One of the greatest managers in the history of major league baseball, Bobby Cox led the Atlanta Braves of the 1990s to an unprecedented domination of the National League. A consummate strategist, Cox is the only coach to win Manager of the Year honors in both the American and National Leagues.
Robert Joe Cox was born in Tulsa, Oklahoma, on May 21, 1941, and attended Selma High School and Reedley Junior College in California. In 1959 Cox signed with the Los Angeles Dodgers for $40,000 and spent seven years in the Dodgers’ farm system. In 1966 he was acquired by the Braves in their first year in Atlanta and played third base for their AAA Richmond team in 1967. The following season, the Braves traded Cox to the New York Yankees, and in the spring of 1968, Cox won the starting job at third base for the big league club. Although he batted only .229 with seven home runs for the Yankees, Cox was named to the Topps’ Rookie All-Star Team, but in the very next year, he lost his job to Bobby Murcer and returned to the minors.
By 1971 Cox was ready to retire from baseball, but he could not leave the game completely behind and began managing in the Yankees’ minor league system in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida. For each of his six years as a minor league coach, Cox had a winning record. He swiftly moved his way up the ranks to become the Yankees’ first-base coach in 1977—the year when the Yankees won their twenty-first World Series with Billy Martin managing. On November 22, 1977, the Atlanta Braves hired Cox, a top managerial prospect, to rebuild a team based on the youthfulness of players Dale Murphy and Bob Horner.
After losing two seasons with the Braves in 1978 and 1979, Cox finally made progress with his young team in 1980, winning eighty-one games and losing eighty. It was the first winning season for the Braves since 1974. But when a players’ strike shortened the 1981 season, the team’s fortunes dropped along with attendance, and owner Ted Turner reluctantly fired Cox. Cox landed on his feet and was hired as manager of the Toronto Blue Jays in 1982.
By 1985 Cox had turned the Blue Jays from a poor expansion team into a contender, winning the American League East that year and barely missing a trip to the World Series after his team fell in seven games to the Kansas City Royals in the American League Championship Series. For his efforts Cox was named American League and Major League Manager of the Year. Yet Cox’s stint in Toronto would soon be over: in October 1985 Ted Turner persuaded him to return to Atlanta.
As general manager of the Atlanta Braves, Cox hired Russ Nixon, a farm-system coach, to work with the young players at the heart of the franchise. Cox’s philosophy was to build the team from the ground up with strong scouting, wise drafting, and aggressive signing of top prospects. By 1990 Cox’s plans had paid off, and the Braves were recognized as having one of the best young franchises and farm systems in all of baseball.
Yet the results had not met with the expectations, and on June 22, 1990, Cox took Russ Nixon’s place as manager for the rest of the season, serving his second stint as the Braves’ dugout leader. Later that year the Braves’ front office forced Cox to choose between his general manager and head coach positions. Luckily for the Braves, Cox decided to stay on the field. John Schuerholz was hired in October 1990 to replace Cox as general manager, ultimately forming a duo with Cox that proved to be one of the most successful in major league history.
In his first season back at the helm for the Braves, Cox led the team on its famous worst-to-first charge, eventually losing to the Minnesota Twins in the tenth inning of the seventh game in the 1991 World Series. This time, Cox was named National League Manager of the Year. In the 1990s the Atlanta Braves won five National League pennants: in 1991, 1992, 1995, 1996, and 1999. Between 1991 and 2001 (not counting 1994, when a players’ strike ended the season prematurely) the Braves won nine straight division titles—an amazing record of success for any professional franchise.
In 1995 the Braves won the city’s first major championship, taking the World Series from the Cleveland Indians in six games. On June 16, 1998, Bobby Cox passed Frank Selee’s club record of 1,004 wins as manager, and by the end of the 2005 season, he could claim 2,092 victories. Cox was again named National League Manager of the Year in 2004 and 2005, making him the first to win the award in consecutive years.
In October 2010 Cox retired from managing the Braves, after the team made it into postseason play for the first time since 2005. He was unanimously elected into the National Baseball Hall of Fame in 2013.