ATLANTA – Bobby Cox is still waiting for the one retirement gift he wants most of all — one last trip to the postseason.
It's a gift that could keep him in the dugout a few weeks longer.
"I'll have time to reflect on what has happened this year and throughout my time in Atlanta in about another month and a half," Cox told The Associated Press on Wednesday.
Another month and a half? The regular season ends Sunday. Cox, who is retiring as manager when the season ends, obviously has big postseason plans for the Braves.
Atlanta leads the race for the NL wild-card berth and Cox said another playoff run would be the perfect ending. During his quarter-century with the Braves he led them to a run of 14 straight division titles beginning in 1991, including the 1995 World Series title.
Cox said adding one more postseason appearance to the collection of pennants on the Turner Field facade would mean "a lot."
"Win or lose, we've had a great year, but we're in this to win and one more up there would be great for the organization and would be a great way to go out in retirement," he said. "We're trying to give it everything we've got right now."
The Braves open a season-ending three-game series with Philadelphia on Friday.
Those who have been with Cox the longest were surprised when he announced his retirement plans one year ago. He normally avoids the spotlight, and with his announcement he set up the 2010 season filled with questions about his plans from reporters in every city and the procession of tributes from other NL teams.
That's not the sort of attention Cox normally enjoys.
Cox, who wears No. 6, was given a 6 from Chicago's Wrigley Field scoreboard. He was given a cowboy hat and boots from the Houston Astros, a case of Tom Seaver's wine from the New York Mets, a flag that flew over the U.S. Capitol from the Washington Nationals, among other gifts.
The respect for Cox, the fourth-winningest manager in history, has been obvious. The surprise is that Cox has seemed to relish baseball's embrace.
"I've seen him smile more this year than in any year past," said third baseman Chipper Jones, the 16-year veteran who has played only for Cox. "You can really sense him taking a step back and trying to enjoy all the gratitude that he's getting, not just from this town and this organization but all across the land."
The biggest celebration comes Saturday. The Braves will honor Cox, 69, in a ceremony before their game against the Phillies.
"It's just an opportunity to focus for one particular day on a great man and a great career and pay tribute in as appropriate a fashion as the organization could do it, on behalf of ourselves and our fans," said Braves President John Schuerholz.
Former Braves owner Ted Turner called Cox "a great friend and one of the best managers in baseball history."
"His quiet leadership played a major role in the Braves going from worst to first," Turner said of the 1991 season. "His presence on the field will be sorely missed when he retires. The world of baseball won't be the same without Bobby Cox."
The Braves' playoff hopes rest on the final three-game series. It's an appropriate regular-season farewell for the longtime manager.
"From a playoff standpoint, there's nothing better than coming down to the last three games of the year to get there," Jones said. "It's fitting that Bobby doesn't get just one day. He gets the whole weekend."
Braves closer Billy Wagner said the team wants to win for Cox.
"I think we all would like to get that opportunity for Bobby but I think we've kind of steered away from saying that a lot, because that's a lot of pressure," Wagner said.
"We all know that Bobby is what has got us where we're at, and if it weren't for Bobby, we wouldn't be here. He's been so calm through all these storms this year and all the ups and downs that you feel very comfortable and relaxed that you're going to be able to go out there and do something very special for him."
Many of Cox former players are expected to return for Saturday's ceremony.
"It's been fun," Cox said. "The organizations that have done this on the road, it has just been neat. It's humbling. It's not embarrassing. You don't like to draw attention, but these people are great baseball people. It's been fun in every city to have a little thing on the field, a little ceremony. I've gotten all kinds of little gifts. They're all neat. They all mean something to me."
Cox's current 21-year run as Atlanta's manager is his second stint with the team. Most of his memories will be good ones, though the notable low point was a 1995 arrest after his wife, Pam, called police to break up an argument. The couple had counseling, and a simple battery charge was dropped later in the year.
Cox also might have a few mixed emotions about umpires. He holds the major league record with 158 ejections, though umpires give him credit for mostly just sticking up for his players.
Cox was only 36 when hired as manager in 1978. He was fired by the Braves in 1981 and quickly hired by Toronto, where he was the manager from 1982-85. He moved back to Atlanta in 1985 as the Braves' general manager — assembling the would-be dynasty from the front office — before agreeing during the 1990 season to return to the dugout.
Schuerholz joined the organization as general manager after the 1990 season. Cox and Schuerholz formed a successful management team during a run that included five World Series appearances and the record 14 straight division titles from 1991-2005.
Saturday's win at Washington was the 2,500th of Cox's career. Only Connie Mack, John McGraw and Tony La Russa have more wins. Cox also has won 90 or more games in 15 seasons, second to only McGraw.
In his last visit to Atlanta with the St. Louis Cardinals, La Russa said Cox "has had the best managerial career of anybody I've been around. ... He's done it exactly the right way, which is most important.
"I hope he gets to the postseason. I hope they get to the postseason."
The Braves have moved from Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium to Turner Field and have rebuilt following the end of the era with Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine and John Smoltz as the leaders of the rotation. Schuerholz said Cox remained the constant in 21 consecutive seasons with the team.
"Bobby is Bobby. Bobby has been Bobby since I've known him," Schuerholz said. "He's very good person. Very big-hearted. Very kind. Very considerate. Very likable. Very nice to people. I mean, that's what he's been as a person.
"Yeah, he's a competitor. He's tough in that dugout doing his job, but it has worked out pretty well."
Los Angeles Dodgers manager Joe Torre said Cox "is a very honorable man."
"Bobby's a good baseball man; we all know that," Torre said this week. "But what a lot of people don't understand ... is what the manager's job is. And Bobby takes it to another level, because he cares about people. He teaches his lessons in his own way. You have to play the game the way it's supposed to be played, otherwise you'll hear from him. And he has a great deal of respect for the game, which is where it all starts from."
Cox said he had to make his retirement plans public last year or he might never walk away.
Now, with or without another trip to the playoffs, Cox's time in uniform is about to end.
There's no backing out. Pam has purchased tickets for a cruise scheduled to depart on April 18, 2011.
"Prepaid," Cox said. "We can't get out of that one. Once you pay you've got to go."
When asked about his favorite memories, Cox said "Every year was a great year for me. Baseball, just being in uniform, just makes it great.
"Baseball is a blur to be honest with you. It goes by in a snap of the fingers."
Cox will remain a part of the organization as a consultant.
"I'll miss managing, there's no doubt about it, but I'm gonna be connected just a tiny bit to the organization where I can have my own schedule," he said. "My intentions are to go down and mingle some with the minor leaguers, cheer them up a bit during the course of the season."
Will that be enough baseball to satisfy Cox? Some worry that retirement could be difficult for the man who is usually at Turner Field by noon for night games and through his career often made daily visits to the stadium even during the offseason.
It's a question he can't answer.
"I don't know," he said. "I can only drink so much coffee in the mornings. I intend to play some golf, do a little fishing and still come down early maybe and see the clubhouse guys maybe and say hello."
Cox said Pam has talked about wanting to see the NHL Atlanta Thrashers.
Cox is OK with the hockey plans as long as he can sneak in a few baseball games.
"I can come to some Braves games and sit with her for a while and have a coke and a bag of popcorn and enjoy it," he said. "Relax."