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Old Names Will Give Braves New Start in 1986 : Turner Hoping That Cox, Tanner Can Bring Atlanta a Winner This Season

March 09, 1986|United Press International

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. — Bobby Cox saw a chance to come home; Chuck Tanner knew it was time to leave.

Although opposite reasons brought them to the Atlanta Braves, the two have pledged together to make the club contenders again. How successful they are will be one of the major baseball stories to monitor closely this season.

Both are proven winners.

Cox, 44, managed the Toronto Blue Jays to the American League East title last season but was hired by Braves' owner Ted Turner last October to be the team's new general manager, a position entirely new to him.

"I had no idea I'd be in this position," Cox said at the Braves' spring training headquarters. "I never, ever thought about being a general manager. Atlanta is the only place I would have considered it. I live there.

"I don't care how much money I'm being paid, I would never have left Toronto if it weren't for my family. I had to think of my family for the first time in my life. I'm not getting any younger and this business is hard on a family."

Tanner, 56, has built a reputation as one of the best field managers in baseball. Beginning his 16th season as a big league manager, he was signed by the Braves after being abruptly fired by the new Pittsburgh ownership following two last place finishes in the National League East.

Tanner, who won a World Series with the Pirates in 1979, ranks 27th on the all-time list of managerial victories.

"As long as the Galbreaths were in Pittsburgh, I wouldn't leave them," Tanner said. "When they sold the ballclub, I wouldn't stay there under the conditions that exist now. I'm glad the team is staying in Pittsburgh, that was the main thing I wanted. New people came in and I didn't want to be part of it."

So Cox and Tanner, both of whom are being paid big money by Turner to turn things around for the Braves, are faced with a stiff challenge. Since winning the NL West title in 1982, the team has steadily declined each season. Last year the Braves had their worst record in eight years, posting a 66-96 record and finishing in fifth place in the division.

Ironically, Cox was the manager for four of those seasons (1978-81).

"It's definitely a challenge here," Tanner said. "The (Atlanta) Braves have never been in a World Series and that's our goal. The biggest thing and the happiest day we're going to have is when Bobby Cox and I can put a ring on Ted Turner's finger and say we're world champions."

Cox and Tanner have a program but no timetable.

"We don't have a two-year plan, a five-year plan or a 10-year plan," Tanner said. "We're just going to try to get it done as soon as possible. Bobby and I are going to work at it as a unit and get it accomplished.

"We want first of all to establish our ideas among our people in the whole organization and we're doing that now."

So far the harmony between Cox and Tanner couldn't be more melodious.

"Chuck and I get along super together," Cox said, "and we're doing everything collectively and making everybody part of it.

"We had some organizational meetings in Atlanta during the winter and we sort of laid out a game plan of what we needed and what we wanted to achieve. It's been five years since I've been with them, but I saw them play a lot on the super station and I saw some things that needed to be fixed up a little bit."

Cox found one of the most pleasant surprises to be the shape of the farm system, the key to continued success for any franchise.

"It's in pretty good shape," Cox said. "Hank (Aaron) has done a pretty good job with it. I kept hearing it was depleted, but we've got some pretty good prospects. I'd say we stack up pretty well with the other organizations."

Morale also appears to be high.

Tanner has always had a reputation as a "player's manager" and it is evident at the training camp that the players are more excited than they've been in a few years.

"I judge everyone on how hard they work and I can tell you one thing right now," Tanner said. "I've had a lot of hard-working camps but none worked any harder than the players in this camp."

Does it mean the Braves can turn things around this season?

"I expect us to be competitive," Tanner said, "and when you're competitive you've got a chance."

That's something the Braves have done without in recent years.

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