Where Does Bobby Cox Rank Among Managers All-Time?

selmaborntidefan

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While compiling the stuff for the 80s Braves, I got to thinking about this. Where would Cox rank among the managers all-time as far as being the greatest?

Cox is 4th all-time in wins - behind Connie Mack, Tony LaRussa, and John McGraw.
He is 13th ranked by winning percentage.

I won't go so far as to say I'm sure Cox is the greatest manager of all-time, but it seems sure to me he's one of them. Let's deal with a few names sure to be brought up in the discussion:

Connie Mack - yeah, I know he won the most games, but he also lost the most games, had a losing record as a manager, managed for half a century and, oh yeah, OWNED THE TEAM. Yes, he won 9 pennants and 5 World Series, building two of the great teams of all time (1910-14 and 1929-31 Athletics)...back when it was a 16-team league with no free agency. If Mack had managed for any owner, he would have been fired sometime during his 7 straight last place finishes (1915-21). It wouldn't have mattered that his team got gutted by the Federal League, which exploded the baseball salary structure. I'm not trying to discredit Mack, he was clearly a very good manager - but no manager in history could have ever survived 7 straight last place finishes unless he owned the team.

Casey Stengel - and here we go with the Michael Jordan argument - "but he won SEVEN World Series!" Sure he did - with the Yankees. When he managed the Dodgers and Braves for nine years, he never finished higher than fifth, and he only had one season above .500. EVERYBODY won a World Series with the Yankees. Stengel wasn't even the best manager who won a World Series with the Yankees. Bucky Harris - whom Stengel replaced - won a World Series with the goshawful Washington Senators in his rookie year of 1924 and had them up, 3-1, the next year before they blew it against Pittsburgh. Harris also formed the infrastructure of the Tigers, resigning in 1933 right before they lost a classic series in 1934 and then won it all in 1935. He then won his first year with the Yankees (1947) and got canned after winning 94 games in 1948. It could be argued Harris built the Yankee dynasty that Stengel inherited, too, up to a point. Berra and DiMaggio were already there as were Allie Reynolds and Phil Rizzuto. Sure, Stengel got Mickey Mantle. Do you really think back in those days Mantle wasn't going to be a Yankee anyway? Remember: Yogi Berra won a pennant his rookie year as Yankee manager in 1964 and got the team to the 7th game of the World Series. The playing field deck was so stacked, anyone could win with those teams.

John McGraw - you can sort of make the Yankee argument with McGraw, although he was clearly a skilled baseball mind. He won 10 pennants and would have won 11 but for Fred Merkle's blunder in 1908. But he only won the WS three times and is the only manager to ever lose 3 straight WS, too. McGraw - of these three listed so far - was probably the best actual manager. He did face Mack in the World Series 3 times, winning the first and losing the last two.

Tony LaRussa - more wins than Cox but 450 more losses (and climbing) but 20 points lower on the winning pct, too. LaRussa won 12 pennants with three different franchises - White Sox, Oakland, St Louis - and won the World Series three times. On the other hand, his team also flopped three times in a major way in the World Series, too, losing in 5 games to the upstart Dodgers in 1988 and getting blown off the field by the 1990 Reds - and then REALLY getting blown of the field by the 2004 Red Sox. LaRussa and Cox are sort of thought of together in the public mind, and it makes sense. Bobby began in 1978, LaRussa in August 1979. Both got fired from their first managining gigs, resigned the second to go elsewhere, and won a lot of regular season games. I guess you can argue LaRussa IS better, except you also have to remember that the three teams Tony inherited were MUCH BETTER than the teams Cox inherited. Cox lost four years twice just trying to build a foundation for teams. And he sat out another four years as a GM trying to rebuild what Joe Torre (see below) blew up. LaRussa inherited a bad team in Chicago in 1979 and in St Louis as well, but Cox inherited a team that lost 101 games in 1977, a team that played .349 ball in the strike season of 1981, and took over as GM for a team that lost 96 games in 1985. And LaRussa played in the easiest division in baseball (AL West) for much of the run. I don't want to take a lot away from him, but I've never been persuaded that LaRussa is actually a better manager than Cox is. Despite having a ten-year head start, LaRussa has a lower winning percentage.

Joe Torre - yeah, he won four World Series...by inheriting a team and just not screwing up. Torre is the one who blew up the Braves and left a mess for Cox to clean up after Cox had it on the rise. Torre also was with the Mets when they were awful, but I'll give him a pass on that one because the ownership at the time was Dumb and Dumber. But Torre also blew up the Cardinals that he inherited a solid team from Whitey Herzog. Guess who replaced Torre? LaRussa!! So how in the world do you say "Torre is better than LaRussa because 4-3 WS rings"? Torre blew up 3 differen teams...and we're gonna give him a pass because four WS at a time baseball was figuring out the salary structure was way too heavy in favor of the big market teams? Notice how the moment the luxury tax began, he never won another championship? Torre won fewer games than Cox, only lost 4 fewer, has a much lower winning pct - and won a chunk of his games as manager BECAUSE OF COX!!!!

Sparky Anderson - if you were to ask me who I've seen better than Cox, this guy would be the first name I'd say. Sparky Anderson won World Series with two different leagues (Big Red Machine, 1984 Detroit) despite penny-pinching ownerships that kept his team largely out of the free agent market. Free agency destroyed his dynasty, coming along as the Reds went 7-0 in the 1976 post-season and obliterated everyone. Tony Perez left and Sparky got fired when Pete Rose left - yet the team Sparky left John McNamara won the pennant the very next year (1979). Sparky, like Cox, lost a couple of WS before he finally won one. In fact, the parallels are somewhat interesting if you take Cox from when his team got good:

First year - lose WS (Anderson, Cox)
Second year - Anderson has bad year, Cox loses WS
Third year - Anderson loses WS, Cox loses LCS
Fourth year - Anderson loses LCS, so does Cox (strike)
Fifth year - Anderson finishes 2nd, Cox wins WS
Sixth year - Anderson wins WS, Cox loses WS
Seventh year - Anderson wins WS, Cox loses LCS (97)
Eighth year - Anderson finishes 2nd, Cox loses LCS
Ninth year - Anderson finishes 2nd, Cox loses WS

Billy Martin and Dick Williams MAY have been better managers than Cox, but their tempers and treatment of people were so egregious that nobody would choose them as their manager over Cox.

And Whitey Herzog might have Cox as a game strategist, too.


Me?

I'd rate Anderson maybe slightly ahead of Cox, McGraw perhaps better, and LaRussa maybe even at best.

Best ever? Probably not.

One of the top five? Absolutely.
 

81usaf92

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Yep, to only win one WS with the pitching staff and roster they had for all those years is something that cannot be ignored.
91: Equal teams
92: Toronto was infinitely better
95: Equal teams slight lean towards Braves
96 Braves were better
99: Yankees were infinitely better

You have to have a lineup and relievers. The Braves had neither for most of those WS. I mean are we really wanting to say Dave Roberts and Brian Snitker are equal to Bobby because of number of rings? Neither could manage out of a paper bag with far more loaded rosters than the 90’s Braves ever had.
 

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91: Equal teams
92: Toronto was infinitely better
95: Equal teams slight lean towards Braves
96 Braves were better
99: Yankees were infinitely better

You have to have a lineup and relievers. The Braves had neither for most of those WS. I mean are we really wanting to say Dave Roberts and Brian Snitker are equal to Bobby because of number of rings? Neither could manage out of a paper bag with far more loaded rosters than the 90’s Braves ever had.
Just being conservative he should have had two more WS titles. The Braves weren't the better team when they beat the Dodgers, but they won. Cox had talented enough teams to win at least two more WS titles even if they were not as talented on paper as their opponent. A component of being great is winning when you don't always have the best roster. I agree that in some of those WS they didn't have the better roster, but they still had a good enough roster to win it all.
 

81usaf92

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Just being conservative he should have had two more WS titles. The Braves weren't the better team when they beat the Dodgers, but they won. Cox had talented enough teams to win at least two more WS titles even if they were not as talented on paper as their opponent. A component of being great is winning when you don't always have the best roster. I agree that in some of those WS they didn't have the better roster, but they still had a good enough roster to win it all.
Well in 91 he kinda got hosed so there is that….

96 is probably the one that everyone who wants to say “Atlanta Bills” really probably has a case for. But then again it goes back to the fact that he didn’t have a bullpen. But heck let’s just chalk it up as baseball. I mean do we really want to get into a Jim Leyland vs Bobby Cox debate?

Titles in baseball really come down to rosters, GMs, and owners. The manager really plays a very small role. If Dave Roberts and Snitker anyone can with a competent GM and a nice run. Anyone could also lose one when faced with a talent deficit and a GM that is playing conservative.

Joe Torre has the most titles in any of our lifetimes unless my math is off, but when you have a stacked lineup, an owner that throws as more money at a situation than it actually takes, decent starting pitching, and Mariano Rivera how hard is it to win 4 titles? His most impressive one is 96. The other 3 were joke World Series. But even he wasn’t above baseball playing against him with that roster. I mean the Diamond Backs had one of those weird runs and Marlins had a weird run. Bringing up the Marlins proves how stupid baseball can be. They literally won two titles out of complete nonsense. Their owner (Wayne Huizenga) has a fire sale in 98 (after their first) and they win a 2nd in 2003 after going through 3 or 4 different owners between 98-2003. I bet @selmaborntidefan remembers it better, but it shows how even dysfunctional organizations can luck into weird runs out of nowhere.

My point is that winning one is a great feat if you aren’t a Yankee or another big market program. But just winning one doesn’t make you worse than ones that won multiple or equal to those who won one. If you twisted my arm then I would say in my lifetime Joe Maddon is probably one to consider as the best manager. He took 2 different teams to WS and won 1. But alot of the Angels success in 2002 has been attributed to him. He has been consistently been outgunned by competition but is still better with management of the game than most everyone. Cox would have to be there to and it’s because I just can’t get over Bochy’s atrocious record in non title years or ever be convinced that Larussa or Franconna would have ever done it without Boston and St Louis money (yes I’m aware Larussa won #1 at Oakland).

But titles are a complete crapshoot in the mlb and are variables that can make bad managers look like all time greats and great managers look like average ones.
 
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81usaf92

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Top 5 regular season manager. Drops below 5 to 6 for post season.
Yeah but as a composite you really can’t find much better consistently greatness. Bochy maybe one of the greatest postseason managers of all time and people will say “3 championships means he is better than X with fewer”. But consider he managed two big market teams for 25 years and had more losses than wins. Does that make Bruce Bochy an all time great and better than Cox just because he was 3-1 in WS instead of 1-4?
 

selmaborntidefan

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Joe Torre has the most titles in any of our lifetimes unless my math is off, but when you have a stacked lineup, an owner that throws as more money at a situation than it actually takes, decent starting pitching, and Mariano Rivera how hard is it to win 4 titles? His most impressive one is 96. The other 3 were joke World Series.
And then you remember it was Torre who blew up what Cox built the first time around, largely with the Brett Butler trade and cutting Niekro a year too soon.

Torre may have won four World Series, but he wasn't a better manager than Cox at any time.
Cito Gaston won two, and he wasn't better than Cox, either.

Bob Brenly won a World Series his first year despite himself - -and has never held another big league managing or coaching job.

I can get on board with "Cox should have won more than one title." However, I would also point out that unlike when Mack and McGraw were managing, first place and the best record didn't put Atlanta immediately into the World Series, either.

1991 was a tragic ending, and 1993 was a full-blown choke job in the NLCS.

The Braves SHOULD have won three WS in a row (1995-96-97).


Here's another legit criticism of Cox:
1985 - Toronto blows 3-1 lead in LCS and loses
1992 - Atlanta blows 3-1 lead in LCS but thank God for Cabrera
1993 - Atlanta blows Philly out to take 2-1 lead in LCS - and loses 2 straight, scoring 1, 3, and 2 runs.
1996 - Atlanta falls into 3-1 hole against St Louis
1997 - Atlanta falls to Marlins in LCS
1998 - Atlanta falls into 3-0 hole and eventually loses LCS to Bochy and upstart Padres

Throw in the 1996 WS and you can argue Cox was the Greg Norman of MLB, too.
 

B1GTide

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For me, Cox was only an above average manager - no where near my top 20. He did less with more that any manager in my lifetime, IMO
 

81usaf92

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And then you remember it was Torre who blew up what Cox built the first time around, largely with the Brett Butler trade and cutting Niekro a year too soon.

Torre may have won four World Series, but he wasn't a better manager than Cox at any time.
Cito Gaston won two, and he wasn't better than Cox, either.

Bob Brenly won a World Series his first year despite himself - -and has never held another big league managing or coaching job.

I can get on board with "Cox should have won more than one title." However, I would also point out that unlike when Mack and McGraw were managing, first place and the best record didn't put Atlanta immediately into the World Series, either.

1991 was a tragic ending, and 1993 was a full-blown choke job in the NLCS.

The Braves SHOULD have won three WS in a row (1995-96-97).


Here's another legit criticism of Cox:
1985 - Toronto blows 3-1 lead in LCS and loses
1992 - Atlanta blows 3-1 lead in LCS but thank God for Cabrera
1993 - Atlanta blows Philly out to take 2-1 lead in LCS - and loses 2 straight, scoring 1, 3, and 2 runs.
1996 - Atlanta falls into 3-1 hole against St Louis
1997 - Atlanta falls to Marlins in LCS
1998 - Atlanta falls into 3-0 hole and eventually loses LCS to Bochy and upstart Padres

Throw in the 1996 WS and you can argue Cox was the Greg Norman of MLB, too.
The truth is that before a manager takes ahold of a team around 70% of the game is already decided. 40% players and 30% front office. That leaves 30%, and about 15% of that is on the manager and the other 15% on just the game of baseball.

Like I said if we are judging strictly off managing then Joe Maddon maybe one of the most underrated managers of all time. His rosters until now have been vastly inferior to everyone than pretty much everyone that he has had to go through until Just recently. While people would quickly say “you are only saying that because 2016” no I’m not. I actually think 2016 is his second or third best season. 2008 is actually his best season. He improved 30 wins in one year with basically the same roster of mostly nobodies sandwiched in between the 2007 and 2009 WS champs. He literally built Tampa from a team that hadn’t finished above 3rd in the AL east to a consistent contender.

My point is that everyone wants to apply football and basketball metrics to baseball. But in both sports there are extreme caps on how much you can place on a roster and anyone can win one who is smart or has a good HC. In baseball you a seriously limited by resources because there are rich teams with infinite resources and poor teams with next to nothing. I think it is impossible to judge on championships unless you factor in tiers of bank rolls. I mean where would you rank Ned Yost compared to Dave Roberts? We are talking about a manager with one of the poorest teams to win one and one with one of the richest to win one.

But we have to stop acting like a team is just 3 pitchers. Yes it’s rare to have 3 aces on a roster but let’s seriously think at how often it has been replicated several times since and with very little success. The most notable were 2011 Phillies and 2019 Houston Astros. Both were loaded with Cy Young winners and Aces. But both failed to win the fall classic… Why? Because eventually some billy bad ass comes to town and hits you around and you need to win a game or two with hitting of your own. The Braves had the same problem in the 90’s. People want to rave about our big 3… what were they in the postseason? You’ll find that they more decision losses than you think. You desperately need an above average lineup and a good pen to win it all.

To be frank… the 2020 and 2021 Atlanta Braves are far more talented than any of those 90’s Braves. Yes that rotation in the 90’s is better and a case for Chipper could be made but where are you going to say anywhere else is better? Surely nothing in the pen and overall hitting. Give Bobby these last 4-5 Braves teams and he probably wins 2-3 WS titles.
 

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