Schuerholz on Braves’ ‘economy of hitting’ and other topics

Braves president John Schuerholz, speaking Thursday at an Atlanta Press Club luncheon, fielded questions on a range of topics, including the team’s planned new stadium, its ownership and its dismal hitting.

Here are excerpts from the discussion, with questions and Schuerholz’s answers edited for length and clarity:

Q: Are you confident the Cobb County Commission will approve the final stadium deal Tuesday, when it is scheduled to vote on detailed contracts and the selection of a group consisting of Brasfield & Gorrie, Mortenson Construction, Barton Malow and New South Construction as the ballpark’s general contractor?

A: I'm as confident as I can be. I think (Cobb commissioners) have made their commitment and have demonstrated it time and time and time again. We have worked hard together. I am confident that it will be approved and that we will have a new ballpark in April 2017 for opening day.

Q: Talk a little bit about the Braves' hitting. (Laughter.)

A: You could say this has been an economy of hitting on our part, early on. I believe pitching and defense win you more games than anything. I've always believed that. I started my career with the Baltimore Orioles in 1966, when we beat the Dodgers four straight games in the World Series, and I learned quickly that pitching and defense is the secret sauce to winning at every level in baseball. But hitting is important, don't get me wrong, and we'd like to be hitting better than we are. We still find ourselves in first place without much offensive productivity or consistency of offensive productivity. And once we get that — I believe we will — we'll have a chance to be in the playoffs again this year. I feel as confident about that as I do about our new ballpark and mixed-use development coming out of the ground in Cobb County.

Q: Will owner Liberty Media hang on to the team until the stadium opens in 2017?

A: They have never mentioned any thought toward off-loading the Atlanta Braves. In fact, to the contrary, they have talked in glowing, positive terms about how we're not a cash drain, how our asset value continues to grow. If you have a company that is as robust and successful as Liberty Media and one of your subsidiaries does that for you, plus is a fun asset to have, plays Major League Baseball and gets into the playoffs virtually every year — not speaking on behalf of Liberty Media but in the conversations we've had with my counterparts and others in their organization, they seem very pleased to have the Atlanta Braves in their portfolio.

Q: The Gwinnett Braves’ stadium, which was built with promises of surrounding development, hasn’t lived up to expectations so far. What is different in Cobb County?

A: All of the wonderful plans that Brand Morgan and other developers had about how that would develop (in Gwinnett) are beginning to get some footing again now, but it's slow. When we made that decision (to move the Class AAA minor-team from Richmond, Va., to Gwinnett in 2009), that's when the economy bellied up. It's still a beautiful ballpark. We had a wonderful plan, wonderful expectations. It was disappointing, but a lot of that was in large part due to the economy.

Q: So when the Braves move to Cobb County, there won’t be a recession?

A: My middle name is not Nostradamus. But we'll be able to withstand it far better than we could before.

Q: Do you think having 15 teams apiece in the American and National leagues is a permanent arrangement?

A: I think there may be expansion on the horizon. I'm not making an announcement for Commissioner (Bud) Selig, but I think our sport is ready for expansion. In looking at a global view of expansion, I think that could happen. I think our sport is positioned so well. … That's just me talking, but if somebody would say, 'What would you predict for baseball in the future?,' I'd say we could be a global sport.