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Trip to playoffs has Cox in league of his own

Trip to playoffs has Cox in league of his own

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SAN FRANCISCO -- Every manager gets fired. You get hired to be fired, the adage goes. And then there's Bobby Cox.

Cox gets to go out on top, or at least very close to the summit. That puts him in a class of one.

According to Elias Sports Bureau, no other manager in the top 100 in all-time wins finished his career with a postseason berth. Some of those skippers are still at the helm of their teams today, of course, and that assumes that Dusty Baker and Charlie Manuel will manage beyond this season. But as far as those who have hung it up, no one has done what Cox is doing.

It's worth noting, moreover, that when you go all the way down to No. 100, we're not just talking about Connie Mack and John McGraw. No. 80 is Jim Tracy, with a career mark of 719-793. No. 96 is Jim Riggleman, 624-787. The point is that it's a very inclusive list. One hundred managers is an awful lot of managers. And not a single one of them finished his career with a trip to the postseason.

Except for Cox.

At age 69, Cox is closing his career with a cherry on top. The question is just how sweet the sundae, and the next four weeks will tell the story. Quite obviously, no manager has finished a top-100 career with a World Series title. Cox still has the chance to do that after 29 years and the fourth-most wins in Major League history.

And yet when he was asked on Wednesday about his unique opportunity, Cox gave a lengthy, thoughtful response -- nearly two minutes' worth -- in which he referred to his own situation for, oh, about two seconds.

That, one longtime observer of the Braves' skipper said, "is just Bobby." It's also not a coincidence. It's a very rare manager who thrives in the long term by making it about himself. Cox assuredly does not.

Cream of the crop
Most postseasons as a manager
Rank Manager Years Playoffs
1. Bobby Cox 29 16
2. Joe Torre 29 15
3. Tony La Russa 32 13
4. Casey Stengel * 25 10
5. John McGraw * 33 9
Joe McCarthy * 24 9
7. Connie Mack * 53 8
8. Sparky Anderson * 26 7
Lou Piniella 23 7
Walter Alston * 23 7
Tom Lasorda * 21 7
12. Whitey Herzog * 18 6
Earl Weaver * 17 6
Miller Huggins * 17 6
Mike Scioscia 11 6
Ron Gardenhire 9 6
16. Dick Williams * 21 5
Jim Leyland 19 5
Billy Martin 16 5
Mike Hargrove 16 5
Danny Murtaugh 15 5
Davey Johnson 14 5
Terry Francona 11 5
* -- Hall of Famer

"Our ballclub, I can't say enough about 'em," Cox said. "We've had two different teams basically this year, and all for the good."

That was part of his answer to a question about himself, and the possibilities in front of him.

There's no denying Cox's place among the managing immortals. His 16 playoff appearances are the most of any manager in history. His five pennants are tied for the fifth most. Among the top 20 in total games managed, he's fourth in winning percentage.

It's a Hall of Fame career regardless of how it ends. And it's ending quite nicely.

That stands out because even among the all-time greats, the endings usually haven't been that great. McGraw's last pennant came in 1924, eight years before he hung it up. Sparky Anderson finished his career with four straight seasons of fourth place or worse, and didn't make it to the playoffs in his final eight seasons. Joe McCarthy finished with six seasons out of the money.

Cox didn't just put this team on cruise control, either. This year's Braves must go down as one of his better managing jobs. He's gone significant portions of this season without Chipper Jones, Jair Jurrjens and now Martin Prado. Troy Glaus, Melky Cabrera and Nate McLouth, projected as key bats in the lineup, slumped to rough final numbers. Only two players got 500 at-bats with the Braves this year.

"Even the young guys, they're all in, no matter what it takes or how injured they are," Cox said. "We lost Prado, maybe our top ballplayer. He won't make the series. He's out for at least two months just rehabbing. You know, Chipper Jones went down well before that, too. So anyway, the guys -- our bench, we broke with a great bench in Spring Training. We thought that was going to be one of our big strength for a National League ballclub, and our bench is now in the lineup. So they've done a good job."

Super skippers
The 20 longest-serving managers ranked by winning percentage
Rank Manager Games Pct.
1. Joe McCarthy * 3,487 .615
2. John McGraw * 4,769 .586
3. Walter Alston * 3,658 .558
4. Bobby Cox 4,508 .556
5. Sparky Anderson * 4,030 .545
6. Leo Durocher * 3,739 .540
7. Joe Torre 4,329 .538
8. Tony LaRussa 4,934 .535
9. Tom Lasorda * 3,041 .526
10. Bill McKechnie * 3,647 .524
11. Clark Griffith * 2,918 .522
12. Dick Williams * 3,023 .520
13. Lou Piniella 3,548 .517
14. Ralph Houk 3,157 .514
15. Casey Stengel * 3,766 .508
16. Jim Leyland 3,013 .496
17. Bucky Harris * 4,410 .493
18. Connie Mack * 7,755 .486
19. Gene Mauch 3,942 .483
20. Jimmy Dykes 2,962 .477
* -- Hall of Famer

Cox paints this as a tribute to his players, and rightly so. But it's also a credit to the manager. One of the greatest tasks for a skipper is shifting on the fly, making the best of things when your personnel changes. Cox did it superbly this year.

As a result, he's making one more trip to the postseason, rather than going out like all of those other managers. A year ago, he was riding his own four-year stretch of early exits. But an influx of young talent and a return to form by the Braves' top two starters helped get Atlanta back to the playoffs. In fact, it appears that whoever takes over for Cox is stepping into quite an outstanding situation.

So while Cox's exit represents an end of an era for the Braves, this season also looks like something of a new beginning. Jason Heyward, Tommy Hanson and a cadre of rookie relievers bolster a group that already included Brian McCann, Prado, the aforementioned star starters and, of course, Jones -- assuming Jones comes back for another year.

"We have a lot of great young players here, and we have a lot of guys in the Minors that are considered big-time prospects," McCann said. "So we're building something really good around here. We've got Jason Heyward, who's 21 years old, and he's going to be the face of this organization for a really long time. We're building something good."

Cox said, though, that doesn't make things tougher. He doesn't mind walking away while his team appears to be on the ascent once again.

"I certainly have been getting a lot of questions throughout the season," Cox said, "but I would say it's a sweetener, you know?"

Matthew Leach is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Obviously, You're Not a Golfer and follow him on Twitter at @MatthewHLeach. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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