NEW YORK — After 50 years in baseball, Bobby Cox figured the only way he would ever give up managing was to pick a specific time and announce it publicly.
So that's what he did Wednesday, revealing his plans to retire as manager of the Atlanta Braves after next season.
Now comes the hard part: sticking to it.
"There is a little bit of relief once you come to grips with announcing it," Cox said. "I've never lost the love to manage, period. But you have to make a decision. At my age, you have to make a decision. Somebody a little younger can start up."
The 68-year-old Cox, a four-time Manager of the Year, agreed to a one-year contract extension for 2010, the Braves announced before Wednesday night's game against the New York Mets. He will start a five-year consulting agreement to advise the team in baseball operations after he steps down as manager.
"I'll believe it when I see it," Braves slugger Chipper Jones said.
During an illustrious career on the bench, Cox has guided Atlanta to 14 consecutive postseason appearances (1991-2005) and the 1995 World Series title.
"They asked me to come back, and I said I would do it for one more year, and we'll announce the retirement along with it. It's the only way I think I'm ever going to walk away from the game, is to go ahead and say I'm going to, and then I've got to," Cox said. "There's no turning back now — win, lose or draw. Whatever happens next year is going to be it."
A cigar-smoking baseball lifer, Cox managed the Braves from 1978-81, switched to manage the Toronto Blue Jays from 1982-85, then returned to manage Atlanta in 1990. He led the Braves to five NL pennants and a record 14 straight division titles from 1991-2005.
"He's one of the greatest — not only managers, but people," Los Angeles Dodgers manager Joe Torre said in Washington. "He's a Hall of Famer."
Cox began Wednesday with 2,408 regular-season wins as a manager, fourth behind Connie Mack (3,731), John McGraw (2,763) and Tony La Russa (2,550). Cox and Joe McCarthy are the only managers with six 100-win regular seasons.
"Bobby's one of the best ever," Detroit Tigers manager Jim Leyland said in Cleveland.
Braves general manager Frank Wren said he won't start thinking about a successor for Cox until an appropriate time next season. Both men said Cox will have input.
"He's been the one constant through the entire run that we've had over the last 20 years," said Jones, who has played for Cox his entire career. "It'll be a sad day, a sad day when he leaves."
Still feisty, Cox has been ejected seven times this season, extending his major league record to 150.
"What you can always say about Bobby is that he always gets the best out of his players and that he's a class act," umpire Ed Rapuano said in Cleveland. "You could toss him, but the next day all was forgotten."
Jones said the Braves will have added incentive next season to send Cox out a winner. But the 37-year-old third baseman added that he's not sure he'll stick around long enough to play for a different manager.
"I'm just glad he'll be around for one more year," Jones said.
Wren said the agreement was reached last weekend while the Braves were playing Philadelphia, but Cox didn't want an announcement to take the focus off that series. The team had decided to reveal the news when it returned home to Atlanta next week, but Wren said all the public speculation and false information about Cox's future persuaded the club to make an announcement Wednesday.
Cox's entire coaching staff will be retained next season, too.
"We know we're growing older. I know Bobby feels like he's still capable. His mind is as good today as it will be five years from now. But there's a demand of pressure and energy on his job. We all come to that point," Braves president John Schuerholz said at a Turner Field news conference in Atlanta.
"He's comfortable with this. It's his plan. He's at peace managing a team next season to a championship level," Schuerholz added. "He's handled the highs and lows better than any other manager in baseball I've ever seen."
Cox said his role as adviser likely will include visiting Braves farm clubs to offer advice, evaluations and perhaps even hands-on instruction. He said it's a job he's excited about.
Still, many in baseball have a hard time imagining anyone besides ol' No. 6 in the Braves' dugout.
"He may change his mind. Bobby loves the game. It's in his blood," La Russa said in Houston before his Cardinals played the Astros. "He always had his team ready to play."
Mets manager Jerry Manuel called Cox "an icon in the sport."
"Managers look to try to attain that level of status that he has," Manuel said. "I think that's unfortunate for the Braves — probably fortunate for everybody else in the division.
"He's had a tremendous, tremendous run. He has really set the bar tremendously high over there. So anybody that steps in there will have some big, big shoes to fill as far as stability and strategy."
Cox said the person he consulted most about the decision was his wife, Pam, and he acknowledged she was happy about it.
"She's been after me for quite awhile," Cox said with a smile.