Fans of the 80’s Whitey Ball era Cardinals will have fond memories of this big right hander. Cox was an imposing figure on the mound standing 6’4″ and a bit over 200 pounds. When taking the signs he would smirk at the batter with an unsettling confidence. And if you happened to take your eye off his arm during the windup you would see one of the scariest snarls in baseball. With his frame and big motion you would think Cox was throwing in the mid to upper 90s. But he was much more Joel Pineiro than Chris Carpenter. He had an average fastball, excellent curve and relied on a well disguised change up to get batters out. And early in his career he was very successful doing just that.
For most of the 1983 season the Cardinals had been going with a 4 man rotation (Dave LaPoint, Joaquin Andujar, Bob Forsch and John Stuper). As the summer approached young lefty John Martin would be added to the rotation until the disaster that was Neil Allen joined the Cardinals. Allen would take Martin’s spot and Martin would move to the bullpen. A young right hander would be turning heads in the Cardinals farm system and a move would need to be made. That move would involve sending Martin back to the Tigers for cash considerations on August 4. Two days later Danny Cox would make his major league debut and what a debut it was. It may be the greatest debut in franchise history.
It was a Saturday night game in St. Louis and Cox would face former Cardinal and 4 time Cy Young award winner (including the previous year) Steve Carlton. It was a tight race and the Phillies were holding onto a slim lead in the NL East. The Cardinals were in the middle of a free fall, losing the last six while the Phillies were on a bit of a roll, winning the last 3. In front of a large home crowd Cox started a bit shaky but quickly settled in. And settle in was an understatement. Against one of the greatest pitchers of the era, Cox tossed a 10 inning 5 hit shutout. He only allowed multiple hits in that shaky first inning. Unfortunately for Cox, Carlton was just good enough to keep the Cardinals scoreless until turning things over to Al Holland in the 10th. With the heart of the Phillies lineup due in the 11th, Herzog decided the young man had shown enough and turned the ball over to Bruce Sutter. Sutter did not fare as well and gave up the game’s only run on a double, intentional walk, single and error. The Cardinals would lose this game 1-0 but in the process had gained a much needed starter.
Cox would start another 11 games in 1983 to a mixed result, but Mike Roarke and the Cardinals knew they had a winner. Although he had not shown it in the majors yet, Cox was the prototype Roarke pitcher – +2 strikeout to walk ratio, mix pitches and keep the ball in the ballpark. On a Whitey Herzog club, if the ball stayed in the park the defense would make the play. Today much is made of the Dave Duncan “pitch to contact” theory. Mike Roarke did it two decades earlier and the Cardinals had the defense to turn that into three World Series trips.
Cox would get off to a slow start in 1984. He had not yet learned to disguise his fastball and the result was that he was hit pretty hard up and down the lineup. He would give up more than 1 hit per inning. He was also a bit wild around the plate, leading the Cards in hit batsmen and close to a 1:1 strikeout to walk ratio. But this was the learning process and Cox was a quick study.
The result was a breakout season in 1985. The end of the year statistics would show an 18-9 record with 10 complete games (4 shutouts), a 2.88 ERA and 131 strikeouts (and the Roarke perfect 2:1 k/bb ratio). He would give up less than a hit an inning, and while the home run count jumped he managed to keep out of the big inning jams. But here’s what the statistics don’t tell you – Cox was the man holding down the fort while newcomer John Tudor learned how to pitch in the National League. If not for the sensational season from Dwight Gooden, Tudor would have been the unanimous choice for the Cy Young. But all this would have meant nothing if Cox had not been piling up the wins all the while Tudor was getting hammered. Tudor and Andujar got the national attention, but Cox became a fan favorite. And the legend of Danny Cox would carry over to the post-season where he would earn the reputation of a big game guy going deep into games. He would finish 1-0 in 3 starts in 1985 with a microscopic ERA, saving his best for last. Cox was handed the ball for Game 6 in Kansas City and he was brilliant. 7 shutout innings, 8 strikeouts. Dayley equally so. And if not for a blown call and the nerves of a rookie closer the Cardinals would have won the series and been World Champs for the second time in the decade.
On the strength of John Tudor’s amazing change up and Cox emerging as a star the Cardinals would trade Joaquin Andujar for a young left hander named Tim Conroy. Conroy was a Rick Horton like guy and a spot starter in his time with the A’s. He would be planted immediately in the rotation hoping that a left/right/left/right rotation would propel the Cards to another title. Conroy was not what the Cards had hoped for and his less than stellar performance was just one problem that the 86 Cardinals faced. But Danny Cox pitched well, much better than his 12-13 record would show. He still went deep into games, kept the hits per inning down and his 2.90 ERA led the staff – which is saying something when you had a lights out John Tudor pitching the day before.
Things looked very promising at the start of the 1987 season. The pitching staff had been transformed with 3 lefties (Tudor, Magrane, Matthews) and 2 righthanders (the age defying Bob Forsch and Cox). And armed with a similarly distributed bullpen and a never say die attitude the Cardinals methodically built an insurmountable lead and won the NL East. Some wear was beginning to show on the big man. He spent some time on the disabled list, but the telling sign was the hit ratio was starting to climb back up. But as in 1985 he saved the best for last. He was a horse in the LCS going 1-1 including a complete game shutout in game 7 to send the Cardinals to the World Series. Unfortunately for Cox he would be called upon twice in Minneapolis, losing both. But he was brilliant in the game he pitched in St. Louis.
Sadly this is where the legend of Danny Cox will end for Cardinals fans. While remembered more for the agony that was a Jose DeLeon pitched game, it was perhaps the misfortunes of Cox that typified the 1988 season.
Cox would spend much of the season on the disabled list – bone spurs, a broken foot and arm troubles. Surgery would end his season and unfortunately his Cardinals career. After missing the entire 1989 and 1990 seasons the Cardinals would release the right hander. The Phillies would take a chance on him but he did not prove to be a durable starter and would be released in 1992. The Pirates in need of bullpen help would pick him up and in limited work would pitch well. Ironically for Cardinals fans, Cox would see some post season activity with the Pirates. Cox would spend three more seasons in the major leagues with Toronto and one more return to the World Series. In 1993 he would finally receive the ring he so deserved for his efforts in St. Louis. Injuries would take their toll and Cox would retire after the 1995 season.
Danny Cox is now the pitching coach of the Lancaster Barnstormers, a professional baseball team not associated with the MLB. Fellow Cardinal Tommy Herr is their manager. Six years in St. Louis and an absolute horse in post season, Danny Cox was the Jeff Suppan of the 1980s Cardinals.