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    Jersey retirement one more chance for fans to say ‘Thanks, Bobby’

    By Bud L. Ellis

    ATLANTA – They filled every nook and cranny of the ballyard that once upon a time was merely a paved patch of smartly lined parking spaces.

    Old. Young. Many who have never known, until this April, an Atlanta Braves team not managed by one Robert Joseph Cox. And some who may actually recall a soon-to-be 37-year-old managing the Braves to a 13-4 loss against Los Angeles on April 10, 1978, his first game as a major-league skipper.

    How fitting that the Dodgers’ winning pitcher that opening day so long ago, one Don Sutton, would stand behind the mic Friday evening on a temporary stage in the infield at Turner Field, that former parking lot that now calls itself the home of the Braves. And the man they turned out to honor indeed has changed in the past 33 years.

    Legendary former Braves manager, Bobby Cox

    More importantly, a baseball franchise and a city has evolved in that 1/3rd of a century, directly due to the guiding hand and fierce will to win of Bobby Cox, whose No. 6 took its rightful place high above the left-field seats, retired forever more. Friday’s jersey retirement ceremony gave a grateful franchise and an appreciative city one more chance to say “Thanks Bobby.”

    And in true Bobby Cox form, he deflected the accolades cast upon him by friends, family, former players and more than 50,000 fans. He started his thank-you speech by nodding toward Fredi Gonzalez, the first Braves’ manager not named Bobby Cox since Russ Nixon was relieved of his duties in June 1990, a move that brought Cox out of the general manager’s seat and back to his rightful place:

    The dugout.

    It would be Cox’s second tour of duty at the helm, his first a rough four-year stretch from 1978-1981 that resulted in three sub-.500 seasons. But Cox laid the foundation for a team that in 1982 under another young manager (some fella named Joe Torre) took baseball by storm, winning its first 13 games of the season and capturing the NL West Division title, just the Braves’ second postseason berth since fleeing Milwaukee for the Peach State in 1966.

    Brought back to the Braves as general manager after four solid years as manager in Toronto – capped by 99 victories and an AL East title in 1985 – Cox oversaw what would turn out to be a transformation of a struggling franchise into a model that became the envy of all of baseball. “The Braves Way” was to play the game hard, win with class and lose with dignity, and always put forth an effort that made a franchise and its fanbase proud.

    Thirty-three years ago, Bobby Cox managed a 97-loss team playing in a mostly empty stadium. Friday night, in a place that once sat as a mostly empty parking lot, Bobby Cox stood and received the ultimate honor a franchise can bestowe upon one of its own.

    —30—

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