The Braves have a history of not looking great distances for their next manager. The words “national search” must not appear in their executive handbook. In 1988, then-general manager Bobby Cox fired Chuck Tanner and promoted Russ Nixon from the minors. A little more than two years later, he fired Nixon and rode the elevator downstairs to the dugout. Then Cox retired and Fredi Gonzalez, a Cox protégé, out of work and living in Atlanta, was hired.
Even the Braves’ last two general managers (Frank Wren and John Coppolella) were promoted from within. (John Hart, buddy to then-president John Schuerholz, was lured off the golf course and brought in as an adviser and a steady hand for Coppolella, and the three in concert blew it up.) So staying in-house just seems to be the “Braves way.”
Given that, the odds favor Schuerholz/Hart/Coppolella — sorry, I’m still not certain who to give the front office power to — hiring from within after this season. That means the job will go to interim manager Brian Snitker, first base coach Eddie Perez or bench coach Terry Pendleton. Going outside the family (Bud Black) or making an outside-the-box hiring like Mark DeRosa or Chipper Jones seems doubtful.
If I had to rank the three internal candidates on likelihood of hiring, it would be Perez-Pendleton-Snitker. My personal preference would be Pendleton-Perez-Snitker. Shockingly, Schuerholz, Hart and Coppolella have not yet sought my opinion on this. I’m guessing they’re just shy.
Snitker, Perez and Pendleton are equally qualified in this way: All know the workings of the organization and the prospects coming up. All three also know where the skeletons are buried, which helps.
Snitker went 3-3 on a road trip following the clumsy firing of Gonzalez and he managed his first home game at Turner Field Tuesday night. He only had to drive south on I-85 from his previous job with Gwinnett, so the Braves didn’t have to pay moving expenses again.
But there was one early hiccup:
“I forgot my Peach Pass and traffic was horrible,” he said.
That should be his biggest problem the rest of the season.
The Braves are on pace to lose 117 games. The franchise record is 115 (1935 Boston Braves). The Atlanta record is 106 (1988). So really, the 2016 team has just been kind of a throwback season. It sounds so much more nostalgic that way, doesn’t it?
Anyway, here are the three internal candidates, in my order of preference:
• Pendleton: A case can be made he was the greatest leader as a player the Braves have ever had in Atlanta. That may not guarantee anything as a manager but this is his 15th season as a coach and he appears to have the universal respect of players.
Asked what makes a good manager, Pendleton said. “You have to know your players as individuals, what they’re dealing with, what gets them charged, whether to put your arm around them or kick them in the rear. You have to believe in your players and your players have to believe in you.”
He also suggested that no matter who gets the job, it won’t be like waving a magic wand over the roster.
“It’s about the players. Whitey Herzog told me in 1986, ‘People talk all the time about how good of a manager I am. But if I don’t have the horses, I’m not worth a quarter.’”
• Perez: Three reasons why I believe he’s the favorite, though not by much: 1) There’s nothing to suggest he is less qualified as a coach than Pendleton and he has managerial experience in the winter leagues; 2) As a former catcher and recently a bullpen coach, he is in-tune with the franchise’s young pitchers, which is central to this makeover; 3) The fact he’s Venezuelan could help the transition for prospects from Latin America.
“I’m ready. That’s all I know,” Perez said when asked about his managerial hopes.
He and Pendleton both credited Cox for their growth in coaching. “Being a players’ manager — you do everything for them,” he said. ” I always wanted to play hard for Bobby Cox because he had my back.”
And to all those who banged on Gonzalez for in-game strategy, Perez said that’s overrated: “You manage by what you are feeling. That’s the way Bobby did it. I feel the same way.”
• Snitker: The interim manager lives in his daughter’s basement. No, seriously. He and his wife moved in with their daughter in Buford after selling their Lilburn home and have yet to find a suitable replacement. So he woke up on off-day Monday and played with his grand kids. Then he drove to Turner Field and saw his name outside the door of the manager’s office for the first time.
“That was pretty cool,” he said.
The whole story is pretty cool. A 60-year-old gets his big league managerial shot in his 40th year with the same organization. When the Braves won in Pittsburgh in his second game, Snitker became the first manager to get his first win after the age of 60 since Toronto’s Bobby Mattick (64) in 1980.
Snitker is well-liked and a good baseball man. My guess is the front office will seek a fresh(er) look and something extraordinary would have to happen for him to get the job, but Snitker rightly looks at this as an audition.
“Do I sit and worry about it? No,” he said. “I’m just here to help any way I can. But I’ve never been one to look ahead and to worry about things I can’t control. I’m not going to beat myself up about that.”
The rest of the season could be bruising enough.
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