Brian Snitker is an interim manager no more. He’s the Braves’ new full-time manager, chosen over a field of candidates that included veteran managers Bud Black and Ron Washington and three members of the Braves coaching staff.
After receiving overwhelming support from Braves players, Snitker, who’ll be 61 next week, got the job, signing a one-year contract with a club option for 2018. Snitker had to pull his car over to the side of I-75 near Macon, Ga., so excited was he when Braves executives John Hart and John Coppolella called to give him the news.
“It’s pretty cool; I feel really good about things,” said Snitker, who was headed to the Braves’ organizational meetings near Orlando when he got the call, not certain what role he’d have with the Braves for 2017 but hoping for manager.
Assured by the Johns — general manager Coppolella and president of baseball operations Hart — that he was their guy, Snitker’s most-memorable year had reached another new high, and so had a 40-year professional career with the Braves that’s included work as minor league player, coach and manager, major league coach, interim manager, and now this.
“Bobby (Cox) was behind me about 20 minutes, so we were talking back and forth on the drive,” Snitker said of his mentor and old boss, the iconic former Braves manager. “He was here, Walk (Braves special assistant Greg Walker) was here when I got here, and my son came over. So I had three of my best friends, and went out and had a nice dinner.”
He wasn’t the only one celebrating the hire.
“Really happy to hear that Snit is coming back,” center fielder Ender Inciarte said in a text Tuesday. “He deserves this opportunity and we are all excited to play for him!”
“It’s great for Snit, great for the Braves,” Coppolella said.
“He deserved this opportunity,” said Hart, who made the hiring announcement Tuesday, nine days after the team ended its season with 20 wins in its final 30 games and five consecutive series wins.
The Braves also announced Chuck Hernandez would move up from his minor league pitching coordinator position to replace Roger McDowell as pitching coach, and Washington was hired as third-base coach to replace Bo Porter, who’s moving to the front office as a special assistant. The Braves last week declined to pick up McDowell’s contract option.
The team exercised the 2017 contract options on all of their other coaches except third-base coach Bo Porter, who’s moving into the front office as a special assistant to the GM.
Snitker was a popular choice among Braves fans and a consensus choice in the clubhouse, where many players had openly lobbied for him to get the full-time job.
He moved up from his Triple-A Gwinnett manager position May 17 and led a dramatic midseason turnaround of a moribund team that was 9-28 when manager Fredi Gonzalez got fired. It was Snitker’s first time managing in the majors and the Braves went 59-65 under him including 50-47 after his first four weeks on the job.
The positives went beyond the record. Players said there was tangible improvement in team morale. They had fun.
“The players certainly seemed to respond to Snit,” Coppolella said. “You saw it reflected in our win-loss record but also in the energy with which we played. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. We saw a lot of good things at the end of the year, and there was a momentum created by the way the team performed, and Snit was the guy leading the charge.”
The Braves met or surpassed all expectations under Snitker, a player, minor-league manager and coach in their organization for 40 years before stepping into a difficult situation when Gonzalez was dismissed.
“I loved him when he was here as a third-base coach,” Braves slugger Freddie Freeman said in late September, referring to Snitker’s role with the Braves from 2006-2013. “He goes out there, puts the lineup down and lets guys go to work. His presence is something that just makes you want to run through walls for (him). I think everybody in this clubhouse has responded to him, because he’s such a good guy, he treats everybody the right way.”
Inciarte said in the last week of the season, “I didn’t play for Bobby Cox, but a lot of people say Snit is very similar. Personally, I really respect him and I really want to play hard for him.”
After managing nearly 2,600 games in 19 minor-league seasons, Snitker didn’t hesitate when asked to take the interim job, taking on the challenge with his friend Terry Pendleton assisting as bench coach. Pendleton, the former Braves star and longtime member of the team’s coaching staff, moved from first-base coach to bench coach at Snitker’s request, and the two thrived in the new roles. Snitker reiterated Tuesday, “I couldn’t have done it without him.”
Pendleton was among three Braves coaches who interviewed for the managerial job last week, along with Eddie Perez and Porter, a former Astros manager. A person familiar with the search said Pendleton began his interview by saying that Snitker deserved the job after his work as interim manager. Pendleton will be back as Snitker’s bench coach.
Hart was candid with reporters about the process when he said Oct. 3, the day after the season ended, that it would be difficult to hire a member of the coaching staff as manager over Snitker after the job Snitker had done.
Some were surprised the team even found it necessary to interview other candidates after the performance of the rejuvenated Braves in the second half, when they overcame shaky starting pitching with an improved bullpen and major offensive progress — particularly after the arrival of Matt Kemp via trade and the call-up of prospect Dansby Swanson.
But team officials said after the Gonzalez firing that they would do a thorough managerial search to find his full-time replacement, and they felt it prudent to go through with that plan despite the team’s encouraging second half.
They looked around, interviewed a handful of other candidates including Black, a former Manager of the Year for San Diego, and Washington, who guided Texas to four consecutive seasons with at least 90 wins and back-to-back World Series appearances in 2010-2011.
In the end, the Braves saw no reason to move off Snitker, the candidate who already convinced players he was the right man for the job.