The Bobby Cox Interview
Today entering in the Hall of Fame is one of the greatest men in baseball I have ever met, Bobby Cox. I had the pleasure of sitting down with him last month where we talked about how he developed his managerial style that made him one of the most successful managers the game has ever seen. If you’re a baseball junkie, take a listen to this insightful interview.
Brandon Steiner: We’re sitting here with Bobby Cox, here at the Steiner Sports offices. Bobby Cox- one of the great managers of all-time, frankly, and the newest Hall Of Famer in the year 2014.
How do you feel about the Hall of Fame?
Bobby Cox: I feel great about the hall. It hit home a little bit. I was told by our PR director Brad Hainje at the winter meetings that I’d get a call at 8:30 in the morning from Jane Clark and she would notify me if I was in or out. It was funny I was sitting with Joe Girardi, Freddy Gonzalez and Ned Yost and the Yankee GM and having coffee. And the phone rang at exactly 8:30 and I looked at the area code and it was from Oneonta. Obviously her cell number is different than the Hall Of Fame. So I didn’t answer I thought it was a reporter and I didn’t want to answer it right away then I thought dangit, so I got up and went around the corner and called the number back and it was her and she said I was in, I was the first one in, then Tony, then Joe. It hit home right then. I went in and talked to the 16 men committee, the Old Timers’ committee. It’s really going to hit home when we get to Cooperstown with all our friends. And, the Braves are chartering an airplane. We’ve got three going in.
It’s quite an experience. As Tommy Lasorda said, “You’ve reached the mountain, the top of the mountain, and your life is going to change.” Well, my life hasn’t changed yet, I’m still Bobby Cox.
BS: Well you won’t be able to sign your name the same you’ll have to put that HOF in.
BC: I’m getting used to that. It’s hitting home pretty hard right now and I’m sure induction day when it finally happens will be an experience of my lifetime.
BS: Tell me about managing. You’ve managed some great Braves teams. Is there a little secret to your sauce to managing?
BC: I think you pick things up as a minor leaguer playing for all the managers you’ve played for and, of course, I played for Ralph Houck and coached for Billy Martin and you pick things.
BS: That’s the stuff that people don’t realize, all of that process along the way.
BC: Well, it used to be a long process for most guys. You didn’t go right to the big leagues, which a lot of coaches are doing now and rightfully so. Some of them are ready, there’s no doubt about that. But, in my day everybody thought you had to start at the bottom, like in most businesses and work yourself up. I did that. I didn’t make the team in 1970, and I knew going into spring training I probably wasn’t going to be there and I started having to think about life after baseball. I was the last one cut. Pete Sheehy. If you saw Pete, the Yankee clubhouse guy coming towards you, you knew something bad was about to happen. So, here he came, so I met him, he took me in, Lee McPhail and Ralph were in there. They talked me into going to Triple-A as an emergency back-up guy and gave me a $2,000 raise to go, believe it or not. I was making all of $14,000 at the time.
BS: Probably a decent amount of money back then?
BC: You could break even. The first year I played with the Yankees the minimum was $7,200. I put a pencil to it. I said I’m going to lose a couple thousand here by playing. That winter they raised it to $9,000, and I was happy as I could be.
BS: So, was there a secret to your sauce though?
I loved Ralph Houck. I thought his style of managing was about as good as you could treat people and handle people. You felt important, and I was probably the lowest guy on the totem pole, but I felt like I was really one of the guys because of Ralph. You pick things from everybody. There are a lot of managers I never really wanted to play for again, that’s for sure. I kind of managed that way; they said I was laid back.
BS: So you knew the manager you wanted to be but you also knew the manager you didn’t want to be.
BC: You are what you are basically. But, you still can pick things; you’re not going to change a lot. The only reason I made it to the big leagues was because I played hard and gave everything I did and I did the same thing when I started managing. Lee McPhail flew down to Triple-A right at the end of the season and said he and Ralph talked and there was an opening to manage in the organization and they both felt I’d make a great Minor League manager.
BS: So, Lee McPhail really gave you your first start?
BC: Yes he did. If it hadn’t been for Lee doing that, I would have gone back home and that would have been it.
BS: Give me your quick take on Joe Torre, why is he a Hall of Famer?
BC: Joe’s a great guy, he’s as good of a person as you’re ever going to meet in your life and he’s a great handler of his troops, I think, and he was a great ball player, as well. He was a .300 hitter and he was a lot more than a .300 manager, that’s fore sure. So, Joe absolutely deserves to be in.
BS: You guys are kind of similar in a lot of ways in your style of managing.
BC: I think so, I really do. Both of us have a tag on us as laid back, but we’re not. The public sees that, but that’s just not the way it is.
BS: I’ve got to ask you this- your all-time team. Now, I’m going to let you off the hook because we’re going to take the Braves off the list because I know you’re going to want to put a lot of your own players on that list. With all the players you’ve now known and seen play, who would you have as your starting lineup out there?
BC: I saw Stan Musial play a little bit, I saw Willie Mays a little bit, I saw Hank, I saw Ted Williams in the ‘59 All-Star Game.
BS: Who would be your outfield then? Would it be Stan, Willie Mayes and Hank?
BC: Yeah. Well, Mickey? I played with Mickey one year. Mickey would have to be on that team. I can’t even imagine what he looked like in his prime because I saw him at the end of his career but he would still open your eyes.
BS: How’s your infield look? Third base, that’s the tough one. Do you put Mike Schmidt there?
BC: George Brett comes to mind. I told George once years ago he was the best hitter I ever saw until late in Bonds’ career- the greatest hitter of all time over Williams, Ruth, Gehrig, Aaron, anybody.
BS: George Brett?
BC: Over everybody, during that period of time.
BS: How about your shortstop?
BC: Well, I saw Aparicio, played against Aparicio in the winter leagues and I saw Concepción. They were two great ones.
BS: Ripken, Jeter, Pee Wee Reese?
BC: I met Pee Wee a few times. Larkin is up there for me, as well.
BS: What’d you think of Larkin as a shortstop, though?
BC: I thought Barry was a great player at short as well as could hit. He’s up there. It would be hard to pick for me because I saw both of them.
BS: Maybe Larkin and Ripken? How do you have second base lined up?
BC: I didn’t see Honus Wagner play.
BS: Alright we’ll give you a pass on Honus.
BC: Alomar jumps out, defensively and offensively big time.
BS: How’s first base line up for you?
BC: Seeing Musial a little bit sticks in my mind. The guy had 4000 hits.
BS: Who’s the best catcher you ever saw? How was Yogi? Was Yogi a great catcher?
BC: I never saw him play. I’m friends with Yogi, but I never saw him play. Piazza, of course, offensively.;Gary Carter was good all around, but Johnny Bench! I would take Johnny.
BS: How about pitching? Tough not to be able to put your own pitchers in there, but give me a lefty and a righty.
BC: Koufax, Marichal, Drysdale. I didn’t see Spahn pitch. Koufax was the greatest pitcher I ever saw.
BS: And how about your righty?
BC: Tom Seaver pops up, Greg Maddux certainly pops up, Clemens pops up.
BC: Yes, absolutely.
BS: I think if I had a choice of taking a righty and a lefty I would probably take Koufax as my lefty and I think I might take Pedro in a one-game series.
BC: You could.
BS: Relief pitcher?
BS: Was there another relief pitcher you liked besides Mariano?
BC: There was a lot of good ones. Hoffman. Sutter was really good.
BS: Are you a collector? Do you have a favorite piece of sports memorabilia?
BC: Believe it or not, I wasn’t a collector. I really could kick myself in the rear end for that. I just didn’t do it. I gave all of my stuff away and I just never did it.
BS: Favorite ballpark? Favorite city?
BC: I love Chicago. Wrigley Field. Day games. I consider day games as an off day when I managed because you could finally go out and have dinner. It was like an off day for me to take the coaches out.
BS: You’re number four in all-time managerial wins but you’re also number one in ejections. Was that premeditated?
BC: No, I don’t think there was one of them where I said pre-game that I was going to get thrown out to shake up the team. I don’t think I ever did that. The one thing you have to remember- you get thrown out more when you’re winning than you do when you’re losing and we won a lot. So, the games were one pitch here, one swing there, one play the there; the tension was always higher when you win
BS: Now you’ve got a couple of your former players getting into the Hall of Fame, as well. Tell me a little about them and why they’re such great players.
BC: Well, Maddux and Glavine are going in.
BS: What were they like?
BC: Competitive; really competitive. Tommy, we always said he would bend a little bit but he never broke, never ever broke.
Mad Dog probably is the smartest pitcher or player I’ve ever been around in my life. Control. Maddux would warm up for a game or throw a side in Spring Training and our Minor Leaguers were across the way- they would always make an effort to go over there and watch him warm up. There’d be fifty of them, at least. In the middle of it one day, I was out there watching him throw, and he just stood there and stared at them for a minute. And he asked them a question. He said, “Do you know I’m making $10 million a year?” “That’s because I know where my fastball’s going.” He made the game pretty simple. He knew where his fastball was going; he had movement; great changeup. He was as tough as they came, same as Tommy.
Tommy shut them out, like 2 hits in Philly one day when Larry Bowa was managing and after the game I ran into him and he called him, “The Machine.”
BS: So he was a strategist, when you look at Maddux. It wasn’t the game, it was the game plan, wouldn’t you say?
BC: Mad Dog was probably the only pitcher that I was nervous when the game started because he knew more than me. We would have the team meeting and go over the hitters. When it was his turn to pitch, he would get with the catcher and the pitching coach and go over the game. And then, as he went out to the bullpen he would stop by my office and give me all of these scenarios…before the fifth inning and after the fifth inning it would change… “I want two pitches with this guy and the base open and if I miss with him you can put him on automatically” …and I had to remember all of these scenarios that could happen in this game.
BS: He’s got high level of preparation it sounds like?
BC: Big time, but he kept it simple. He knew what he wanted to do and he stuck to it. I went out to the mound once, and he had a base open and it was in the 8th inning. I never went to the mound unless I was going to take somebody out and there was a base open- the hitter was a pretty good hitter, he had already hit 40 something home runs that year. And I said, “Mad Dog, is this the guy you want two pitches before we walk him.” He said, “Yeah don’t you remember?” I said, “Mad Dog what are you trying to do? He said I’m trying to pop him up to Chipper on the second pitch.” So, I get back to the dugout and Leo the Pitching Coach says, “you’re not walking him, why? What are you trying to do? What are we doing here?” I said, “We’re going to pop him up to Chipper on the second pitch.” He did it, he was that good.
BS: I’ve got to get a Zimmer story.
BC: You know I never played with Zim, but I was around him and I loved him. He didn’t have an enemy in the world everybody loved Zim. I just remember one game in Atlanta, they had been going bad when he was managing the Cubbies. He said, “I’m going to throw the book out.” Every time a guy got on they would hit-and-run, they would steal, etc. We must have thrown out nine runners that afternoon. We beat them badly. I just remember Zim doing something like that.
BS: He was a great baseball spirit.
BS: Well, congratulations on going into the Hall of Fame. We’re really excited to have this partnership with you.