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Behind the scenes

Despite repeated playoff trips, Cox remains unheralded

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Posted: Monday October 04, 1999 11:50 PM

  Bobby Cox Smokin': The Braves have dominated the '90s, yet manger Bobby Cox has only been honored once. AP

ATLANTA (AP) -- The Atlanta Braves have won eight straight division titles during the 1990s. Yet, manager Bobby Cox has been recognized only once for his contribution to that unprecedented postseason run.

Cox remains in the shadows for the most part, recognized primarily for the tirades that caused him to get ejected from 10 games this season.

His only NL Manager of the Year award came in 1991, when he turned around what had been a last-place team and took it to the seventh game of the World Series. Since then, Cox has been viewed as a push-button manager who does nothing more than fill out the lineup card.

This season, that perception changed. The Braves lost five players to season-ending ailments and injuries, including top hitter Andres Galarraga, closer Kerry Ligtenberg and All-Star catcher Javy Lopez.

With Cox patching things together, the Braves won a major league-best 103 games and another NL East title. They will open the division playoffs Tuesday against Central champion Houston.

New York earned the wild-card with a 5-0 victory over Cincinnati on Monday night. The Mets will meet West champ Arizona in the other division series.

"Jack McKeon has done a great job," pitcher Kevin Millwood said, referring to the Reds manager. "But as far as I'm concerned, nobody in baseball has done as good a job as Bobby Cox has done with this team."

Cox refuses to campaign for the Manager of the Year award.

"I don't thing about personal goals," he said. "Don't get me wrong, I'd be honored to get it. But it's not something I think about."

In the past, the Braves were criticized for being too businesslike, not showing enough emotion. This season, that Cox-inspired mentality served them well.

"You can't really say his managing style brings attention to itself," said pitcher Terry Mulholland, acquired in a midseason trade. "To be honest, there's not a whole lot of style to this team. When they win, they don't make a big deal about it. That's why they're such consistent winners."

As one player after another went down, Cox never changed his demeanor. He might have been troubled on the inside, but he never let that come across to his players.

"Bobby didn't panic," pitcher Kevin Millwood said. "We just went about our business the way we always have.

In every meeting, Cox stressed that the Braves still had enough healthy players to get back to the playoffs.

"A lot of times, you can look at somebody and tell they're just saying that," Millwood said. "When he says that, you can tell that's the way he feels. He really means it."

The Braves says it's unfair to dismiss Cox's managerial skills just because he usually has a roster filled with star players.

"I think those kind of managers deserve credit," MVP candidate Chipper Jones said. "The more talent you have, the more egos you have."

Cox's major rules are simple: Show up on time and be ready to play. He also frowns on music and cell phones in the clubhouse, and doesn't allow his players to wear earrings.

But, at age 58, he's also demonstrated a willingness to bend with the times. Cox reached a compromise after the Braves signed free agent Brian Jordan: give up the earring but keep the goatee, leading to an epidemic of facial hair in a clubhouse once filled with smooth faces.

"He has certain rules he asks you to follow," Jordan said. "It's not that hard."

Cox also has forged a sense of trust with his players, rarely saying a discouraging word in public but maintaining a grip behind the scenes.

"He's as much a friend and a comrade as he is a manager," Jones said. "Players like to have a relationship with their manager where they can talk openly, joke around. But when you get on the field, you've got to respect him as a manager. Bobby has a way of walking that fine line."

It's a good thing others will talk about Cox's importance to the Braves. He is noticeably uncomfortable when discussing himself.

"Honestly, I'm just doing my job," he said. "I let everything else fall where it may."

Notes: The Braves settled on their 25-man roster Monday, deciding to keep three catchers and only nine pitchers. Little-used catcher Jorge Fabregas made the cut while .317 hitter Randall Simon and LHP Bruce Chen were left off. Both Simon and Chen will travel with the team and Cox said he could alter his roster if the Braves advance to the NL championship series. ... Some 10,000 tickets remained for each of Tuesday and Wednesday's games at Turner Field, virtually assuring neither will be a sellout.


 
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