LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. — When the National Baseball Hall of Fame’s chairman of the board called Bobby Cox at 8:30 a.m. Monday, Cox let it go to voicemail. The retired Braves manager had been nervously awaiting the call, but didn’t recognize the “Oneonta” location on his caller ID and figured it was probably a reporter.
Seconds later, Cox or one of the friends with whom he was having coffee — Royals manager Ned Yost, Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez and former Braves coaches Pat Corrales and Jim Guadagno — realized Oneonta was close to Cooperstown, N.Y., site of the Hall of Fame.
Cox grabbed his phone, hit callback and soon got the news from chairman Jane Forbes Clark: He was a Hall of Famer.
Cox, Tony La Russa and Joe Torre, three of the five winningest managers in major league history, were unanimous selections by the veterans committee.
The man who managed the Braves for 25 seasons and won a record 14 consecutive division titles and the first major-sports championship in Atlanta history — the 1995 World Series — will be inducted at Cooperstown on July 27. Cox called the honor “the top of the mountain.”
“I haven’t had goose bumps in a long time and I had them this morning when I got the call from Jane,” he said a couple of hours later.
Cox was particularly excited to be going into the Hall of Fame not just with two other two managerial giants of his era, but almost certainly with two former Brave pitchers, Greg Maddux and Tom Glavine. Each won more than 300 games and multiple Cy Young Awards and both are in their first year of Hall of Fame eligibility.
“I’m certainly going in with great company,” Cox said. “I just hope that Glav and Mad Dog (Maddux) can be on the stage with me, two guys that helped get me there. That would be the final finishing touch, going in with those two … “I’m excited about it. I can’t tell you how really humbled I am. But I’m having fun with it now. I got over the shock at 8:30.” Knuckleballer Phil Niekro, a Hall of Famer who pitched for teams managed by both Cox and Torre, attended Monday’s news conference. “When I think of these guys, I think of respect,” Niekro said. “They are man of integrity and character.”
Past and current Braves sent congratulations via Twitter, including Jason Heyward and Chipper Jones.
Jones, who spent his 19-year career in Atlanta and played 17 seasons for Cox, said recently that one thing in particular made his former manager special.
“The way he treated people,” the retired third baseman said. “He treated you like a man, he didn’t embarrass you in front of the whole world. He’d pull you aside, tell you what he thought and how he was going to do things. That’s pretty much the way it went for as long as I was there. He had to manage quite a few egos over the years.
“I think you could really tell what kind of person somebody is by how everybody speaks of him and I’ve never heard anybody say a bad word about Bobby Cox. They respect not only his ability to be a great manager, but his intensity, his willingness to stand up for his players. And I’d be hard pressed to believe you could find a single umpire to say a bad word about Bobby.”
Cox was ejected more than 130 times, an unofficial major league record.
“And I’m sure he questioned the ancestry of quite a few umps along the way,” Jones said, laughing. “But it’s just part of it. Bobby would get ejected one day and walk to the plate to exchange lineup cards the next day and be laughing and joking with the same guy he was dog-cussing the day before. It’s a quality I wish I had.”
Big-name trade unlikely: While Braves fans anxiously await news — many hope general manager Frank Wren will trade for an ace pitcher — he indicated if a move were made, it would likely be more modest. Maybe a bench player or pitching depth.
“We like our team,” Wren said. “There’s a couple or three areas that we would like to fortify and add depth, but if spring training were starting tomorrow, we would like our team and feel like we would do well.” Asked if that meant the Braves didn’t have significant needs, he said, “Not a dire need. We’ve got all the positions filled, but you’re always looking to get better. You’re looking where you can improve your depth, you’re looking at even incrementally where you can improve your positions … “But in the case of our club, I don’t see necessarily a front-line move. I see more support moves, where you’re adding a bat that can give you power off the bench, or adding to our bullpen, or adding to the depth of our rotation.”