Looking back: John Schuerholz

From left, team president Stan Kasten, general manager John Schuerholz, owner Ted Turner and manager Bobby Cox surround the World Series trophy after the Braves defeated the Indians in Game 6 of the 1995 World Series. DAVID TULIS/AJC fil

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From left, team president Stan Kasten, general manager John Schuerholz, owner Ted Turner and manager Bobby Cox surround the World Series trophy after the Braves defeated the Indians in Game 6 of the 1995 World Series. DAVID TULIS/AJC fil

Editor's note: This article was originally published for myAJC on  Nov. 26, 2015.

What he did: While there are only four men in the Baseball Hall of Fame for what is the job of modern-day team president or general manager, John Schuerholz certainly has the credentials to land in Cooperstown one day.

He has 49 years of experience in baseball, 26 as a GM. As a GM, Schuerholzs’ teams won two World Series titles and an incredible 16 division championships, including 14 in a row with the Braves. Perhaps the most impressive statistic in Schuerholz’s 16 years as the Braves GM is the team was 1,594-1,092, played in 125 postseason games and had one losing season. Also, many of his assistants have gone on to become successful baseball executives, the latest being Dayton Moore in Kansas City, who as GM has taken the Royals to two consecutive World Series, and the Royals won the title in October.

The president of the Braves since October 2007, Schuerholz was born in Baltimore. His first job came as a school teacher before he got into baseball with the Orioles in 1966. He left the Orioles for Kansas City when the city was granted an expansion team in 1969.

With the Royals from the very beginning, Schuerholz worked his way up the ladder, and in 1981 became the youngest general manager in baseball. He became very close with owner Ewing Kauffman and built a model franchise, with the Royals becoming the first expansion team to win a World Series in the American League, in 1985.

Then in the winter of 1990, while sharing a taxi with then-Braves president Stan Kasten, Schuerholz learned that the Braves were looking for a new GM to replace Bobby Cox, who had been moved into the dugout as the manager. Kauffman had brought in a part owner and with his health becoming an issue, suddenly there was a lot of uncertainty in the organization. With owner Ted Turner on board, Kasten offered Schuerholz the job and while he struggled with the decision, in a very emotional meeting with his boss in Kansas City, Kauffman told him he thought it would be the best move.

So with Cox in traction at Piedmont Hospital after getting both knees replaced, Schuerholz arrived in Atlanta, visited his manager and began to change the face of what had been one of baseball’s worst franchises. The young talent was here, as Cox had built up the minor league system with players such as Tom Glavine, David Justice, Chipper Jones, Ron Gant, Steve Avery, Jeff Blauser and Mark Lemke and had traded for a young John Smoltz. But the organization desperately needed a veteran executive to lay out a long-term plan, and Schuerholz immediately began bringing in veteran players to mix in with the youth, signing stalwarts Terry Pendleton and Sid Bream and defensive specialist Rafael Belliard as well as reliever Juan Berenguer.

It worked quickly, as the Braves lit the city on fire, going from two consecutive 97-loss seasons to winning the National Legue West and a seven-game World Series loss to Minnesota that many feel is one of the best Fall Classics ever played.

The Braves returned to the World Series the next season, remembered most for the ninth-inning hit by Francisco Cabrera that scored Sid Bream to win the seventh game of the National League Championship Series against Pittsburgh to again reach the big stage.

All along, Schuerholz was looking to improve the club. He was always very active before the trade deadline, and after the 1992 came very close to securing outfielder Barry Bonds from the Giants, but when the trade fell through, he signed the best pitcher in baseball, Greg Maddux, who would go on and win four Cy Young Awards with a 194-88 record in Atlanta.

Then in ’93, he picked up the cleanup hitter he had been looking for in a trade for Fred McGriff and it all came together in 1995 as the Braves beat Cleveland in the World Series.

The Braves went back to the Series the next year, but saw a 2-0 lead disappear when the Yankees won four consecutive, and it marked the beginning of many personnel changes with the Braves. After the ’96 season, Schuerholz made what he said was his toughest trade ever, dealing David Justice and Marquis Grissom to the Indians. But while the faces changed, the Braves kept winning, their 14-year division title streak finally broken in 2006.

A year later Schuerholz stepped down as the GM and became the president of the Braves.

Where he lives: Schuerholz has been in Atlanta since the winter of 1990 and has been married to Karen for 37 years. The couple has two children, Jonathan and Gina. Jonathan was an infielder in the Braves organization for six years. He now is the assistant director of player development for the Braves. Gina is a teacher at an elementary school in Cobb County.

What he does now: The president of the Braves, Schuerholz heads up various MLB committees and would like to play more golf, but has had trouble with his back.

On when he was hired by the Braves: "I was actually with (former Braves president) Stan Kasten yesterday (Nov. 19), ironically. We were leaving the owners meetings in Dallas together. We were at the airport and had some time and were just chatting about this very thing, and he reminded me that it was about this time of the year, It was actually a little earlier than this time of the year I joined the Braves and I had to go back to Kansas City because my wife had planned a surprise 50th birthday party for me back in Kansas City where we had lived for 23 years. It was an exciting time. It was a challenging time. It was difficult time.''

On the state of the talent when he came to the Braves: "Everyone in the industry knew what was going on. We were watching the Braves and then they were going through sort of what we are going through now. Hopefully, we'll get through it a little more quickly this time. I wasn't surprised with what we did, the farm system was rich though the major league team was suffering mightily."

On the '91 worst to first finish: "I'm not saying 1995, when we won it wasn't a great year, but '91 here was as exciting a year as I've ever been a part of. The expectations were so low, the belief in the team and organization were so negative, that to do what we did, to put that group together, to get that blend to get that mix of those guys who played that well enough to win the first of our 14 consecutive division championship was incredible. I also think the '91 World Series was the most exciting one that's ever been played.''

On the Sid Bream slide to win Game 7 of the NLCS in 1992: "Sid was standing out there with a big ol' brace on his knee at second base and everyone wondering, what will happen if there's a base hit, will Sid even get to home plate? When I saw Sid rounding third I thought he would score. It was a bang-bang play, but Pirates catcher Mike LaValliere had to go out and get the ball. If the ball was a little more down the third-base line, it may have been different. But he had to go out to get it and dive back.''

On whether that moment tops all he has experienced in Atlanta: "You know it might have been. I hate to say that because nothing beats winning a world championship. It was like the town was plugged into a giant energy field with that win.''

On giving up the GM job: "I was ready, the job was transforming dramatically even then. I went to (chairman of the board) Terry (McGuirk) and I said, 'Terry, this is my 26th year as a general manager and I think we ought to put a plan in place and find somebody who is a little more flexible than I am and I'll stay around in whatever roll you wish me stay in.' Terry said I would like you to be president, you're well-respected in the industry, you have great community relationships, you represent with fire and passion and I'd like you to be our president. So I've been serving in that capacity for eight years now.''

On what he does as the team's president: "The title, anyone who is president of an organization, is ultimately a crucial role for an organization in all facets. Our industry is business and baseball, those are the two elements. I know baseball well, but I also wasn't insulated from involvement in business. It's creating a product, managing the expenses, and managing and trying to generate enough revenue to make it all balance out. That's Business 101. There's some sophisticated areas such as ticket sales and marketing and all that I'm not an expert in all that, but I know enough about things like that.''

On leaving Turner Field: "We tried to get it done there, we tried for years to acquire the land around Turner Field and we were told it was impossible. So we finally heard that enough that we had to make one of two choices, we either stay there under the circumstances we were under or have a business opportunity and go somewhere not too far, 10 miles down the road, where a business opportunity is available and possible for many of our fans to get to.''

On will the traffic be any worse moving to Cobb: "I've driven down the connector since I've been here for work and no, it won't be any more challenging than that. Atlanta is a traffic-challenged city … no matter where you are, no matter where you live. We understand that. We drew over three-and-half million people here (at Turner Field), and if you have the right product and the right team, we will draw them to our new ballpark.

On the current state of the club: "Here's how it's been: We did a very, very thorough analysis and where we were going to be if we stayed the course. We could not stay the course. We had to make dramatic and tough decisions. We had big contracts, we had talented players who weren't going to be able to by themselves bring us a world championship opportunity again. We had a farm system where all the good players we had, had already matriculated in the major leagues. Our system was empty. And we knew that if we just continued to stay the course and tried to balance ourselves with both worlds, it wouldn't work. Last season we couldn't fix the big league part, although we did for the first half of the season until (reliever) Jason Grilli suffered the Achilles injury. It was difficult because we've been winners, and I keep reminding myself take a long-term view at what the Atlanta Braves have done. Since 1991 only the New York Yankees have won more games than us and the Cardinals are third. It's hard to swallow for all of us, it's hard to swallow for the fans, we understand all that.''

On whether he is involved in player decisions: "Well yeah, I'm the president. I don't make decisions, but they come to me and if I have a question or an uncertainty about it, I'll voice it. I'll listen to what they say, what's the plan, what's behind it, what about it makes sense to us. Those are the kind of things I ask them.''