Brian Snitker has been named the Braves' new manager , and my first thought isn't, "Genius!" or "Morons!" Because, really, nobody ever knows how a new coach/manager is going to turn out in sports, and what may seem like an inspired decision today may cause many folks several months from now to think, "What were we thinking?"
That said, I can't recall another hiring in sports that should resonate with so many people on a personal level.
This goes way beyond the fact Snitker pulled together a horrible team in a horrible situation, primarily created by the Braves' front office, and went 59-65 the rest of the season, including 20-10 in the last six weeks. The reason this story has such a level of "cool" is it's about the guy who works on the factory floor for 40 years and one day is told he's being given an upstairs office with a view and a comfy chair.
Snitker is the ultimate pro sports rarity: He has played, coached, managed, instructed and probably laundered and cooked for one organization since 1977. He signed with the Braves as an undrafted minor-league catcher two years before general manager John Coppolella was born.
He is one week short of his 61st birthday -- an age when most people are counting the days to retirement, now achieving a career dream and being knighted as manager as the new boss.
Snitker is not a fresh face. His management style is not a departure from the norm. He's not the guy who anybody would've anticipated the Braves would want to slap on ticket brochures or make the centerpiece of a marketing campaign as it strives to attract millennials to their remade team in their new stadium.
There's really nothing about Snitker that says: outside the box. He's more like the old box that has been sitting in the corner for 40 years.
So he's an unusual choice. But that doesn't make him the wrong choice.
He is loved and admired by players and seemingly was the choice of most fans. I posted a blog with a reader poll last week and after 3,000 votes, Snitker was the runaway choice with 71.4 percent of the vote. The next closest were Bud Black (thought to be the favorite) at 10.4 percent and Terry Pendleton (my first choice) at 8.3.
I'll have more on Snitker's imminent hiring later today. Until then, here are a few more thoughts.
» Why he could be the right choice: He settled an unsettled clubhouse, so there shouldn't be any kind of feeling out process when the team reports to spring training. Players know what to expect from Snitker and they must like when the see because they played hard for him.
» Why this could be a risk: Not to diminish what the Braves accomplished down the stretch but they won meaningless games. There's an entirely different level of pressure and expectation when a team can play with that, "Nobody cares, nobody's watching, let's have fun," kind of attitude. The level of scrutiny will be higher next season and the uncertainty is how all parties respond.
» Staffing will be interesting: The bizarre decision by the front office to fire pitching coach Roger McDowell increases Snitker's level of oversight in that area. In addition to a new pitching coach, the Braves and Snitker need to round out his staff. The question is whether he retains Pendleton and/or Eddie Perez, both of whom were candidates for the same job.
UPDATED: The Braves have retained Pendleton, Perez, hitting coach Kevin Seitzer, assistant hitting coach Jose Castro and bullpen coach Marty Reed. Chuck Hernandez will be the new pitching coach and Ron Washington has been named the third base coach. Former third base coach Bo Porter will become a special assistant to the general manager. Hernandez was a former major league pitching coach (California, Tampa Bay, Detroit, Miami) who was hired by the Braves' last winter as minor-league pitching coordinator. Washington was a candidate for the Braves' managerial job who comes with some personal baggage but managed the Texas Rangers to two World Series appearances.
» This was one of the strangest firing/hiring evolutions I've ever witnessed. Management handed manager Fredi Gonzalez a losing hand, made worse by Freddie Freeman's early season struggles, Ender Inciarte's injury, Hector Olivera's arrest (and distraction) and bombastic play by the likes of Erick Aybar and others. (Remember, Gonzalez also didn't have the benefit of a lineup with Matt Kemp and Dansby Swanson). So they promoted Snitker, who only two years ago was demoted from third base coach with the Braves to Triple A manager at Gwinnett. Snitker was expected to be only a temp until the front office hired a permanent replacement.
As it turned out, there weren't a ton of candidates and Snitker did better than anybody expected. It's a strange story with a cool ending.
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