published Friday, August 12th, 2011

Braves retiring Cox’s No. 6

ATLANTA—Bobby Cox is finding it difficult to shake old baseball habits.

Cox, who retired last year after 29 years as a major league manager, including 25 with Atlanta, said Wednesday he still watches every Braves game. And the man who was tossed from more games than any manager in history said he still finds himself in an argumentative mood when the calls go against the Braves.

Now there are no umpires around to hear his protests.

“Just the wife,” Cox said with a laugh.

The Braves will retire his No. 6 before tonight’s game against the Cubs. Cox, 70, also will be inducted into the team’s Hall of Fame.

“It’s as great an honor as a manager or player could ever have, being inducted into the Hall of Fame and having your number retired,” Cox said. “It’s hit home with me. I’m very humbled and excited about it. It’s everything you could ask for.”

Cox has appeared relaxed and tanned when he has visited his former coach, Fredi Gonzalez, who in his first year as Braves manager. Gonzalez has Atlanta leading the National League wild-card race while chasing Philadelphia in the NL East.

The Phillies’ rotation has been compared with former Braves starters — including Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine and John Smoltz — who led Cox’s Atlanta teams to 14 straight division titles and the 1995 World Series championship.

“Philly, they’re an unbelievable team right now,” Cox said. “They’re just almost unstoppable at this point. I think the [Atlanta] team is in great position for the wild card, and that’ll come down to the wire, too, probably.

“I couldn’t be more proud of Fredi, his coaching staff and the team. They play the game the way it’s supposed to be played and they give everything they can, and really that’s all you can ask. We’d still like to see some guys get hot with the lumber a little bit.”

In his new role as consultant, Cox has remained close to the team. Gonzalez said he hears from Cox at least every three or four days.

Many observers, including some of his former players, worried that Cox wouldn’t adjust well to retirement after about 50 years in baseball, most in uniform.

Instead, Cox said he’s happy.

“The good thing is I’ve been keeping real busy,” he said. “Going here, going there for different charities, speaking here and there. I’m staying busy that way, and I do get to the ballpark and I get my baseball fix.

“I go down and say hello to Fredi and the coaches and the clubhouse staff and the trainers and doctors. I don’t miss a pitch. I’m a lot more relaxed sitting in that chair, I’ll tell you that, but it’s tough. You’re pulling so hard for them, and I still feel myself arguing a little bit now and then.”

Cox’s number will become the third the team has retired in three years, following Glavine (47) last year and Maddux (31) in 2009.

The only other Braves players to have their number retired are Hank Aaron (44), Eddie Mathews (41), Dale Murphy (3), Phil Niekro (35) and Warren Spahn (21). Cox is the first to have his number retired primarily for his work as manager, 1978-81 and 1990-2010. He was Toronto’s 1982-85 manager and then was Atlanta’s general manager before returning to the dugout.

Mathews, the third baseman who hit 512 home runs, was 149-161 as the Braves’ manager from 1972 to ’74.

The Braves have scheduled an old-timer’s softball game Saturday. More than 50 former players, including Glavine, Maddux and Smoltz, are expected to attend. Cox will manage players from the 1991 team against other former Braves players.

“That even makes it more exciting,” Cox said. “I haven’t seen a bunch of them in a long time. I hope I don’t forget any faces.”

The turnout of former players also is expected to include Murphy and Niekro and some of the most familiar names from Cox’s teams, including Steve Avery, Sid Bream, David Justice and Fred McGriff.

“There aren’t that many managers who have had their number retired,” Glavine said. “I think it speaks volumes. Obviously Bobby is so highly regarded — by the players, by the organization, by the city. It’s across the board. It speaks an awful lot about what Bobby is and what he has meant to the organization, and people appreciate that.”

Glavine said players responded to the loyalty they felt from Cox.

“Players would run through the wall for him,” he said. “You almost had that sense if you didn’t get on the field and have a good game you were letting your dad down.”

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