Baseball

Braves' Cox gets Big Apple sendoff

This will be one of the more poignant goodbyes in Bobby Cox's season of farewells. On his way to retirement as Braves manager, he officially will take his leave today of New York, a city that never will leave him. He got his start as a big-league player and coach with the New York Yankees and he has, of course, dominated the Mets.

It will come as no surprise to hear that Cox has had more wins against the Mets than any other team during his 29 distinguished years of managing. Counting a 4-2 victory on Saturday at Citi Field that helped his club’s postseason chances, he has a 198-156 record against the team most frustrated by the Braves during his era.

So when the Mets honor Cox before today’s game, giving him an autographed magnum bottle of wine from Tom Seaver’s California vineyard, there will be some relief mixed with admiration. Cox will view it as one, last (barring another World Series against the Yankees) nice visit.

“I love New York. I’ve learned to,” he said, giving a verbal tip of the cap to former Mayor Rudolph Giuliani. “I’ve seen New York since the ’60s and I saw that he did a really great job. I love walking the streets in the city. A lot of people on the streets know who you are in New York, they really do.”

Possibly none of Cox’s achievements would have happened if not for New York. His life turned for good when, as a career minor leaguer, he was traded by the Braves to the Yankees before the 1968 season for Dale Roberts and Bob Tillman. Cox won the starting third base job over Mike Ferraro.

After the 1969 season, Cox was gone. He was undone by bad knees. Before the 1971 season, before Cox turned 30, general manager Lee MacPhail asked him if he would be interested in managing the minor-league team in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. It took him less than a day to say yes.

“When I started, we had no coaches. I had the extended (spring training) kids in Fort Lauderdale,” he said. “We’d start at 10 in the morning, and again at 3 and the regular team at 5. I put everything I had into it.”

The Yankees noticed and promoted him to Triple-A. In 1977, he was first base coach for Billy Martin on the big club and the next year, he began the first of two stints with the Braves.

It was during his second run with Atlanta that he managed the team to five pennants and one World Series title.

But to this day, he insists the most memorable game was a loss – at Shea Stadium on Sept. 21, 2001, the first night back after 9/11. He was struck by how deserted the city had been. Shea was full of energy, though, especially after Mike Piazza shook the park with an emotion-laced home run. “It was a New York City victory,” Cox said. “It didn’t hurt as bad as most losses, put it that way.”

SHORT HOPS

The Dodgers traded reliever Octavio Dotel to the Rockies for a player to be named and cash. … Takashi Saito is out with a sore right shoulder and the Braves are uncertain if they’ll get their set-up man back this season.

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