Ted Turner wanted Bobby Cox to come home. He wanted Cox back with the Braves.
Turner had fired Cox in 1981, even though he didn’t want to. The Braves had struggled that season, one year after making progress and finishing just a game below .500. But his inner-circle believed someone else needed to take the Braves to the next level.
Cox left and went to Toronto for three years. But he kept on coming back to Atlanta, to home, to see his family. Even on off days, Cox would take a flight home to be with his family in the Atlanta suburbs.
Four years after Cox left the Braves, they had another opening. The Braves had fired Eddie Haas in midseason and replaced Haas with Bobby Wine, who they decided not to bring back. Turner wanted Cox back, but there was one problem. Cox’s Blue Jays were in the American League playoffs.
Not sure if he could actually lure Cox away from a division-winning team, Turner decided to pursue Chuck Tanner to be the Braves manager. Tanner had just been fired in Pittsburgh, six years after leading the Pirates to the World Series title over the Orioles.
Tanner had played with the Braves in Milwaukee, so it was a bit of a homecoming for him. So Turner went ahead and hired Tanner to be the manager, even though he really still wanted Cox to come home, as well.
Turner then had an idea. What if Cox came back to be the general manager? He sold Cox on the idea of building the franchise into a winner and taking what he had learned in Toronto under general manager Pat Gillick to work with the Braves.
Cox went for it. He so wanted to be home to be near his growing family. So at the 1985 World Series, the Braves introduced Cox as the new general manager, standing by Tanner, the new manager.
But what would have happened if Tanner had not been available and if Turner had waited on Cox to be his new manager? Would someone else have implemented the philosophies that Cox did to make the Braves a winner? Would a different general manager have made the same impact?
It’s doubtful. As much as the Braves’ success in the 1990s can be attributed to Tom Glavine, Greg Maddux and John Smoltz, we must remember that there was a different trio that built the foundation for that success: Cox, team president Stan Kasten and scouting director Paul Snyder. They were joined later by John Schuerholz in the winter of 1990, and he helped make the Braves a winner.
Who knows if Turner would have left John Mullen in the position as general manager, if Cox had instead been in the dugout with the team in 1986. But there is no way anyone else would have stressed pitching like Cox did. He didn’t buy the theory that pitchers couldn’t be successful in old Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium. Cox believed what Gillick believed in Toronto – that pitching and defense wins championships.
Cox instructed Snyder, the Braves’ scouting director, to stress pitching. Together, they drafted pitchers named Kent Mercker (1986, 1st round), Derek Lilliquist (1987, 1st round), Mike Stanton (1987, 13th round), Steve Avery (1988, 1st round) and Mark Wohlers (1988, 8th round).
Cox traded for pitchers like John Smoltz, Pete Smith and Charlie Leibrandt. He also believed in promoting pitchers like Tom Glavine and gave them a chance to make the Braves better, which they did.
History usually shows us that all things happen for a reason. There was a reason the timing wasn’t right for Cox to take back his job as the Braves manager in 1986. Instead, he got a different job and changed the history of the Atlanta Braves.
Cox will go into the Baseball Hall of Fame Sunday as a manager, but never forget the contributions he made as Atlanta’s general manager.
Listen to “The Bill Shanks Show” from 3-6 p.m. weekdays on WPLA Fox Sports 1670 AM in Macon and online at http://www.foxsports1670.com/. Follow Bill at twitter.com/BillShanks and e-mail him at email@example.com.
What if Cox had not been the Braves GM?
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