Brian Snitker came from Triple-A to take over the reins of a 9-28 team Tuesday when the 60-year-old baseball (and Braves) lifer was named as interim manager after Fredi Gonzalez was fired.
“It is bittersweet,” said Snitker, who’s in his 40th season in the Braves organization and was in his third as Triple-A Gwinnett manager. “It’s thrilling. I’m excited about being here. It’s bittersweet because Fredi is a good friend of mine. We went through a lot together here. He’s a good man. But it’s kind of part of what we do here. I mean, it’s just part of the business.
“Unfortunately when things go as they have been, somebody’s got to go. But I’m excited, I’m honored that John Coppolella and John Hart entrusted me with this job. It’s a great responsibility. I’ve told people, it’s kind of like I feel like I’ve been preparing for it my whole life, and it’s here. And I’m anxious to get going.”
Snitker spent seven seasons as the major league team’s third-base coach through 2013. He also had two stints as Braves bullpen coach in 1985 and 1988-1990.
He’s been a minor league manager for 20 seasons in the Braves organization and had many current Braves on his teams, ranging from prospects promoted from Gwinnett to veterans on his Double-A Mississippi more than a decade ago.
“Snit has been a Brave for 40 years,” Braves general manager John Coppolella said. “He’s somebody that was on Bobby Cox’s staff, somebody that has had a lot of these players, whether it was at Triple-A, even had Frenchy (Jeffy Francoeur) and Kelly (Johnson) when they were back at Double-A 12, 15 years ago. He’s somebody that can kind of bring back the Braves Way. Our whole staff has worked with him at some point. They all know him very well. And it’s something for us where we felt that this was a man who’d get the right message to our players and to our staff at a really tough time.”
And what is that message?
“The right message now is that the season isn’t over,” Coppolella said. “We just made a change. I think if you ask any of our players, to a man they feel like they’ve underachieved. We feel like they’ve underachieved. And it’s a new voice. It isn’t Fredi’s fault that they’re not playing well, but sometimes a new voice can help get the right message across.”
Francoeur compared the situation with last season when he played for the Phillies and they named longtime organizational coach and manager Pete Mackanin to replace Ryan Sandberg after Sandberg resigned as manager in June.
“With Snit, they made the right choice with that,” Francoeur said. “He’s been a baseball lifer, a grinder. It reminds me a lot of Philly last year. We had Pete Mackanin, who’s been around for a long, long time. He was able to come in, and look what he’s done with those guys. They’re playing their butts off and having a great year this year. To me it’s nothing that Fredi didn’t do, it’s just sometimes that happens in sports. I talked to Fredi today. He was great, man. He told us to keep going. We’ll miss him, but maybe at the same time getting a new voice can do something different.”
Snitker said he got the call Monday while having breakfast with his wife. Initially, Snitker didn’t think anything of getting a morning call from Coppolella, since that’s normal for the Triple-A manager.
“We talk all the time anyway with the player moves and everything,” he said. “My wife and I were having breakfast, and it kind of, I was like, ‘Oh, man.’ It kind of got my head spinning a little bit. I felt like I just kind of dropped out of the sky into the clubhouse. And here we go.
“It’s been a wild 24 hours. Getting through that (Triple-A) game last night was a little different, just knowing what was going on.”
Braves president of baseball operations John Hart has known Snitker since they were opposing minor league managers decades ago.
“When John and I called him, he said, ‘Hell, yes, I want this opportunity,’” Hart said. “He’s at a point, he’s given his heart and soul and career to the Braves, and having competed against him as a manager, and obviously following his career, this is a guy that’s tough, but he’s a terrific guy. When you come into these situations, your players are a little shook, they’re not sure what’s going on.
“He’s coming in with a clean slate. He hasn’t seen these guys, maybe guys who haven’t played up to expectations. But he’s managed a lot of games in a lot of years. He’s been in the big leagues. He knows the Braves, knows our players. When we looked at all the dynamics, we were very fortunate to have a guy with that kind of experience and that kind of knowledge of the Braves, who knows our players.”
It’s a vastly different situation for Snitker in many ways, but the game is the same, he said.
“It’s a baseball game,” he said. “It’s a new situation for me obviously. I think it’ll take me some time to get into this routine of what you do here, because it is different. Everything’s magnified, and it’s a lot more demanding time (requirements) on you and things like that. I told (Hart and Coppolella) and told the players, I’ve just got to live it for a while. I just want to watch the club play and then see where we go from there.”