popular culture. His work has appeared in The Village Voice, New York Post, and New York Times.
- Sports & Recreation
- New York Yankees
- Atlanta Braves
- New York