NEW YORK – When Brian Snitker took over as interim manager for a 9-28 team in mid-May, he wasn’t sure if he was ready for the job, and for a while afterward he wasn’t certain if he’d want to keep it.
Not anymore. The Braves have responded as the front office hoped they would to the 60-year-old baseball lifer’s approach, which Snitker developed from four decades of playing and managing in the minors and from coaching in the big leagues under his friend and mentor, legendary Braves manager Bobby Cox.
Now, having guided the Braves to a 51-63 record in his 114 games as interim manager before Tuesday, including a 23-23 record since the addition of Matt Kemp to the lineup and a four-game winning streak against the Nationals and Mets, Snitker doesn’t mind saying publicly he’d like to keep the job. And there are indications that he could.
He started thinking about it recently while driving, one of the only times of a typical day Snitker doesn’t spend in meetings with coaches or players, or preparing for games, managing games or talking to the media before and after games.
“Yeah,” he said, when asked before Tuesday’s series finale against the Mets if he’d like a shot at the permanent managerial job. “Driving around, it’s like, you know what, I’d like a crack at this. To see. What the hell. I’ve been here (four months) doing it. If that’s the route that’s chosen, then I’ll be ready. If not, then I guess I’ll do whatever.”
Told that Snit had said publicly he’d like to keep the job, Braves general manager John Coppolella didn’t hesitiate to praise his performance, as he has repeatedly. This time, he also addressed his chances of keeping the job.
“Snit has been terrific,” Coppolella said. “We have said from the start we would interview some candidates from outside the organization and we will follow through on that promise. However, we love what Brian has done and it’s only enhanced his candidacy.”
Snitker said, “I never needed this to validate anything in my career. If it never happened, I’m proud of what I’ve done in my career, the impact I’ve had on people, on players. But now that I’ve had it, I can say, yeah, I know where you’re coming from. It’ll make me a better baseball person down the road. I don’t plan on retiring anytime soon. I’m going to stay involved, I love this life, the job, all that….
“You’re one of 30 (major league managers) in the world. Pretty neat club, really.”
Players say he’s respected and genuinely liked by everyone in the clubhouse. They appreciate how he communicates, how he lets them know their roles, and how he’s remained upbeat and positive during rough stretches along the way.
“I’m proud of the fact that our guys go out there for three hours and leave it out there — and they do,” Snitker said. “They come out and they play like we’re a game out in the division.”
Promoted from Triple-A manager to replace fired manager Fredi Gonzalez after the Braves got off to a 9-28 start, Snitker said his first weeks on the job were a blur as he tried to figure out how to do all the tasks required of a big-league manager in the most efficient and effective way.
“That’s the biggest thing to me, just learning the routine, which was so much different than anything I’d ever experienced,” he said. “You can manage in the minor leagues for 100 years, it’s not going to prepare you for this….
“It’s like what Bobby told me, until you go around the league and learn the league, it’s going to be tough,” said. “And that’s pretty much what all the (other managers) have said. Boch (Giants manager Bruce Bochy) called me the other day when we were in San Francisco. It was a great conversation. All the guys I’ve talked to, the other managers, have been unbelievable. How classy they’ve been, and supportive.”
When Snitker took over the team that fateful May 17 in Pittsburgh, the gist of his introductory speech to them was simple. He knew many of them from the minor leagues, and he made the others feel comfortable right away.
“I told them coming in, life’s too short for me to be make this a bad situation,” he said. “You’ve got to have fun, enjoy yourself, and if you do I think you have a chance to perform. And by their actions and the way they go about these games, they’re doing that. I mean, we’re playing these games like we have to win them, and I kind of feel like we do.”
A reporter mentioned to Snitker that, despite the Braves having the same record (60-91) through 151 games than they had in 2015, players say the mood is entirely different in the clubhouse. They sense there is hope now for a bright future.
To get to 60-91 a year ago, they went 18-49 after a 42-42 start, scoring just 196 runs (2.9 per game). This year, the Braves have ranked among National League offensive leaders in most categories since the All-Star break, and since Kemp’s arrival they had scored 240 runs in 46 games (5.2 runs per game).
“It’s a pretty good lineup we’re running out there right now,” Snitker said. “There’s some young guys doing some good things, and I think when you look ahead at next year, our pitching’s going to stabilize, we’re going to get guys back from injury, obviously they’re going to add some pitching and…when we pitch, we win. We’re a pretty good team when we pitch. And I think you look at that and the optimism of what’s going to be added, and who knows?”
Asked what his four months managing the team had been like, Snitker smiled.
“Interesting, eventful,” he said., “Unlike anything I experienced before. Didn’t know what to expect coming in. But it’s been good. It’s been good for me. I’ve learned a lot — about myself.”