When John Schuerholz took over as the Atlanta Braves’ general manager almost 25 years ago, the team was a mess. There had not been a winning season since 1983, and the team was, pure and simple, a joke.
But under Schuerholz’s leadership, things instantly changed. In his first season, the Braves had the best season they’ll ever have, even better than the year they won it all. The 1991 season was magical, and it was merely the start of a historic run under Schuerholz’s watch.
The Braves had developed the talent by the time Schuerholz arrived, but they needed to take the next step. Schuerholz took the organization by the hand and made it happen.
“Mr. Schuerholz taught us how to win,” longtime scouting director Paul Snyder said many years ago.
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Indeed. That’s what Schuerholz did. He created an atmosphere that was conducive to winning. There was an expectation in place that the Braves were going to be good, not just an unwrapped hope that would be continually pushed to the next season.
And Schuerholz brought in winners.
In his first year, Schuerholz complemented the young talent with veterans like Terry Pendleton and Sid Bream. Schuerholz signed free agents, like Greg Maddux. He made trades, like the one for Fred McGriff.
Schuerholz wasn’t perfect; no general manager is. But he pushed more right buttons than wrong ones. He knew how to massage each roster, and perhaps most importantly, Schuerholz worked brilliantly with manager Bobby Cox.
As a leader, Schuerholz let his people do their work. He hired them to do a job and expected them to do it. That’s a simple philosophy, really, but when you see others in that position micromanage a team and try to do everyone else’s job, Schuerholz is appreciated even more.
He didn’t have to scout much. He let the scouts do that. He didn’t manage teams. He let the managers do that. Schuerholz let everyone do their job, and he was simply the orchestra leader with the baton in hand leading the way.
His success should really not be a surprise. Here’s a man who was a substitute teacher, but he wanted to be in baseball. So what did he do? Schuerholz wrote the Baltimore Orioles owner a letter simply asking for a job.
He got that job and learned his craft in Baltimore from people like Frank Cashen, Harry Dalton and Lou Gorman. Then Schuerholz accompanied Gorman to Kansas City for a 20-year run with the Royals. These were good baseball people who were also, by all accounts, good people.
When he left the Royals for the Braves, people probably thought he was nuts. Schuerholz had helped the Royals win a championship as the GM in 1985, and then five years later, he took a gamble by coming south.
There is a respect that comes with Schuerholz. You might not agree with everything he does, but you’ll likely wind up respecting how he did it. That’s what he brought to the Braves: respect. They were laughed at before, but not anymore.
Schuerholz is the president of the Braves now. He’s no longer constructing the roster but instead is helping construct the new stadium. Chances are he’ll have his mark on the Braves’ new home, which will open in two years. Chances are it’ll be first-class with his mark on it.
This weekend, Schuerholz will enter the Georgia Sports Hall of Fame. It likely won’t be the final one he’ll enter. But this one will be for the citizens of this state to honor a man who helped change baseball in Georgia.
Schuerholz taught them how to win, and aren’t we lucky he did.
Listen to “The Bill Shanks Show” from 3-6 p.m. weekdays on WPLA Fox Sports 1670 AM in Macon and online at www.foxsports1670.com. Follow Bill at twitter.com/BillShanks and email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.