By Rob Centorani the daily star
---- — COOPERSTOWN — If you didn’t know any better Monday, the presence of Greg Maddux and Bobby Cox at the Baseball Hall of Fame wouldn’t have raised an eyebrow.
The 47-year-old Maddux looked like a typical fan, wearing sneakers, jeans and a zipped up sweatshirt. Cox, 72, donned a sweater and slacks.
Their appearances hardly gave away the fact that in four months they’ll be behind a microphone at the Clark Sports Center sharing memories of the baseball careers that put them in one of the most exclusive clubs in all of sports.
And they’ll do so before thousands of fans on the afternoon of July 27, when Maddux and Cox will be inducted into the Hall along with Tom Glavine, Frank Thomas, Joe Torre and Tony La Russa. More than likely, the turnout for their inductions will far exceed the average turnout for a major league game.
But nothing about Maddux and Cox screamed out star or big shot Monday. They just appeared to be a couple of guys touring the Hall, which they were.
In an odd occurrence, Maddux and Cox took their orientation tours together Monday. Normally, the Hall schedules the tours for Hall of Famers-in-waiting one at a time, but this seemed fitting.
After all, the duo worked together for 11 years in Atlanta — Maddux the key cog to a Braves starting rotation that included Glavine and Cox the fiery manager who earned the most ejections in the game’s history.
Nary an October went by during their time in Atlanta when the Braves weren’t knee-deep in highly meaningful games, aside from the strike-shortened 1994 season. Eleven seasons from 1993-2003 included 10 playoff appearances and three trips to the World Series, including a championship in 1995.
Maddux and Cox held court for about 15 minutes Monday in front of a 15 or so reporters in the Hall’s Plaque Gallery.
“It would have been great if the three of us could have been here together, but it’s been an exciting day,” Cox said in reference to Glavine, a 305-game winner who took his tour last week. “It’s starting to hit home right now for me for the first time how much this means to a person that spent (his entire life) in the game of baseball — to realize that this is the top of the hill.”
Counting this year’s class, there are 306 Hall of Famers in a sport that’s been played at the professional level for nearly 150 years.
Maddux echoed Cox’s sentiments.
“It’s hitting hard today,” said Maddux, a special assistant to the general manager in the Texas Rangers organization. “Being around spring training for the last month, you can hear Hall of Famer, this and that, and it starts to sink a little bit. But now today, it’s hitting pretty hard.”
Maddux and Cox aced their entry exams into the Hall.
Maddux’s pinpoint control and his ability to keep hitters off-balance by locating an array of pitches led him to 355 victories — eighth most in big-league history. He also won four Cy Young Awards, and the Baseball Writers’ Association of America rewarded Maddux in January by placing him on 97.2 percent of its ballots. Of course, with the numbers Maddux produced over 22 years, it might make some wonder what the other 2.8 percent were thinking.
Cox pointed out that pitching wasn’t only aspect of baseball that Maddux took seriously.
“Greg was our ace pinch-runner sometimes,” Cox said. “He could really run and he was willing to do it after winning a few Cy Young Awards, which is hard to find these days.
“Talent (made him a great pitcher), I think and I don’t know if it was God-given or not,” he continued of Maddux, who won a record 18 Gold Gloves. “He certainly knew how to pitch and not throw. He was a great pitcher, a great fielder and he could hit in certain situations. He may be the best sacrifice-bunter I’d ever seen. He’s the all-around package and it doesn’t come easy. He had to work at it.”
Asked about his commitment to fielding, the soft-spoken Maddux said: “I just wanted it really. I think that’s the biggest thing. I cared enough to get better at it. That’s really it. That’s all you need.”
As Maddux won four straight Cy Young Awards, the first coming with the Chicago Cubs in 1992 and the last three after joining the Braves, he went 75-29 and had ERAs during those seasons of 2.18, 2.36, 1.56 and 1.63. In addition to Glavine, Maddux also pitched in a rotation in Atlanta that included John Smoltz, who very likely will be elected into the Hall this coming January.
“I used to say being a professional baseball player is the best job in the world, but if you take it a step further, the best job in baseball is being a starting pitcher for the Atlanta Braves,” said Maddux, whose big-league career started as a 20-year-old with the Cubs in 1986 and ended with the Dodgers in 2008. “It was a privilege and an honor to play for Bobby those 11 years.”
Cox garnered all 16 votes in an Expansion Era Committee vote in December to punch his ticket to Cooperstown. He managed 29 major-league seasons — four with the Toronto Blue Jays and the last 25 with the Braves — in a career that ended in 2010.
His record of 2,504-2,001 includes 11 seasons of at least 95 victories and six seasons with triple-digit win totals. He was named American League Manager of the Year in 1985 and earned the honor in the NL three times — 1991, 2004 and 2005.
“I couldn’t play very well, so I needed another job and that was manager,” said Cox, who played mostly as a third baseman for the New York Yankees in 1968 and 1969. He had a career average of .225 and hit nine home runs.
Cox’s managerial career started in the Yankees organization. He managed New York’s Triple-A team in Syracuse from 1973-76. He then joined Billy Martin’s staff in New York the following season.
Martin guided the Yankees to a World Series title in 1977. Martin, one of the nominees on the Expansion Era Committee ballot, died in a car accident near Binghamton in 1989.
“I think Billy deserves (to be in the Hall),” Cox said. “He was a character, no doubt about that ... great manager. He spent his whole life in baseball. There’s no reason in the world that he shouldn’t be in the Hall of Fame.”
Cox broke through as a big-league manager with the Braves in 1978. He stayed in Atlanta until 1981 — Torre succeeded Cox as the Braves manager — and then skippered the Blue Jays from 1982-85. Following a stint as Atlanta’s GM, Cox returned to the bench in 1990.
The next season, Atlanta made it to the World Series, falling in seven games to the Minnesota Twins. The Braves also lost in the World Series in 1992, losing a six-game series to Toronto.
Cox’s World Series title came in 1995, a seven-game victory over the Cleveland Indians. Atlanta made it back to the World Series in 1996 and 1999, losing both times to Yankees teams managed by Torre.
“He was always the same guy and when we came to the park, yesterday didn’t happen,” Maddux said of Cox. “The attitude and tone he set during spring training got us ready for not only the season but for the postseason and that’s kind of what set him apart from all other managers.”
As for those 158 ejections, Cox was asked if the expanded replay system that will be implemented this season would have lowered the number of times he was tossed.
“It would have eliminated a lot of them, that’s for sure, but I still would have had a bunch,” said Cox, still a consultant for the Braves. “I guess I complained a little too much and got a little too excited when guys like Glavine and Mr. Maddux were pitching out there.”
Cox also talked about the uniqueness of this year’s class. He’ll be inducted with two pitchers who played for him and won 300 games, along with managerial rivals Torre and La Russa.
“I don’t think it will ever happen again, with a manager being able to go in with two of the greatest pitchers in the history of baseball and then going in with two fellow managers at the same time,” he said. “I don’t think that’s ever, ever going to happen again.”
Rob Centorani can be reached at email@example.com or 607-432-1000, ext. 209.