Snitker has earned status as beloved skipper

October 16th, 2021

ATLANTA -- As the Braves prepared to play their final game of the 2017 season in Miami, Ron Washington was asked what he thought would happen. He immediately pointed toward Brian Snitker and said, “That man deserves the job.”

Had MLB sanctions not forced former general manager John Coppolella to resign from his job the following day, Washington would have likely replaced Snitker, whose contract had a club option for the 2018 season, as the Braves’ manager. It had long been expected Coppolella and former president of baseball operations John Hart would make a managerial change.

But Snitker had also had enough of working for Coppolella.

When Coppolella infuriated Snitker by complaining about not pinch-hitting for Matt Kemp in the ninth inning of a meaningless game during that season’s final weekend, Snitker called a clubhouse staffer in Atlanta and said, “Pack my stuff, I don’t want to work for [Coppolella].”

It’s incredible to think how much has changed since Coppolella resigned and Snitker was given a one-year contract extension just a few days later. The Braves have since won four consecutive National League East titles, and on Saturday, they will begin competing in a second straight National League Championship Series.

“Snit, in my mind, deserves everything that is happening to him right now,” Braves first baseman Freddie Freeman said. “We love that man and he loves us. The success we’ve had is because of him.”

Looking back with no regrets
There’s no doubt Washington would love to manage again and be reintroduced to the thrills that surrounded him as he guided the Rangers to two consecutive World Series appearances in 2010 and ’11. But he has found great happiness while serving as Snitker’s third-base coach over each of the past five seasons.

“This is the first time in my baseball career as a player, coach, manager, whatever, that I made a decision to come somewhere, and this is the best decision I’ve made,” said Washington, who also fondly remembers his days with the Rangers and as an A’s coach.

Washington has developed a fatherly-like bond with Ozzie Albies, and he has appreciated the relationships he has formed while spending the past few years with Freeman, Austin Riley and Dansby Swanson. Along the way, he has never shown any bit of animosity or jealousy. In fact, he has appreciated the chance to work for a strong leader like Snitker, who confidently allows his coaches to do their jobs.

Snitker’s leadership skills were strengthened during his years as Hall of Fame manager Bobby Cox’s third-base coach. But they were built as he spent 36 seasons coaching and managing within Atlanta’s system before finally getting his chance to be a big league manager. He was named the Braves’ interim manager when Fredi González was dismissed six weeks into the 2016 season.

The initial expectation was Snitker would stick around for a season or two and then return to another role. But the Braves became better as he managed them through a massive rebuild, and guys like Freeman, Nick Markakis and others made it clear they wanted him to be more than just a short-term fix.

“[Snitker] came up from Triple-A and settled things down,” Washington said. “He got an opportunity the next year to become the manager, and everything has been settled down since then. It was in the cards. You don’t find this from a guy who has spent so much time in the Minor Leagues. Usually, when they call on those guys to babysit, that’s exactly what they end up doing. But he made such an impression on the players.”

The beloved manager
Going all the way back to the Minor League days of David Justice and Mark Lemke, Snitker has influenced the careers of countless Braves stars over the past four decades. John Smoltz has described Snitker as “the most intimidating” coach he had in the Minors.

Snitker has mellowed over the past couple of decades, but his protective anger is still witnessed from time to time. The baseball world saw it as he furiously reacted to Ronald Acuña Jr. being hit by the Marlins’ José Ureña in 2018. But this was nothing new from a guy who has never reacted kindly to his players being wronged.

As Jeff Francoeur prepared to serve as a TBS analyst for the NLCS, he hearkened back to 2005, when he was playing for Snitker at Double-A Mississippi. Francoeur had homered three times during a series and was drilled in the ribs with a pitch during the last game of that set against the Montgomery Biscuits.

“I went nuts and Snit went nuts,” Francoeur said. “Snit told someone on our team to hit somebody and they missed or whatever. Funny enough, that guy ended up getting sent down like a week later. But then somebody else came in and just smoked Delmon Young in the back. It was Easter Sunday and it was nuts.”

After order was restored, the umpires called the game.

“I’ll never forget, we’re sitting in there after the game and Snitker comes in with a cooler full of beer,” Francoeur said. “He was like, 'I’ve never been so damn proud of a group of guys in my whole life.' We then went on the road somewhere and ripped off like 10 out of 12. That’s just the way he is. It was awesome.”

Staying focused
As the Braves lost Acuña, Marcell Ozuna and Mike Soroka and spent long periods without Travis d’Arnaud, Ian Anderson and Huascar Ynoa, Snitker admittedly had to bite his tongue a few times and keep a positive attitude around the clubhouse. His ability to do so helped the team battle through four months of mediocrity and still be in position to win the division once a few key additions were made at the Trade Deadline.

Snitker was named NL Manager of the Year after the Braves unexpectedly won the NL East in 2018. Given all his team had to overcome this year, there’s reason to argue he was even better this year.

“He’s deserving of every single award he gets,” Freeman said. “I’m so happy for him. Hopefully, we can get to the World Series and win this thing for him.”