ATLANTA -- When the end came for Bobby Cox as a big league manager Monday, he choked up during his final news conference and had to stop in mid-answer to some less-than-memorable question.
"A grown man shouldn't do this," he said, really to no one in particular, as he tried to control his emotions.
The reaction didn't surprise Chipper Jones, the player with the longest tenure remaining from Cox's 29-year career on the bench, 25 of them in Atlanta.
"That's Bobby -- he's one of the proudest men I know," Jones said. "It's been very tough for him emotionally. But I can tell you that we appreciate him as much as he appreciates us."
The Braves' season was neatly tucked away after a heartbreaking 3-2 loss to the Giants at Turner Field that concluded their National League Division Series in four games. The game, the series, a career concluded on a grounder to third with the tying run stranded on second base.
As the Giants celebrated their victory on the infield turf, the crowd of 44,532 began chanting, "Bobby, Bobby," as a message from No. 6 rolled on the giant video board. Cox came out of the Braves' dugout to wave one last time to the fans. Even the Giants gave way for the moment and saluted Cox.
"I saw them and gave them a thumbs up, too," Cox said. "They played a tough series. That was nice, a nice gesture by the Giants. I love [Bruce] Bochy. He's one of the best guys in baseball. If we couldn't win, I'm glad he did."
At the news conference, Cox was still in uniform, blue Braves hat snug on his head. An hour later, he stood in his office dressed in street clothes. He wore light slacks and a black pullover shirt. With him was his wife, Pam, and one of his three daughters. Pam's eyes were swollen red from all the tears, all the memories.
"There's been a lot of good times in here," Jones said.
Cox bent over to kiss his wife.
"No more uniform, honey," he said.
And that was it.
The Giants will roll on from here, a date with the Phillies in the NL Championship Series, beginning on Saturday night at Citizens Bank Park. The Braves will head into the offseason, and Cox isn't exactly sure what he's going to do, at least for the next few days.
Cream of the crop
Most postseasons as a manager
Tony La Russa
Casey Stengel *
John McGraw *
Joe McCarthy *
Connie Mack *
Sparky Anderson *
Walter Alston *
Tom Lasorda *
Whitey Herzog *
Earl Weaver *
Miller Huggins *
Dick Williams *
* -- Hall of Famer
He'll come back to the office, pack up his things, the mementos of a lifetime.
Not long after the game, Cox briefly gathered his last team and told them how proud he was of them. Despite devastating injuries to Jones, Martin Prado and, in this series, Billy Wagner, these Braves found a way to prevail. Cox's pending exit and his last journey around the NL cities, in particular, was a galvanizing force.
"I think it drove us to play the way we did," said Jones, who blew out his left knee and missed practically the last two months of the season after surgery. "This series was no different. The guys wanted so bad to get Bobby back to the playoffs. And once we got a chance to go to the playoffs, we wanted so bad to get him back to the World Series. All those things contributed to the grit and guts this team played with all year."
When Cox took over the Braves for good in 1990, they hadn't been to the World Series since 1957-58, when the team resided in Milwaukee. They made trips to the NLCS in 1969 and '82, going three and out both times in what was then a best-of-five series.
But in 1991, the magic carpet ride began. The Braves went to the NLCS every year, sans the strike year of 1994, from 1991-99. They won five pennants and the World Series in 1995, over the Indians in six games.
From 1991 to 2005, they won their division title a record 14 years in a row.
Including a playoff year in Toronto, Cox-run teams made it to the postseason a record 16 times. Joe Torre, who just retired from the Dodgers, made it to the playoffs with three different teams 15 times, including the Braves in 1982 and the Yankees 12 years in a row. Of course, Torre has the four World Series titles in New York to his credit.
Facsimiles of all the Braves' championship flags -- embossed with the years in which they were won -- hang from the left-field upper-deck façade at Turner Field and are on the walls of the clubhouse. In no way can anyone forget about the accomplishments.
Cox was the manager for all of it. Though he was named NL Manager of the Year four times, this year, with this team of disparate parts, might have been his greatest effort.
"They've come a long way with this team," Cox said. "They played their hearts out, and I'll miss them."
The feeling in the clubhouse, from veteran to rookie, is evidently mutual.
At the end of his final news conference, which lasted a little more than five minutes, even the sometimes cynical, jaded and hardscrabble media members paid him his due. Usually there's no cheering in the press box or the press room. It's a hard and fast unwritten rule. Not on Monday, though. As Cox stepped down from the microphones, he was awarded a loud ovation.
That's all anyone needs to know.