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Is Bobby blessed with the best? Or is Braves’ Cox a top manager?

SHARE Is Bobby blessed with the best? Or is Braves’ Cox a top manager?

To pass those endless hours before each game, Bobby Cox usually retreats to one of his favorite spots in Turner Field.

It's a spartan room just a few paces from the Atlanta Braves' dugout, smaller than most prison cells. There's a chair for him to sit in, a table where he can prop up his cleats while puffing a cigar, a television where he can catch a glimpse of games in other cities."I like it a lot," Cox said. "It's a peaceful place, and no one bothers me down there."

He wouldn't a mind a bit if no one ever noticed him, but that's not the case. As the manager of the first team in major league history to make six straight postseason appearances, the glare of the spotlight is often blinding.

This past week, Cox picked up his 1,005th victory with the Braves, making him the winningest manager in franchise history. He hemmed and hawed about the distinction, insisting he wasn't even aware of the record until reporters told him.

"That just means you've been with one organization a long time," he said with a shrug. "In retirement, it may mean something. But right now, it's not on the front shelf."

Cox is hardly thinking about retirement. At 57, he would like to manage at least another four years. If the Braves maintain their 1990s pace of 90 to 100 wins per season, he could surpass 1,800 victories, something that only 10 managers - eight of them Hall of Famers - have accomplished.

"If I suddenly don't feel good about it anymore, I would just walk off," said Cox, who this season will surpass 1,400 wins in his 17th year as a major league manager. "But I still love the game. I enjoy getting here early, getting ready for the game. It keeps you young. I'm almost afraid of retirement. I know so many people who've done that, and they don't look so good afterwards."

For all his success - including the most postseason wins in baseball history - Cox is rarely listed among the game's elite managers. There's a perception that he's simply blessed with the best talent, a push-button manager who needs to do nothing more than fill out the lineup card and get out of the way.

Nothing could be further from the truth, his players say.

"Everybody talks about the chemistry of this team, the professionalism, how we just go out and play the game, play it hard, how we've got a good group of guys who never get in trouble," said pitcher Tom Glavine, the senior member of the Braves. "Well, that starts with Bobby."

Cox, who hit .224 during a brief major league career, wasn't planning to become a manager when bad knees forced him to retire at 30. He thought about becoming a football coach, but a meeting with then-Yankees general manager Lee MacPhail changed his life.

Cox never had a losing season in six years as a minor league manager. That earned him his first job with Atlanta in 1978, when the Braves were coming off a 101-loss season. Cox had just one winning record before he was fired in 1981.

He quickly landed a job in Toronto, leading the Blue Jays to their first division title in 1985. After that season, he returned to the Braves as general manager, once again inheriting one of the National League's worst teams.

The Braves finished last four times during Cox's five years as general manager, but he began to assemble the talent that would form the core of the 1990s dynasty. Seven members of the current 25-man roster, including John Smoltz, Javy Lopez, Chipper Jones, Mark Wohlers and Ryan Klesko, joined the organization during those dismal seasons.

By the time Cox returned to managing and gave up the GM post to John Schuerholz in 1991, the Braves were set for a remarkable worst-to-first turnaround. And they've stayed on top ever since.

If Cox is going to be blamed for the lack of ultimate postseason success - the Braves have won just one World Series in the '90s despite four NL pennants - he also should get the credit for maintaining a controversy-free clubhouse.