Next weekend in Cooperstown, NY, baseball will welcome its newest members into the Hall of Fame. It might, however, look more like an induction ceremony for the Braves Hall of Fame, considering the number of former Braves who will accept baseball’s highest honor.
Legendary manager Bobby Cox and two of his former pitchers, Greg Maddux and Tom Glavine, will enter the Hall. Joe Torre, who played with the Braves the first three years the team was in Atlanta and then later manager the Braves from 1982-1984, will also go in. Even Tony LaRussa, who will enter as a manager, played in Atlanta for a few games during the 1971 season.
But Cox, Maddux and Glavine will be the main attractions. Torre made his mark as a skipper while winning championships in New York. The Yankees fans will welcome him with loud applause. Braves fans will focus on Cox and his two star pitchers.
“It’s pretty remarkable, but these are remarkable men – Bobby and Mad Dog (Maddux) and Tommy – for what they’ve done, what they’ve given to the game, what they gave to this organization,” said Braves president John Schuerholz. “It will be a very joyful and proud time for the Atlanta Braves.”
No one had a better seat to watch Cox become a Hall of Famer manager more than Schuerholz, the man who worked with Cox as Atlanta’s general manager for 17 seasons. In fact, Schuerholz replaced Cox as the GM when Cox returned to the dugout full-time before the 1991 season.
“It was easier for me to accept the job because I had high regard for Bobby,” Schuerholz said this week.
The two men combined for a tremendous run of successful baseball. The Braves won a record 14 straight division titles, five pennants and one World Series title in 1995 under their leadership. Cox and Schuerholz got along very well and created a winning environment that is still in place today.
“I think our partnership and its effectiveness and our great success together had to do with the mutual respect we had for each other,” Schuerholz said. “I respected the heck out of him and I think he would say the same thing about me. It worked very, very well. We were always straight forward and very, very honest and had unvarnished truth with one another. It always wasn’t the same truth, but it was what we believed. That’s what I think what made our partnership so effective and successful.”
There’s little doubt that Cox had tremendous talent on his rosters that led to great success. But Cox was the one that made it work, mainly because of the respect his players had for him. Schuerholz said that word – respect – is the reason for Cox’s success.
“Bobby understood how very, very difficult it is to play the game of baseball, and especially how difficult and challenging and demanding it is to play it well and succeed at the Major League level,” Schuerholz explained. “He had the same amount of respect for each player that wore the uniform. He did it honestly and sincerely and the players felt that and they understood that. He demanded they respect the game and be professional in their approach to the game and to treat the game with dignity and honor and respect. They did that and they treated him likewise because he understood and taught them how to respect and honor and appreciate the great game of baseball.”
The players knew Cox had their back. That’s why he was ejected a record 158 times. It wasn’t just to put on a show and scream at an umpire. Cox was just taking up for his players, and they knew it.
But when Cox didn’t like what a player was doing on the field, he would let that player know in his own way. Schuerholz remembers one story very well of how Cox handled his business.
“I won’t name the player,” he said. “But he did not handle his responsibilities in the game in the professional manner that was expected of him by Bobby and our organization. Bobby called that player into his office and told him to close the door and had the player sit there. Bobby let silence rule the room for a long while and looked up after that very pregnant pause and said to the player, ‘That’s not the way we play Braves baseball.’ That was the end of the conversation. That was all that needed to be said.”
The players knew how Cox felt about them. They knew he was sincere when he was rooting for them. Fans could pick up Cox’s little cheers over the dugout microphones. “Come on, Chip,” he would say when Chipper Jones strolled to the plate. And that made the players fight for Cox and win for him.
“Bobby loved to manage,” Schuerholz said. “He loved to be in that dugout. He loved to put on his metal cleats. He loved to figure out the lineups. He was so sharp, too, which sometimes gets overlooked in his ability to manage a game – his strategizing in a game, moves ahead of the other manager. Bobby was very, very excellent at that.”
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Bill Shanks has some thoughts on the man that will enter Cooperstown next Sunday…