Obituary: Ted Cox (1955-2020)

RIP to Ted Cox, a former First Round draft pick who had quite possibly one of the best starts to a career in baseball history. He died on March 11, 2020 at the age of 65. Cox, a designated hitter, third baseman and outfielder, played for the Boston Red Sox (1977), Cleveland Indians (1978-79), Seattle Marinets (1980) and Toronto Blue Jays (1981).

William “Ted” Cox was born on January 24, 1955 in Oklahoma City, Okla. At Midwest City High School, he played multiple sports and excelled at pretty much all of them, like former Oklahoman prep standouts Bobby Murcer and Darrell Porter. Cox was a three-year starter on the basketball team and averaged 13 points a game in his junior year. He was approached by several colleges until he hurt his ankle. He was on the football team and was its best kicker. When it came to baseball though, he was in a class by himself. By the time he was profiled in The Daily Oklahoman on April 25, 1973, Cow was hitting .567 with 5 home runs and 32 RBIs for the Midwest City Bombers. He ended his senior year with a .505 average and 7 long balls.

Source: News Journal, December 7, 1979

“He’s probably the best all-around athlete I’ve ever been associated with,” said his baseball coach, Keith Gooch. He was a talented defensive shortstop as well, and when Gooch needed a pitcher, Cox went to the mound and won 3 games.

Scouts from multiple pro teams noticed his talent, but it was the Boston Red Sox who took him in the First Round of the 1973 Amateur Draft. He was the 17th overall player taken in the draft and was drafted ahead of Fred Lynn, whom the Sox picked in the Second Round. He reported to the Elmira Pioneers of the Low-A New York-Penn League. He didn’t hit any home runs in his 58 games with the team, but he did hit .293 while adjusting to minor-league life.

“The pitching in the New York-Penn League is a lot different than high school,” he said. “I’m not used to being challenged as much.”

After struggling early on in his career, Cox showed that he was able to overcome those challenges, starting in 1975 with the Winston-Salem Red Sox. He hit .305 with 10 home runs there, hit .278 in 1976 with Bristol of the Eastern League while battling injuries and trying to hit for more power, and then he demolished AAA pitching in 1977 with the Pawtucket Red Sox. In 95 games, he hit .334 and slugged .531, with 14 home runs and 81 RBIs as a corner infielder. He was promoted to the major leagues that September after Pawtucket was knocked out of the International League playoffs. As a former first rounder coming off a great season in the minors, expectations may have been high. But nobody could have expected this.

Cox made his debut as a DH on September 18 in Baltimore. He singled off Mike Flanagan in the first inning. He walked to lead off the third inning. He singled to left in the fifth inning and hit an RBI single off reliever Scott McGregor in the sixth. He finished his day with a double in the ninth inning to complete a perfect 4-for-4 day. The very next game against the Yankees, Cox singled off Ed Figueroa in his first two at-bats before he grounded out to first in the fifth inning. Cox reached safety in his first 7 plate appearances, with 6 straight hits. That’s never happened before or since.

“You always dream that maybe you’ll come into the major leagues and hit a home run the first time at bat or something,” he said afterwards. “But this? It’s more than a dream. You couldn’t even think of something like this.”

Cox appeared in a total of 13 games for the Sox in 1977. He had hits in 10 of them and multiple hits in 8, ending the year with a .362 average in 58 at-bats.

Even after a sensational start to his career, the Red Sox really had no place for him in the lineup. He was stuck behind the likes of Jim Rice, Dwight Evans or Butch Hobson at pretty much every position, and there were thoughts that he might go back to the minors to play every day.

Instead, the Red Sox and Indians pulled off a major trade at the end of spring training in 1978. Cox, along with Bo Diaz, Mike Paxton and Rick Wise were sent to Cleveland for Dennis Eckersley and Fred Kendall. Cox played in 82 games for the Indians that season as a super utility player, with appearances at DH, first base, third base, shortstop, left field and right field, along with 12 pinch-hit appearances. He hit .233 that year and then .212 in a similar role in 1979. After the season, he was dealt to Seattle.

With 80 games at third base in 1980, Cox was the Mariners’ most frequently used third baseman. He slashed .243/.295/.304 in a total of 83 games. He hit just 2 home runs, but one was a ninth inning, 3-run blast that led to a 3-1 win over the Orioles. Injuries hampered his season, but he did hit an excellent .339 with 21 RBIs while hitting with runners in scoring position.

The Mariners released Cox at the end of the season, and he signed a minor-league deal with the Blue Jays. After spending most of the season in the minors, he appeared in 16 games with Toronto and hit .300 with 2 homers and 9 RBIs in 16 games. The Jays needed a third baseman in September when Danny Ainge decided to pick the NBA over MLB, and he filled in admirably. Cox ended his professional career in 1982 with the Mexico City Reds.

Over parts of five seasons, Cox slashed .245/.298/.324, with 189 hits in 272 games. He hit 29 doubles, 1 triple and 10 home runs, driving in 79 runs and scoring 65 times.

“Someone once showed me a book with all these all-time teams, and I was the All-Flash-in-the-Pan third baseman,” Cox said in a 1988 interview. “All I can say it was fun while it lasted.”

Source: The Boston Globe, December 25, 1977.

Following the end of his playing career, Cox returned to Oklahoma, coaching and running Grand Slam Sports, an indoor baseball and softball training facility. He also became an in-demand slow-pitch softball player and played on some of the top teams in the state. He later became the state director for the U.S. Sports Specialties Association, which oversees hundreds of youth league teams.

As he discussed the growth of youth league baseball and softball, he also noted the drawbacks of an increasingly competitive world, most notably parents who chew out the volunteer coaches if their children aren’t playing enough or get instructed if they make a mistake.

“The kids, they should just want to play ball and get that Coke after the game,” he said in a 2000 interview. “That’s the way it should be. It should be fun for them with no pressure.”

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