John Schuerholz: The man who changed a team – and a city

Feb. 20, 2012- LAKE BUENA VISTA, FL: Atlanta Braves president John Schuerholz, left, talks with former manager Bobby Cox as they watch the first day of pitchers and catchers workouts at Champion Stadium in the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex Monday morning in Lake Buena Vista, Fl., Feb. 20, 2012. Jason Getz jgetz@ajc.com

The dynamic duo. (Jason Getz/AJC file photo)

John Schuerholz changed the Atlanta Braves at a time when change — at least change for the better — was a distant memory. It was October 1990. They’d just completed a seventh consecutive losing season. Of things to do in our busy city, a Braves’ game ranked in the bottom 1 percentile. They’d embarked on a rebuilding campaign under Bobby Cox, who’d been the general manager for five years, but there was no guarantee anything would come of it.

Then Schuerholz showed up, imported by Stan Kasten from the Kansas City Royals, where he’d built something a model franchise and won the 1985 World Series. The Royals had started to sag — a bad Schuerholz trade involving David Cone hadn’t helped — but still: This was a proven pro, come to right an organization that had become Amateur Hour.

Schuerholz showed up wearing his suspenders, and not the kind Mr. Green Jeans sported. These were the Wall Street kind, the Gordon Gekko kind. This was not a man, we knew from Day 1, to be taken lightly. Without the kid pitchers Cox had assembled, the Braves would never have been great. Without the players Schuerholz put around those kid pitchers, the Braves mightn’t have gotten good.

Schuerholz showed up and, in short order, hired Terry Pendleton and Sid Bream and Rafael Belliard and Otis Nixon. One would become the 1991 National League MVP. One would score the most famous run in Braves history. One would make an over-the-shoulder catch near the end of the game that made the Braves World Series champions. One would make the greatest catch anybody had ever seen.

Schuerholz showed up and the Braves went worst-to-first and nearly won the World Series right off the bat, but you knew that already. What you mightn’t have known — or might have forgotten — was how the 1991 season began. It was just another home opener against the hated Dodgers, a home opener for a team that hadn’t broken .500 or drawn flies since 1983. And the old stadium was … packed.

The game was rained out — the Braves’ fortunes hadn’t changed just yet — but still: There was no reason for the ballpark to have been sold out that April night except for John Schuerholz, who had posed for full-page ads in those famous suspenders, the clear message being: We’re back in business. And an audience starved for any sign of competence bought up every seat.

The actual opener was staged as a makeup game the next afternoon before a sparse crowd, but that wasn’t what mattered. What mattered was that the Braves had found the man who would lead them up from oblivion and would sustain that excellence over — this still beggars belief — 14 consecutive first-place finishes.

The Braves were unlucky to have won only the one World Series, but there was nothing lucky about those 14 division titles. Ask any baseball man and he’ll gush and say, “That could never happen again.” And it surely won’t. (It had never happened before). But it happened here, largely and perhaps mostly because of John Schuerholz.

News that the great man is stepping down as team president comes as only a slight surprise. He’s 75. He has been president for nearly a decade, and the new stadium — the one being built a five-minute drive from his Vinings condominium — is set to open next year. His work here is done. That work will never be surpassed. He’s often described as the greatest GM ever, and he was. But he was more than that: This GM didn’t just change a team. He changed a city.

Reader Comments 0

23 comments
savannahgator5220
savannahgator5220

The problem is not the general managers people. It is Liberty Media. The Braves will be not much more than they are now with the bean counters in charge.

Jeff Randall
Jeff Randall

@savannahgator5220 It's been said many times before, but LM are hands off. They do not interfere with operations of the Braves. They simply allow the Braves folks run the team, and spend the revenue of the team as they see fit.

While they're not a great owner, they are certainly not causing harm to the Braves...

Sidslid
Sidslid

Great call on the Belliard catch of Lofton's foul ball.  Lofton was leading off that inning and first batter Wohlers faced.  If he gets on, it would have been a knee knocker inning.  Cox had a couple opportunities to pinch hit for Belliard, but knew defense was key down the stretch.  We agonize over the Michael Turner platoons and mismanagement of the bullpens in the postseasons, but two Cox moves won that World Series.  Sticking with Belliard and going with Avery/Borbon in Game 4.

Peachs
Peachs

When you got better talent managing sports than you do running for public office, you got a problem..

DawgDadII
DawgDadII

People keep complaining about Wren. I saw a lot of competitive, winning, and playoff baseball under his leadership, and I'm still waiting for the new regime to even try to field a competitive team at the MLB level.

DrTruth
DrTruth

@DawgDadII Wasting your time dude.  All they remember around here is Uggla & BJ Upton contracts.  They forget that the Braves won more total games from 2010-2014 than any other NL team....But it's a fact.


Hart & Coppy pretty much locked up last place in spring training with a .231 win percentage.  But never fear...FanGraphs gives the Bravos a 0.1% chance of winning the NL East this season and a 0.2% chance to Wild Card it.  So there is hope!


And that hope is a 0.3% chance of making the playoffs this season.  Get those Braves playoff tix before they're all gone!  


3/10 of 1%....I can still hear Mark Bradley licking Coppy's boots.  ENJOY!!

FreeAgentFan
FreeAgentFan

@DawgDadII  Wren was not as bad as some made him out to be -- but this losing will get old and at some point folks will wake up -- these prospects are not that good the pitchers are either too raw or are damaged goods like Fried and Banuelos

FreeAgentFan
FreeAgentFan

So true Dr Truth -- I do not get why some are being fooled into getting behind that loser Johnny Coppy who has ruined the product of Braves baseball.  It will take a couple more yrs of this for the masses to see how much of a flunkie Coppy is



CardiganBoy
CardiganBoy

@Hedley_Lammar Excuse me while I whip this out!  


Tell me cowboy... are you in show business? 

No ma'am!

Then get your fweeking feet off my stage!

CardiganBoy
CardiganBoy

It was a great time to be a Braves fan.  Ted owned the team.  Hanoi Jane graced us with her presence from time to time.  We had the Mt Rushmore of pitching staffs.  Many good every-day players and one great one - perhaps two - in the Jones boys - Chipper and Andruw.


Alas we couldn't finish the deal but one time in four trips to the WS in five years.  Seems we were good enough to get there, just not good enough to win it.  


The imperious Schuerholz treated any member of the sports media as if they were idiots when post season futility was broached as a topic worthy of his attention.


Still  a great time to be a Braves fan.  The 1992 LCS win against the Pirates still gives me chills.  


Line drive, base hit!  Justce scores to tie the game.  Here comes Bream!  He's ..... SAFE!



TOJacket
TOJacket

Thanks for the memories.

LOGS1973
LOGS1973

No wonder he is stepping down! The Braves are headed for

another 100 game plus loses this year. They have no bats

and little pitching... I wish Freddie had gone out first!

jdcigar
jdcigar

I'd give Cox the GM most of the credit for that run.  Most of the great players were already in the system by the time JS showed up.  He certainly deserves a lot of credit for some good moves early but he also made many blunders along the way.  Let's not forget that the team Wren assembled was still under JS' watch.

Archangel
Archangel

@jdcigar So you take credit away from JS because of Cox the GM, and then blame JS because of Wren the GM?

DrTruth
DrTruth

No doubt 14 division titles is historic....But too bad he didn't leave at the top 10 years ago, and take Booby Cox with him.

UWreckMeBaby
UWreckMeBaby

Ted Turner's money was part of the formula that you failed to acknowledge. Cox and Schuerholz put it to good use, no doubt. It takes resources and good management, plus some good fortune.

Archangel
Archangel

@UWreckMeBaby Well Liberty Media has more money than Ted did, so maybe that's why management is the focus here.

dawgonit
dawgonit

Will always remember this quote from the press conference when he arrived in Atlanta..."The Braves have spent all the time they are going to spend in last place"

CarrollSterne
CarrollSterne

I agree with all you say, but he and McGuirk sat by and watched our team disintegrate.