Three skippers to Cooperstown


LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- Bobby Cox, Joe Torre and Tony La Russa will rightfully enter the National Baseball Hall of Fame as a boxed set. We're talking about three managers who navigated changing times, different markets and the challenges of everything from media pressure to ballplayer egos to fickle fans with a consistency that never wavered. In total, they accounted for a staggering 7,588 wins and eight World Series titles, while bridging the gap from Jimmy Carter to Barack Obama.

But for one of the honorees, Monday's announcement by the Hall's expansion era committee was just a smidgen more poignant because of the timing. In the crowning moment of his career, Cox couldn't help but look forward to this summer, when he probably will enter Cooperstown with 300-game winners and former Atlanta Braves rotational pillars Greg Maddux and Tom Glavine.

"They're the guys that got me this far, that's for sure," Cox said. "It would be just unbelievably great. I've got my fingers crossed for both of them."

Those great Atlanta teams of the 1990s and early 2000s will wind up looking like a Hall of Fame factory. Chipper Jones is a lock to make it as one of the elite third basemen and switch-hitters in history, and John Smoltz stands a good chance as a Maddux-Glavine sidekick and a lockdown starter-closer hybrid in the Dennis Eckersley mold. At some point John Schuerholz, the architect of those dominant Atlanta teams that won 14 division titles from 1991 to 2005 (missing only 1994), is also destined to get serious consideration.

Of course, with so much talent in one place, Atlanta fans will always have reason to feel wistful over a single World Series victory in that span. But the Hall of Fame voting validates the greatness of individuals who did their part for a not-quite dynasty.

"This is kind of the exclamation point for what all of us who were involved know about that era," said Stan Kasten, Los Angeles Dodgers president and former Braves executive. "It was a unique piece of baseball history, with unique people, and an awful lot of Hall of Famers."

Cox and his two managerial peers rode distinctly personal styles to Cooperstown. Torre radiated a certain presence and authority when he walked into a room, and it helped him survive the cauldron in New York and add another chapter to his résumé as a prominent MLB executive. La Russa projected a much more different look, with his quick, staccato delivery and trademark intensity. Writers who entered his office at 3:30 p.m. and found him poring over matchups or a lineup card and asked him how he was doing received the inevitable response, "Ask me after tonight's game."

And then there was Cox. As someone who's covered baseball since the late '80s, I remember countless bull sessions with the former Braves manager in his office or the dugout, where he liked to spray chewing tobacco and reminisce about Ralph Houk, Ted Williams or one of his true baseball idols, Stan Musial. He was the folksiest of the three new Hall of Fame managers, the humblest and, in many ways, the most approachable.

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