Since leaving his job as a teacher in 1966 to join the Orioles front office, John Schuerholz has established himself as one of the most successful and respected executives in Major League Baseball. He became the Royals' general manager in 1981 and held that role until coming to Atlanta to take the same position with the Braves after the 1990 season.
One year later, he was celebrating the first of the 14 consecutive division titles the Braves won under his direction. Schuerholz ended his celebrated tenure as a general manager after the 2007 season and has since served as the club's president. He recently spoke to MLB.com about the organization's direction and the excitement surrounding the upcoming season.
MLB.com: Many of the club's business decisions will be influenced by the new stadium, which is set to open in Cobb County in 2017. Can you give us the latest updates regarding the stadium?
Schuerholz: Our excitement continues to grow as we get more and more involved in the details of this magnificent project. There is a lot of work to be done. It is a very demanding timeline for us, but our executives are really, really working, really grinding and spending a lot of quality time. Communications internally are great and communications externally with our stadium architect design team Populus and the land planners whom we've signed. We continue to negotiate and discuss with people who might join us with the venture. It's really an exciting time for the organization. It's a lot of work and a lot of responsibility, but we're up to it.
MLB.com: How important is the new stadium for the organization?
Schuerholz: We think it could be very beneficial. We did negotiate with the members of the [city of Atlanta] mayor's staff. This is not about casting aspersions or blame on anyone. Both sides tried and it didn't work out. Now we found a place in Cobb County, only 12 miles from our current location. It's still the Atlanta Braves with the "A" on our hat and Atlanta across our chest, proudly so. We find ourselves in a very dynamic and visionary community with the folks who are anxious and excited about this and have joined arms with us and are into this and committed to this as we are.
MLB.com: When Frank Wren announced Freddie Freeman's eight-year, $135 million deal, he talked about the importance the stadium played in that decision. Can we expect to see similar moves down the road? Will the projected additional revenues persuade you to make other similar decisions?
Schuerholz: It's understandable for Frank and all of us to have those positive expectations, because we think this is going to be a remarkable project. We think it will be beneficial, not only to our organization, but especially to our fans and obviously to the Cobb County area. As we are able to be more successful/profitable, as we always have done, we'll turn those profits back into the operation of this franchise and grow it in a measured, aggressive, controlled way. By that, we spend money on our team and create a better product by spending more assets putting our team together. We make our international scouting stronger and our amateur scouting stronger and are able to be even more aggressive financially with free-agent signings and such.
MLB.com: When you come off last year's 96-win season, is the excitement level a little bit greater, especially since you have essentially the same nucleus back?
Schuerholz: We are excited about our team. We do have a young team. We think that is good for us. We think there is growth in front of them and they have already experienced success as part of the nucleus of this team, this year and the last couple of years. We were only a couple plays away from going further and who knows how far we could have gone with last year's team. But that is last year. It's a good positive experience to build upon. There's a lot of enthusiasm that I feel already with the players arriving [to Spring Training] and working. Everybody feels that every year at every camp. I understand that, but that is the nature of the early days of Spring Training. But I feel good about our team and I think everybody else does as well.
MLB.com: Having a solid young nucleus can be beneficial, but at the same time this can provide a challenge when the players reach arbitration-eligible status. Do you feel the team is in a good position?
Schuerholz: I think our actions have spoken to the fact that we didn't get blindsided by that. We knew when everybody's arbitration years were coming and we knew what their circumstances were going to be. We've already announced some very significant signings, but that was the plan. We all met and talked about, "Let's keep our core guys as Braves." That is a prescribed plan that we have in place. We've gotten Freddie signed. We've got Jason [Heyward] signed. We've got Julio Teheran signed and we're working on some more. That was the plan. This is an important nucleus and we want to try to keep it together for as long as possible.
MLB.com: Does it feel a little bit different without Brian McCann and Tim Hudson around this year?
Schuerholz: Sure, McCann is a homegrown Brave. He was a kid who was drafted by his hometown team and he was a magnificent player for us. He was a remarkable guy on our team, a real positive influence. It was not an unexpected development for us that an American League team had that kind of interest financially and the capability of dealing with that kind of interest. We weren't able to do that. But we wish McCann nothing but the best. He's a remarkable guy and friends still to all of us.
Hudson also added great leadership and great force as sort of the bell cow of our pitching staff. We'll miss both of them, but we think we have the ability that will matriculate and percolate up into our organization that will assume those responsibilities in the clubhouse and on the field.
MLB.com: You have been coming to Spring Training as an executive for 48 years. Is it still as exciting as it was during the early years?
Schuerholz: It's always exciting. This is the time of the year. It's springtime, the earth renews itself. We personally try to renew ourselves with commitments about how we live our lives and what we do and our aspirations in our own personal lives. Baseball renews itself. It's a time for renewal. That's what we do, all 30 teams in our sport. We feel the sense of renewal.
MLB.com What do you like most about this year's team?
Schuerholz: I like the fact that they're young and talented. I think youthful enthusiasm and talent is a wonderful combination. We have that. They had success last year. A lot of these guys were on a team that won 96 games and a play or two away from going further. I think that is really good and exciting to have those guys embrace that success we have had here and embrace the legacy of this organization. This is an organization that not only built a championship team, but sustained it for a long, long time. We still feel like we're at that place.
MLB.com: You built each of the Braves teams that won 14 consecutive division titles. There were a few rebuilding years. Are you proud of how quickly the club has returned to the level it has been the last few seasons?
Schuerholz: I'm proud of it, but I'm not surprised by it. You can rebuild more quickly and more effectively if you have done your due diligence on the basics and that is, do you have good people out there scouting amateur and international players? Do you have good professional scouts that are out scouting Major League and Minor League teams and recommending good trades? You can rebound more quickly if you have those elements in place and we believe we do.
MLB.com: It was not going to be easy for whoever filled Bobby Cox's shoes. Are you happy with what Fredi Gonzalez has done as your manager during his first three seasons?
Schuerholz: He has done a remarkable job following in the footsteps of this baseball giant, an icon of any baseball organization, the legendary Bobby Cox. The way Fredi has handled it has been remarkable and I give him a lot of credit. The players have responded well to Fredi's leadership style. It's not unlike Bobby's. He respects the players and the players respect him.
Mark Bowman is a reporter for MLB.com.