“I had to retire three times before I got it right,” Snyder said in a 2020 interview from his log-cabin home about 10 miles outside Murphy, N.C. “I think it was 2012 I finally got it right.”
Paul Luther Snyder, born June 11, 1935 in Dallastown, Pa., died at the age of 88 on Thursday.
Snyder’s career with the Braves – and only the Braves – spanned more than a half-century, starting as a minor-league player for $2,500 in 1957 when the franchise was based in Milwaukee.
He spent seven seasons as a first baseman and outfielder in the farm system, often dealing with back injuries and never reaching the major leagues despite a .318 career batting average in the minors. The scout within him reluctantly recognized that other aspects of his game – running, fielding, throwing -- fell short of his line-drive hitting ability, so he became a minor-league manager in 1963, putting aside his previous plan to become a plumber like his father.
Snyder briefly served as the Braves’ director of stadium operations when the franchise moved to Atlanta in 1966 – “never had a job that I knew less about in my life,” he would confess many decades later. While on vacation after the ’66 season, he heard the Braves had an opening for a scout. He drove back to Atlanta and was waiting at general manager Paul Richards’ door the next morning to ask for the job, which he got.
Credit: Photo provided
Credit: Photo provided
He briefly returned to minor-league managing in the early 1970s and then spent the rest of his career in what became his true calling: finding young players for the Braves.
When the Braves won the World Series in 1995, six of their eight regulars (catcher Lopez, second baseman Mark Lemke, shortstop Jeff Blauser, third baseman Chipper Jones, left fielder Ryan Klesko and right fielder David Justice) had been brought into the organization as amateurs by Snyder’s scouting department. So had three starting pitchers on that team – Glavine, Steve Avery and Kent Mercker -- as well as the closer, Mark Wohlers. (Another starting pitcher, John Smoltz, had been acquired in a trade as a 20-year-old minor leaguer on the recommendation of Braves scouts.)
“I just sat down in the dugout (after the clinching game of the 1995 World Series) and had a little cry,” Snyder once said when asked what it meant to him to see all of those players grow up to win a championship. “In the clubhouse later, someone wanted to know who sprayed me with champagne. I said, ’'No, those are tears of happiness.’”
Through the years, many people close to the Braves organization came to recognize scouting director Snyder in the same category with long-time manager Bobby Cox and long-time general manager John Schuerholz – the three architects of the franchise’s greatest era. While Snyder’s role was behind the scenes and out of the headlines, as he preferred, it was crucial to the front-facing success of Cox and Schuerholz.
“There is no overestimating what he’s done,” Schuerholz once told the AJC, “based on what we all know about the players he’s signed, his dedication and love for scouting, his work with young scouts and development of scouts.”
Schuerholz added: “That is trumped by his magnificent sense of friendship and loyalty and character and decency. Those are all qualities that really make what Paul is, beyond what he’s done as a professional.”
Snyder’s career earned him many accolades. In 2006, he received Minor League Baseball’s “King of Baseball” award. The same year, Baseball America named him one of the 25 most influential people in the game over the previous quarter-century. In 2013, he was inducted into the Professional Baseball Scouts Hall of Fame.
“This is such a long way from the little country town where I grew up in Pennsylvania,” Snyder said upon his 2005 induction into the Braves Hall of Fame. “The game has been so good to me, and I hoped in some small way I could give something back to it.”
Not all of his years with the Braves were good. He suffered with the rest of the organization through stretches of dreadful seasons in the late 1970s and again in the mid-to-late 1980s, failures attributable in part to the team not spending enough money on scouting and player development. The franchise began its ascent after Stan Kasten, then the team president, secured more money for those endeavors from then-owner Ted Turner at the behest of Snyder and Cox.
But through good times and bad, Snyder was the consummate Brave, never tempted by offers of employment, even advancement, with other teams.
Snyder became the Braves’ assistant minor-league administrator in 1972 and was promoted to director of scouting in 1976, holding that job through 1990. He then became a special assistant to the general manager for five years before returning to a role as director of scouting and player development in 1996. He “retired” for the first time in 2000 because of health issues, then became a part-time special assistant for five years. He returned to full-time employment as director of baseball operations at age 71 in 2006 and “retired” again in 2008, only to find himself back at work once more.
“If George Foreman and those other boxers can keep coming out of retirement, I guess I can, too,” Snyder said at one point.
By whatever title, Snyder was a scout, first and foremost. Even after what he called his successful full-fledged retirement in 2012, he often would return to the office for the annual amateur draft to offer much-sought advice.
The Braves issued a statement on Friday: “Paul Snyder was a true baseball man. In a career that spanned 50 years, all with the Braves, Paul held just about every role there is in the game. Player. Manager. Executive. But it was his talent to find, identify and develop baseball talent that made him so special, and he used that ability to help turn the Braves into a perennial powerhouse over such an illustrious career. He helped develop Dale Murphy. He scouted Tom Glavine. He recommeded Chipper Jones. The list of his accomplishments goes on and on. But it’s just not his baseball acumen that is missed today. Paul had a vibrant personality and generous nature that were second to none. It is with a heavy heart we send our condolences to his wife, Petie, two children and numerous loving grandchildren.”
In 2016, before the Braves bucked the industry consensus by taking a high school right-handed pitcher, Ian Anderson, with the third overall pick of the draft, they turned to Snyder for his opinion. Snyder told the room: “It’s guys like Ian Anderson that we built this organization on.” Upon hearing those words, the Braves confidently drafted the kid.
Snyder always advocated the accumulation of pitching. His guideline was that a team must draft at least 10 pitchers to find one who will stick in the major leagues.
Over the years, you could ask Snyder about any Braves star, and he’d go back in time.
He remembered Justice, who hit the home run that won the 1995 World Series, as a 19-year-old college player who so wanted to impress a scout in 1985 that, sick for three days with the flu, he got out of bed and went 9-for-11 in a doubleheader in Crestview Hills, Ky.
He remembered the switch-hitting Chipper Jones as a 17-year-old who, in a high school game in Jacksonville, Fla., defied his coach’s insistence that he bat exclusively from the right side “and on his first swing from the left side hit a frozen rope (line drive) out of the ballpark, into the street behind right field.”
And he was especially fond of telling the story of climbing under the bleachers in Puerto Rico for a secret look at 15-year-old catcher Lopez. Snyder was wearing a favorite golf shirt his wife Petie had given him, and he tore it to shreds on a nail as he crawled out from under the stands.
Then, as always, Paul Snyder would go to any length to find talent for his beloved Braves.