Wiedmer: Cox glad to share attention

Wiedmer: Cox glad to share attention

August 13th, 2011 by Mark Wiedmer in Sports - Columns


Dan Uggla wasted no time Friday night passing Rico Carty for the longest hitting streak in Atlanta Braves history, and he didn't stop there. Uggla homered in his first at-bat to stretch his streak to 32 games, and he was hit by a pitch and homered again in his next two times up. He wound up 3-for-3 with two RBIs and three runs scored.

ATLANTA-In a few minutes he would become just the eighth Brave in the organization's 111-year history to have his jersey number retired. But first Bobby Cox had to do what Cox always has done best. He had to direct the attention and applause to someone else.

"I'd like to start off saluting Fredi Gonzalez and his staff for the way they've handled this year's team," said Cox, who had managed the Braves for 21 straight summers before Gonzalez took over this season. "They deserve a standing ovation."

And so Turner Field's packed and passionate house stood and cheered Friday night. All night. First for all those Braves legends respectful enough to keep their coats and ties on in 91-degree heat while speaking glowingly of their former boss -- Tom Glavine, Greg Maddux and John Smoltz.

Then for Cox himself, who arrived sitting atop the back seat of a silver Chevy Camaro convertible, which was driven from right to left along the outfield warning track, eventually unloading the last man who'll ever wear a Braves No. 6 jersey in front of the home dugout near first base.

Ever the player, Cox took great care not to step on the first-base line on his way to the stage behind second base as 50,146 fans chanted, "Bah-beeee! Bah-beeee! Bah-beeee!"

But great as all this was -- and Cox soon said, "This is a day my family and I will remember forever" -- it arguably became only the second most stirring moment of the evening.

After all, it's not every baseball game that you see someone club two home runs in stretching his hitting streak to 32 straight games, the most in the Atlanta part of the Braves' history. Yet that's just what second baseman Dan Uggla did in smashing his 25th and 26th homers of the year, No. 26 also being his jersey number.

"Yeah, I kind of like seeing those runs go on the board," Cox said about the time Uggla's second blast hiked the margin to 8-1 in this eventual 10-4 victory over the Chicago Cubs -- the Braves' fifth straight win and seventh in their last eight games.

"That makes the job a little easier."

Of course, Cox made it look ridiculously easy for 14 straight division titles from 1991 to 2005, then maybe delivered the best work of his career in his final season, guiding last year's brittle and battered Bravos to a wild-card bid.

"Consistency, loyalty, class," said 39-year-old third baseman Chipper Jones, who delivered his 446th career homer in the third inning -- just the 10th of his career in which Cox wasn't smiling on the home bench.

"We've lost with class and we've won with class. That's because of Bobby Cox, and that's why we're one of the most respected organizations in baseball."

Smoltz recalled a recent unique example of that loyalty, telling the crowd about how Cox followed him for three days at a Barnsley Garden golf tournament, despite Smoltz turning in rounds peppered by "bogey, bogey, bogey, par, birdie, bogey. But Bobby was there to support me every day."

At a Friday afternoon luncheon where he was inducted into the Braves Hall of Fame, Cox shared a story never before heard about the players' loyalty to him.

Seems that one night Cox approached the mound late in a game believing that two men were on base with first base open.

Looking into Tom Glavine's eyes, Cox said, "Tommy, I think we ought to walk this guy."

Replied Glavine, knowing the bases were loaded, "Where do you suggest we put him?"

Realizing his mistake, Cox pulled the gathered infield players close and said, "If this gets out, you're all fined $1,000."

It only leaked Friday because Cox told the story on himself.

He'll tell you he's enjoying retirement. That his days pretty much consist of "hanging out at most of the Starbucks in East Cobb, driving around with the dog, then picking [wife] Pam up about 10 to hit Lennox Mall, Perimeter Mall or any other mall where she thinks they'll have a good sale."

He'll also tell you he doesn't remember most of it, that "baseball's a blur," because to publicly recall it would be to praise his grand work, and in Cox's meticulous mind, "Most people should be humble."

But everybody else is going to remember it forever -- the 2,504 games won, the 14 straight division crowns, the 1995 world championship, the major league record 156 ejections that unofficially became 157 when he was ceremoniously tossed before Friday's first pitch.

"They asked me if I wanted them to run me," Cox said. "And I said, 'Why not?'"

He even let his eyes run just a bit when they pulled the curtain off the giant baseball-shaped sign high about left field, the one bearing No. 6.

"I held it together pretty good until then," he said.

Almost as well as he held the Braves together for the 21 summers before this one.