John Schuerholz is a candidate for the Baseball Hall of Fame. We will find out next week at the Winter Meetings if he makes it. Let’s not say he’s a lock to be elected, but he should be.
There is really no need to regurgitate Schuerholz’s resume. We who have watched the Braves for decades know the contribution he’s made to this organization. But does it stack up with the best executives in the history of this sport?
Schuerholz won a World Series as the general manager of the Kansas City Royals in 1985. A decade later, he won it with the Braves. But that’s not the top item that makes Schuerholz deserving of a spot in Cooperstown.
The Braves won their division 14 years in a row, from 1991 (Schuerholz’s first year) through 2005. And that is something that will likely never happen in this sport again.
The Yankees won it nine times in a row, from 1998 through 2006. Brian Cashman, even with all of the Steinbrenner’s money, couldn’t do it. The Dodgers have done it four years in a row, but even with all their money, good luck doing it for another full decade.
Teams can buy talent, but it doesn’t guarantee success. Schuerholz kept the Braves at the top of the division for more than a decade, which made many hate the Braves for always being there.
When Schuerholz came to Atlanta in 1990, he inherited a strong farm system that had been built by Bobby Cox. Yes, the same Bobby Cox who won the division titles as Atlanta’s manager also created a strong farm system as the general manager.
That gave Schuerholz an advantage when he took over for Cox, but it only supports what Schuerholz went on to accomplish. Many GMs inherit strong farm systems and don’t win. Schuerholz built on that strength and kept it strong for years, which is just not an easy thing to do.
He knew once the Braves became a great team at the big league level the farm system would be the key to keeping it strong. It provided trade bait for Schuerholz to constantly improve Atlanta’s roster. If the system had weakened under Schuerholz’s guidance, the Braves might have crumbled without the ability to take the young prospects and turn them into help for the big- league roster.
But it was more than that. Schuerholz created a structure the Braves had never had. He hired people and then trusted them to do their job. He’s told me that he was "the leader of an orchestra," and everyone had to play their instrument for the well-oiled machine to work.
And it did. It worked well enough to build the Braves into a consistent winner that every other franchise in the sport aimed for. After years of being laughed at, the Braves were the team all others wanted to be.
Legendary Braves scout Paul Snyder once said that while there was talent in the Atlanta organization in 1990, "Mr. Schuerholz taught us how to win." Remember, when Schuerholz took over, the Braves had won two division titles in their first 25 years in Atlanta and had never won a playoff game. Never.
That all changed when Mr. Schuerholz took over.
Schuerholz has also contributed to the game of baseball on committees, providing his knowledge for instant replay and pace-of-game topics. When Bud Selig, the former Commissioner, needed a sounding board, he didn’t hesitate to use Schuerholz.
This is a man who learned from among the best to ever put together baseball rosters. Schuerholz worked for Lou Gorman, Harry Dalton and Frank Cashen in Baltimore when he first went to work for the Orioles in 1966. You learn from good people, and Schuerholz had a tremendous education as a young executive.
Then when he got to Atlanta, Schuerholz formed a historic partnership with Cox. There was a mutual respect that was obvious, a trust that each man was doing his job to the best of his ability. Cox is a good man, one who trusts people around him to do their job and do it well – just like Schuerholz. It was a perfect mix. There will likely never be another general manager – manager partnership like that one in baseball.
For years to come, young baseball executives will read the John Schuerholz story and strive to be like him. They’ll crave that consistent success that only one man achieved as a general manager. They’ll only dream of being as good at their job as Mr. Schuerholz was at his.
It’s inevitable that Schuerholz goes into Cooperstown, but why put it off any longer? He went into the Georgia Sports Hall of Fame a few years ago, and the Braves Hall of Fame last summer. Now, it’s time for him to go in the one that really counts.
Listen to "The Bill Shanks Show" from 3-6 p.m. weekdays on "Middle Georgia’s ESPN" – 93.1 FM in Macon and 99.5 FM in Warner Robins. Follow Bill at twitter.com/BillShanks and email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.