The announcement that John Schuerholz was resigning as GM of the Braves to become the new team president came as a surprise to fans. More than a few are worried that his replacement, former assistant GM Frank Wren, will not be able to pull off some of the same magical moves that have made the Braves so successful.
But before we speculate about the future, let’s take a moment to reflect on the past.
Schuerholz came on just after Bobby Cox stepped down from the front office to get back in the dugout. When Ted Turner and the Braves brought Schuerholz to Atlanta in the fall of 1990 to announce that he would be the new GM, they tried to book him in one of the swankier downtown hotels. But they were disappointed to find out that the presidential suite was not available due to the presence of one George H.W. Bush, who happened to be in town that week. The lesson, as always: you’ve got to lodge for the job you want, not the job you have.
But I digress.
Schuerholz won a number of different ways. He memorably built teams around pitching, but he also put together winning lineups that overcame bad pitching (see 2004). Even though he had a reputation as a wheeler and dealer, there were also plenty of home-grown stars that matured during his tenure. And while he had a fairly large checkbook to pursue big money names, he never was able to spend at the level of the Yankees or Red Sox. That became even more true after AOL-Time Warner bought the team and froze his budget.
And still he was able to produce division winners until the 2006 season.
Here’s a few highlights and lowlights from the Schuerholz era:
December 1990 – Signed free agent 3B Terry Pendleton
Pendleton had just hit .230 for the Cardinals the year before becoming a free agent. The Braves had been so bad for most of the eighties that they had to look up “first place” in the dictionary to understand what it meant. Schuerholz brought him in along with a collection of seasoned veterans (Sid Bream, Rafael Belliard, Otis Nixon, Juan Berenguer, etc.) for $1.7 million, which was less money than he made the previous season. The team was transformed by the new faces as well as the culmination of some talented young arms that the Braves had been grooming since the late eighties. TP hit quickly became the emotional leader. He hit .319 and was the MVP in the worst-to-first season.
December 1992 – Signed Free Agent P Greg Maddux
This certainly won’t be filed under “genius moves that no one expected to pay off” because Maddux was a hot commodity in a fairly rich free agent market. But by bringing him to Atlanta to team up with Tom Glavine, John Smoltz, and Steve Avery, Schuerholz gave the Braves a devastating rotation. Maddux won the Cy Young Award in each of his first three seasons as a Brave and Atlanta fans were treated to great pitching for the next decade or so.
July, 1993 – Traded OF Melvin Nieves, Donnie Elliott, and Vince Moore to the San Diego Padres for 1B Fred McGriff
Can you say fire sale? The Braves had too many prospects, the Padres had too much payroll. A match was made. San Fran was sitting atop a 9-game lead in the NL West when McGriff gave the Braves the spark they needed. (Literally: The press box caught fire his first night, delaying the start of the game for an hour. The Atlanta Fire Department was named the Player of The Game on TBS, even though McGriff hit a game-tying homer that rallied the Braves to the win.) The Crime Dog had a new moniker (Fire Dog) and a new home. All he did was hit .310 with 19 dingers and 55 RBI in 68 games for the Braves. The Braves won the NL West in one of the best pennant races of all time.
March 1997 – Traded OF Jermaine Dye and P Jamie Walker to the Kansas City Royals for utility man Keith Lockhart and OF Michael Tucker.
Schuerholz traded away the wrong guys on this one. Dye has gone on to have some stellar seasons in the American League. Jamie Walker has been a reliable middle reliever throughout his career. Lockhart and Tucker did a fine job for the Braves, but together they probably don’t have as many big hits in their career as Dye has had in his best season. The end result is that Schuerholz let a future star get away without getting anything major in return. Tucker’s most lasting impact is by definition trivial: On an overcast day in April he hit the first homerun in Turner Field history.
March, 1997 – Traded OFs David Justice and Marquis Grissom to the Cleveland Indians for OF Kenny Lofton and P Alan Embree
In 1991 I was an long suffering but ever-hopeful Braves fan in my early teens. That February, in the between his ROY campaign and the first of the Braves’ fourteen straight division championships, I met David Justice in person. And he was a really nice guy. Needless to say, I have always been a big fan. So when the Braves traded him just prior to the 1997 season, I was heartbroken. We gave up two very solid All-Star outfielders for Kenny Lofton and a left-handed reliever – what a ripoff! Lofton had one injury-riddled season in which he set a career high for caught stealing. As soon as he became a free agent, he signed with – who else – Cleveland. Embree was serviceable at best and gone after a year and a half. Justice kept doing his thang, always finding himself on winning squads. Grissom, who has strong roots in the ATL, continued to be a good outfielder and hitter for other teams. Bottom line: Grissom and Justice for a one-year rental of Lofton. Bad trade and a bad month for the Braves front office.
June 2001 – Sent P John Rocker and IF Troy Cameron (minors) to the Cleveland Indians for Ps Steve Karsay and Steve Reed.
Notice I used the verb “sent” instead of traded because that’s what the Braves did to Rocker. Rocker’s presence was no longer welcome; they sent him off. I probably don’t need to remind everyone of the 1999 Sports Illustrated article that chronicled Rocker’s intolerant feelings about everyone from gays to New Yorkers. He called an unnamed teammate a “fat monkey” and offended just about everyone on the planet. On top of that, he never offered a sincere apology, and had the nerve to threaten the SI reporter at Yankee Stadium the next year. He didn’t have a ton of backers in the clubhouse. Brian Jordan, an emotional leader on the team during that time, called him a “cancer.” In 2001 his on-field performance was getting a little shaky, and the Braves shipped him out with little comment from the front office. Rocker was never the same pitcher and his last big league game was in 2003. I have to criticize Shuerholz on this one. He should have shipped him out a year earlier.
June 2002 – Drafted OF Jeff Francoeur
The Kid was gonna go in the first two rounds of the draft, that’s for sure. But the Braves went ahead and grabbed this local product towards the end of the first round to make sure he stayed close to home. Three years after he signed The Kid hit a three-run homer in his Major League debut. A football and baseball star in high school, everyone in town already knew who he was, and he got a curtain call after his homerun. The significance of this transaction is that Francoeur is a ticket-seller: The Kid with the big grin who grew up down the street is making Atlantans proud 162 games a year.
December 2003 – Traded Ps Jason Marquis, Ray King, and Adam Wainwright for to St. Louis for OF J.D. Drew and C Eli Marrero.
Schuerholz gave three arms to the Cards for a one season rental of Drew and Marrero, but it was a great year in Atlanta for each player. I think it may have been the longest stretch that JD has gone without having an owie that kept him out of the lineup. He had 31 longballs, and both players hit over .300. Wainwright and Marquis have shown some flashes of brilliance but have never performed as hoped for. All in all, it might be considered a wash. But having gotten good production out of J.D. Drew for the only healthy season of his career is a minor achievement and his emblematic of the impeccable timing that is typical of Shuerholz.
December 2004 – Traded P Jose Capellan and a minor leaguer to Milwaukee for Dan Kolb.
We didn’t give up a ton for Kolb, but this was still a terrible deal. Kolb blew right out of the box (blew as in blown saves). Schuerholz counted on him to be the closer, but Kolb was out of that role by the All-Star break. Braves still won the division, but with no help from Danny Kolb. A bad move by Schuerholz.
December 2004 – Traded P Juan Cruz, P Dan Meyer, and OF Charles Thomas to Oakland for Tim Hudson.
Another great use of prospects. Despite being stuck low in the draft order over for most of the past 16 years, the Braves have always maintained a well-stocked farm system. And these prospects have come in handy time after time. Hudson, a Georgia native, has been great in two of his three years in Atlanta. Another highly profitable trade.
December 2005 – Traded Andy Marte for Edgar Renteria and cash
Marte was a promising third base prospect stuck behind Chipper Jones. Now he’s no longer behind Jones and he’s no longer very promising. Renteria, meanwhile, has had two great years in Atlanta at a discount. Brilliant.
July 2007 – Traded C Jarrod Saltalamacchia and four minor leaguers to Texas for 1B Mark Teixiera
Remember 1993? Well this trade is just like the McGriff deadline deal except the Braves didn’t win the division. Just as in 1993 the Braves traded prospects for a slugging first baseman who homered in his first two games. Unlike 1993, Teixeira’s Godzilla numbers weren’t enough to put the team into overdrive. With Saltalamacchia being so young, it’s too early to judge who got the best end of this one. But for the Braves this equates to Mission Accomplished. They juiced up their offense considerably by bringing in this fan favorite. Perhaps next year the former Georgia Tech Yellow Jacket and his Atlanta teammates can put it together for a postseason run.
This post was written by guest writer Danny Orrock, who is a life-long Braves fan and above average poker player.