At the winter meetings that begin Sunday outside Washington D.C., John Schuerholz will be considered for induction into the Baseball Hall of Fame by what used to be known as the veterans committee. When John Coppolella, the incumbent Braves general manager and a Schuerholz hire, mentioned this over lunch the other day, this was my response: “How is he not already in the Hall of Fame?”
Confession: I have a Hall of Fame ballot, have for more than two decades. I know how that works. I’m not a member of the veterans committee. I have a vague understanding of that works. This year, it will choose from a list of former players who didn’t make through the BBWAA voting process, plus a manager, a commissioner and an owner and one GM.
This year’s ballot also includes: Harold Baines, Albert Belle, Will Clark, Orel Hershiser, Mark McGwire, Bud Selig, George Steinbrenner, Davey Johnson and Lou Pinella. There has been much lobbying to enshrine Selig, whom I always considered a boob, and Steinbrenner, who was a blowhard. There’s nobody on that list who merits a Hall pass as much as Schuerholz.
In the history of baseball, who are the three best GMs? Branch Rickey, John Schuerholz and … “George Weiss,” offered Coppolella, naming the GM of the imperial Yankees. Two are in the Hall. The one who built championship teams in different leagues in the free-agent era, which made it much challenging than the reserve-clause days of Rickey and Weiss; the one whose Braves finished first over 14 consecutive seasons; the one whose name is on the trophy given to GMs by MLB for distinguished service … he’s not yet.
Of all the job descriptions considered for Hall calls, general manager gets the shortest shrift. There are only six in Cooperstown as we speak: Rickey, Weiss, Ed Barrow, Pat Gillick and Larry (father) and Lee (son) MacPhail. Weiss, Barrow and both MacPhails worked with the Yankees.
(When with the Yankees, the younger MacPhail suggested that Bobby Cox, whose playing days were winding down, consider becoming a minor-league manager in their chain. Gillick and Cox were the GM/manager tandem in Toronto when the Blue Jays got good.)
As we know, Cox was inducted into the Hall in 2016, not four full years after he managed his last game. (The veterans committee has no five-year moratorium.) That was utterly deserved. But you can’t have a Hall of Fame that includes Cox and not Schuerholz. That’s the best GM/combo of the past half-century. It’s among the best ever, rivaling the Yankee pairings of Weiss/Miller Huggins and Larry MacPhail/Casey Stengel and the Dodger duo of Buzzy Bavasi/Walter Alston. (All save Bavasi are in the Hall.)
The Braves wouldn’t have won those 14 division titles — and five National League pennants, and the 1995 World Series — without Cox taking what Schuerholz gave him and making it work. The Braves might never have won even one division crown had Stan Kasten not hired Schuerholz away from Kansas City. The new man (and his famous suspenders) put order to an organization that had become, to invoke a British team, shambolic.
Under Schuerholz’s management, the Braves went worst-to-first and then first-to-first-to-first-to-first-to-first-to-first-to-first-to-first-to-first-to-first-to-first-to-first-to-first-to-first. That had never happened before. It will never happen again. Along the way, Schuerholz signed the best free-agent pitcher ever (Maddux) and made the best deadline trade ever (McGriff-for-Nieves/Moore/Elliott). He’s a Hall of Famer if there ever was one. The Hall just needs to make it official.
Further reading: John Schuerholz: The man who changed a team – and a city.