Bobby Cox always seemed so much older when he managed the Braves, so I was more than surprised to learn that the former Atlanta and Toronto Blue Jays skipper turns “only” 75 on Saturday. He never seemed fiery either, for the most part sitting placidly on the bench. But he could agitate, as his major-league record of 158 ejections — plus three in the postseason — would indicate. Unless you’re a diehard Yankee fan, you may not realize that there are Bobby Cox baseball cards showing him as a player.
Cox is the answer to an interesting trivia question. Before Fredi Gonzalez was dismissed earlier this week, the last Braves manager to be fired was Russ Nixon, who got the ax on June 22, 1990. The man who replaced Nixon was the general manager who fired him — Bobby Cox.
Born in Tulsa, Oklahoma, Cox was elected to the Hall of Fame by the Veterans Committee in December 2013 on the strength of his managerial career: 2,504 victories to rank fourth on the all-time list, division titles in every season from 1991 to 2005 (except for the strike-shortened 1994 season), five World Series appearances and one Series championship.
Cox’s career as a major-league player was brief, as he played parts of two seasons (1968-69) with the Yankees. And as a major-league player, he only has one card — Topps issued it in 1969 with a golden trophy touting him a rookie star.
It never panned out for Cox on the field, though. In his book, “Ball Four,” Jim Bouton remembered how Cox, during spring training in 1968, “got a big winter buildup and was supposed to have the third base job there.” However, Mike Ferraro had a great spring and was voted the Yankees’ outstanding rookie in spring training. Ferraro began the season at third, but soon faded. Cox played 135 games in 1968 and 85 more with the Yankees in 1969, but was soon out of the majors.
While Cox’s rookie card got some buzz after he was elected to the Hall of Fame, it is still affordable. Since Cox’s No. 6 was retired by the Braves, here are six cards that show him during his career as a player and manager.
1967 Venezuelan League No. 122
In 1967 Cox starred for the Richmond Braves of the Triple-A International League, batting .297 to rank fourth on the team behind Adrian Garrett, Tommie Aaron and Felix Millan. Cox also hit 14 homers to rank second behind Jim Beauchamp, who would make it to the majors; and 51 RBIs, which was fourth best on the squad.
Both Garrett and Aaron had brothers who were better known. Garrett, a graduate of Sarasota High School in Florida, was the brother of Wayne Garrett, who played for the 1969 New York Mets. And Tommie Aaron was the younger brother of Hall of Famer Hank Aaron. Millan went on to have a productive 12-year major-league career with the Braves and Mets.
After the 1967 season, Cox played winter ball and was featured in the 138-card set. The Venezuelan Winter League cards measured slightly smaller than the standard measure of cards at the time (2 ½ inches by 3 ½ inches). They featured a color photo of the player, and like the 1967 Topps set, had the team (or city) name in colored block letters at the bottom of the card, with black block letters of the player’s name at the top.
The card backs have paragraphs that are written in Spanish.
Cox’s card is one of the more valuable cards in the set, trailing only those of two former shortstops — Dave Concepcion and Hall of Famer Luis Aparicio.
This is the only official Topps card issued during Cox’s playing days, and even in mint condition it is attainable for less than $50. Cox battled knee injuries during his time in the majors and never got a chance to be an everyday player beyond 1968. By 1969, he was platooning at the hot corner with Jerry Kenney, and even occasionally, with a young Bobby Murcer, who saw action in 31 games at third base.
It is curious that Cox did not get a Topps rookie card in 1968, but in ’69 he appears by himself with a gold Topps rookie trophy adorning his card. Like the Yankees, Topps envisioned great things for Cox. And while he didn’t live up to that greatness as a player, he certainly did as a manager andhis Hall of Fame election pushed this card permanently out of the commons box.
This card is difficult to find in high grade. Of the 490 cards submitted to PSA for grading, there is only one 10. There are, however, 60 resting in 9 holders . Those are pricey and even an 8 can set you back $75 or so but you can own an ungraded one in decent condition for less than $25.
Cox made his major-league managerial debut in 1978 with the Atlanta Braves. Topps cards for managers that year were a nice “then-and-now” combination. The main photograph showed Cox in 1978, while a smaller inserted photo depicted him in 1967, when he starred for the Richmond Braves. The card design is horizontal, which works well with the concept that Topps was using to display managers.
The Braves went 69-93 in Cox’s first season at the helm in Atlanta, but he had them above .500 (81-80) in 1980. Cox would manage the Braves through the 1981 season before heading north to Canada. Thankfully for Atlanta fans, Cox would be back.
Cox, in the final year of his first stint with Atlanta, is shown in the inaugural Donruss baseball card set. Cox’s debut for Donruss was a photograph showing the young manager in a noncommittal mood, but it was a nice shot nonetheless. This card escaped intact and was not part of the more than 40 of the 600 base cards that had an error of some sort. Cox’s card doesn’t carry much value — if you spend more than a dime, you overpaid—but it still catches him just a few years before that amazing second run in Atlanta.
This card shows Cox during his final season managing the Toronto Blue Jays. By the time this card had been printed, Cox already was back in Atlanta as the Braves’ general manager. In 1985, Cox led Toronto to a first-place finish in the American League East, and the Jays held a 3-1 series lead in the ALCS. Poised to become the first team outside the United States to reach the World Series, Toronto lost the next three games to Kansas City. It was the first year the league championship format had been expanded from a best-of-five to a best-of-seven series.
Again, not a very expensive card; dig into your couch cushions and the spare change will pay for a few. Even the Tiffany version is only a couple bucks. This was the fifth consecutive year that Topps had produced a 792-card set and while it sort of marked the dawn of the overproduction era, many collectors do like the stark, simple look.
Topps Heritage is a retro look at modern day players and managers in old-time card formats. The 2003 version paid tribute to the 1954 Topps set, and Cox looks like a dignified elder statesman in this shot. The Heritage set that year mimicked the ’54 version with a large photograph and a smaller one. It’s another easy pickup at a buck or two.
Cox and the Braves were coming off a 101-victory season in 2002 and would duplicate that regular-season total in 2003. But in 2002 the Braves lost the divisional series in five games to the eventual National League champion San Francisco Giants, and in 2003 they would lose in the NLDS again in five games, falling to the Chicago Cubs.
Cox managed his final game on October 11, 2010, when the Braves were eliminated in Game 4 of the NLDS by the Giants. He was involved in baseball in parts of six decades, and his election to the Hall of Fame was a testament to his success.