Bill Shanks

Atlanta Braves make right choice in Snitker

Atlanta Braves interim manager Brian Snitker is interviewed by the media before the Braves’ final baseball game at Turner Field on Oct. 2.
Atlanta Braves interim manager Brian Snitker is interviewed by the media before the Braves’ final baseball game at Turner Field on Oct. 2. AP

In the end, this decision wasn’t very difficult. It was prudent to look around a bit, but the Atlanta Braves likely knew they had their man all along.

Brian Snitker is no longer known as Atlanta’s “interim” manager. It’s now his gig, for real. Managers are always auditioning for the next season, but at least Snitker can now know the job is his and his alone.

Truth be told, Snitker likely ruined the Braves’ plans. It made sense to believe Bud Black would be a great candidate. When the Braves fired Fredi Gonzalez in May, Snitker was the logical choice to hold down the job until the end of the season when it would make sense to hire Black.

Black, the supposed runner-up for the job, was a great candidate. He was a big league pitcher. He was a big league pitching coach. Then he was a manager with a great reputation as a pitcher’s manager, known for his handling of young arms and his solid communication skills.

That’s what the Braves would need with pitching at the forefront of their rebuilding process. Black would be the perfect choice to hand off the young arms and take them to the next level.

But something happened along the way. Snitker stopped the bleeding of the worst start in Atlanta’s history, and he also gained the respect of his players, and with a few roster additions that helped along the way, Snitker’s team got better.

Yes, a team once on pace for 120 losses actually got better. The trade of Matt Kemp on July 31 was huge, as was the Aug. 17 promotion of top prospect Dansby Swanson. But the Braves went 35-27 after July 25 and used 12 different starting pitchers.

Every day Snitker arrived at the ballpark he had no clue what his starters would provide. But he managed the bullpen well. He brought consistency to the batting order, gave clear roles to his players and gained the respect of everyone in the clubhouse.

And after his team went 20-10 in the final 30 games of the season, there weren’t many around who wanted anyone else to lead this team. It might be hard to say it was unanimous, but it was darn close.

To see player after player come out in support of Snitker said a lot, but the fans also spoke. They were impressed. They were re-engaged again after two-plus years of being disinterested. Those who watched closely knew this team was better because of its manager.

Snitker first managed in the South Atlantic League in Anderson, South Carolina. He was only 26 years old then in 1982. Hank Aaron had convinced him to become a coach after his playing career fizzled out two years earlier. And for 20 years, Snitker managed 2,611 minor league games, including two seasons in Macon.

It was the 124-game audition this summer that proved to be the biggest part of his resume. For a team that was lost May 17 when Snitker took over, his team was one not many wanted to play by the end of the season.

Snitker showed the players were not the only ones who could come up to the majors and prove themselves in this rebuild. What more could he have done to prove he was the man for the job? The record (59-65) was one thing, but anyone who watched this team knew the Braves had found the manager to take them into SunTrust Park.

Picking someone else would have killed the momentum that was so strong at the end of the season. Never has a last-place team hated to end the season like the Braves did 10 days ago, but at least now the players can be relieved the man who led them back on track will be there when they reconvene in February.

It was the best choice. Snitker was the perfect fit to continue this upward swing to get the Braves back near the top of the standings. Of all the promotions the Braves made in 2016, who would have thought the former Triple-A manager may turn out to be the most important one.

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