Cooperstowners in Canada: Bobby Cox

Cox1986He could have managed the Toronto Blue Jays forever.

That’s what Stephen Brunt wrote about Bobby Cox in his excellent 1996 book, “Diamond Dreams: 20 Years of Blue Jays Baseball.”

“He could have been to Toronto what Walter Alston was to the Los Angeles Dodgers, skipper for life,” wrote Brunt.

But that wasn’t to be.

After leading the Blue Jays to a 99-62 regular-season record (still the best in franchise history) and their first playoff berth in 1985, Cox was named the American League’s manager of the year. But when Atlanta Braves owner Ted Turner approached him with a lucrative, multi-year offer to become the general manager of his club, Cox, who had led the Blue Jays to their first three winning seasons, couldn’t turn it down and he left the Jays just five days after their heartbreaking loss to the Kansas City Royals in the American League Championship Series.

And who could blame him? At that time, the Jays only offered one-year contracts to managers and Cox was leaving for a better-paying, multi-year deal that would have him working 15 minutes from his Marietta, Ga., home.

Paul Beeston, an executive vice-president with the Blue Jays in 1985, told Brunt that he didn’t blame Cox for accepting Turner’s offer, but he believed that the deep-pocketed Braves’ owner was talking to Cox about the job during the season – which was a violation of baseball’s tampering rules.

“I will never know and they will deny it,” Beeston told Brunt, “but there was no question in my mind that they tampered, which really pissed me off. Because they didn’t tamper after the season, they tampered during the season and during the playoffs.

“I knew that Cox was going, in retrospect, the day he left here, which would be one or two days after the season. I looked and there was nothing in his office. Everything was gone. He was shipping things you wouldn’t normally ship if [you were] going to stay.”

Some believe the Blue Jays would have won a World Series before 1992 if Cox had stayed, but it’s important to note that it was Cox who hired Cito Gaston as the club’s first full-time hitting instructor in 1982. And Gaston, of course, eventually became the skipper of the Jays’ two World Series-winning squads.

In all, Cox spent four years in Toronto (1982 to 1985) and his .549 winning percentage is still the best of any manager in the franchise’s history. When he’s inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown this July, he’ll be photographed holding a plaque that will picture him with a Braves’ cap, but his speech will surely also touch on those groundbreaking seasons in Toronto.

“Those were four of the best years I ever spent in baseball,” Cox told Brunt of his Toronto tenure. “I loved it. I loved it there.”

So clearly, Cox’s most significant connection to baseball in Canada was his tenure managing the Blue Jays, but here’s a list of some of his other lesser-known Canuck connections:

– Prior to beginning his managerial career, Cox played parts of 10 seasons in the minors in the Los Angeles Dodgers, Chicago Cubs, Atlanta Braves and New York Yankees organizations. He also played parts of two big league seasons (1968, 1969) at third base with the Bronx Bombers. While in the Yankees system, Cox played briefly with Canadian hurler Ron Piche (Verdun, Que.) with the Yankees’ Triple-A affiliate in Syracuse in 1970.

– Cox also suited up alongside Cito Gaston, who like Piche is a Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame inductee, with the Braves’ Double-A affiliate in Austin, Texas in 1966.

-The only Canadian pitcher Cox ever faced was John Hiller (Toronto, Ont.). A reliable left-hander with the Detroit Tigers, Hiller, who was elected to the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame in 1985, held Cox to three hits in 15 at bats.

– Prior to landing his first big league post with the Braves in 1978, Cox managed for Yankees’ minor league affiliates in Fort Lauderdale (Class-A), West Haven (Double-A) and Syracuse (Triple-A) from 1971 to 1975. During that span, he managed Dave Pagan, a right-hander from Nipawin, Sask., who was profiled on this blog in 2013, in Fort Lauderdale in 1971 and in Syracuse for parts of three seasons from 1973 to 1975.

– In 29 seasons as a big league skipper, Cox guided his teams to 2,529 wins (fourth-most all-time). By my count, he managed three Canadians while with the Braves: Chris Reitsma (Calgary, Alta., 2004 to 2006), Pete Orr (Richmond Hill, Ont., 2005 to 2007) and Scott Thorman (Cambridge, Ont.,  2006, 2007).

– Cox also managed five former Jays who have been elected to the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame: Dave Stieb, George Bell, Tony Fernandez, Ernie Whitt and Tom Henke.

– In early December, Montreal Expos great Andre Dawson, also a Canadian Baseball Hall of Famer, told Toronto Sun columnist Bob Elliott that Cox was his second big league manager. “The Expos sent me to Venezuela to play for the Lara Cardinales in 1975 … just to watch. Some guys got hurt and I wound up playing,” Dawson told Elliott. “I was in a rundown between first and second when Cookie Rojas hit my knee. I had to go to the hospital to have it drained. First thing Bobby said ‘don’t you dare tell the Expos you had your knee drained.'”

– Cox managed the Braves against the Montreal Expos in 19 different seasons between 1978 and 2004. The worst single-season record he compiled against the Expos was when the Braves went 1-9 against the Canadian club in 1979. His greatest success versus the Expos came in 2004, when he led the Braves to 15 wins in 19 contests.

– Cox was ejected from a major league record 158 regular season games and three postseason contests. In four of those games, he was thrown out by a Canadian umpire. St. Catharines, Ont., native Paul Runge tossed him out after a bean brawl on June 15, 1979 and for arguing balls and strikes on July 26, 1995. While Montreal native Jim McKean, who was elected to the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame in 2004, ejected him for arguing balls and strikes on June 19, 1983 and for disputing a balk call on July 20, 1984.

– In 1999, Cox led the Braves to 103 wins and a National League pennant, but one of the few low points of that season occurred when his club was swept by the Blue Jays at the Rogers Centre in a three-game series from July 18 to 20. Canadian Paul Quantrill (Port Hope, Ont.) appeared in two of those games and contributed two shutout innings in relief.

4 thoughts on “Cooperstowners in Canada: Bobby Cox

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  1. Can’t blame Cox for leaving for a multi-year deal. Some times one year deals come back to bit you, but other times they are worth it. Jays did well without him. 87 (should have won, oppps), 89, 92, 93…..all great years.

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