Just so nobody gets the wrong idea, John Schuerholz plans to stick around both the Braves and baseball for a while."I'm not stepping down. I'm not stepping out. I'm not stepping back," he told reporters this week during a news conference in Atlanta. "I'm stepping forward -- maybe with little
Just so nobody gets the wrong idea, John Schuerholz plans to stick around both the Braves and baseball for a while.
"I'm not stepping down. I'm not stepping out. I'm not stepping back," he told reporters this week during a news conference in Atlanta. "I'm stepping forward -- maybe with little bitty steps this time, and not quite the larger steps I've taken over my career."
In essence, the 75-year-old Schuerholz won't continue his day-to-day role of nearly the last decade as Braves president, but he will transition into an advisory position as vice chairman of the franchise.
None of that matters when it comes to Schuerholz's baseball legacy, which was sealed by those "larger steps." He spent 50 years overall in the game -- including 25 consecutive years with the Braves -- through last season. Before he was named Braves president in 2007, he was their general manager for 17 years. And the highlights were plentiful. The club won a record 14 consecutive division titles, five National League pennants and the 1995 World Series championship.
So let's review the Schuerholz-inspired impact on the Braves after this former Royals GM joined what was a struggling organization in the standings for years before the 1991 season.
1. The groundskeeper
For decades, the Braves were noted more for slugging than pitching or fielding. Not only that, Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium had one of the game's worst playing surfaces, especially in the infield. The whole thing contributed to the Braves ranking among the Major League leaders every year in blooper highlights.
No worries. Soon after Schuerholz stepped off the plane from Kansas City, he did something more important for the last-place team he was inheriting than acquiring another hitter for the so-called Launching Pad or enhancing a shaky bullpen. He hired Ed Mangan, a disciple of George Toma, the legendary Royals groundskeeper who was so respected when it came to his craft that NFL officials used him to prepare the fields at Super Bowl sites.
In a flash, the floor of Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium became a perfectly manicured combination of grass and dirt courtesy of Mangan, and defense turned into a strength for the Braves instead of a weakness.
2. The infielders
This ties into the groundskeeper. With Mangan using his rake to do magic, Schuerholz needed defenders to take advantage of it. So before the 1991 season, he signed free agents Sid Bream (first base), Rafael Belliard (shortstop) and Terry Pendleton (third base). They all had reputations for nifty glove work, and they all spent their time with the Braves performing their roles to perfection -- and then some.
Take Pendleton and Bream, for instance. Pendleton won the third Gold Glove Award of his career in 1992, but this was bigger: During that '91 season, he fielded like crazy, and he also captured the National League batting title and the NL Most Valuable Player Award to complete the Braves' trip from worst to first.
As for Bream, he became part of all-time baseball lore. He ignored the fact that he was among the slowest guys in Major League history to round second in the bottom of the ninth inning during Game 7 of the 1992 NL Championship Series and slid home for the pennant-winning run for the Braves over the Pirates.
3. The pitcher
With future Hall of Famer pitchers Tom Glavine and John Smoltz, the Braves already were loaded in their starting rotation, and they also had the accomplished likes of Steve Avery and Charlie Leibrandt.
So what did Schuerholz do? He went out and signed another future Hall of Famer in Greg Maddux before the 1993 season.
You know the rest. Thanks to that free-agent signing, the Braves eventually had Cy Maddux, Cy Glavine and Cy Smoltz.
4. The slugger
There were the 1993 Braves, plunging in the standings through the first three months of the season despite all of that pitching and defense, and there was no hope in sight. That's because their offense kept misfiring in the middle of their batting order.
They needed an igniter.
Schuerholz got one after he acquired Fred McGriff from the Padres that summer. On the same night in July that Crime Dog joined the Braves, the press box at Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium caught on fire. So did the entire team. McGriff slammed a game-winning homer back then, and it sent the Braves on a second-half tear that ended with them winning the old NL West with 104 victories to the Giants' 103. McGriff and his clutch bat remained huge for the Braves over the next four seasons.
5. The rookies
By 2005, the Braves were like every other team in the Major Leagues compared to 14 years earlier: They were operating with virtually an entirely new group in their clubhouse. Pendleton, Bream and Belliard were long gone, and Maddux, Glavine and McGriff were elsewhere with other stars from Schuerholz's early days with the Braves.
The Braves still grabbed their 14th consecutive division title. This time, they did so with contributions from a highly productive farm system that Schuerholz helped strengthen over the years.
At one point during that 2005 season, the Braves used 18 rookies. They became the first Major League team to reach the playoffs with four rookies who spent the regular season with 100 or more at-bats.
6. The Hall of Famers
Maddux, Glavine and Smoltz already are in Cooperstown, and so is Bobby Cox, Schuerholz's manager with the Braves. Chipper Jones is on his way to the Baseball Hall of Fame, and you can't forget about somebody else …
Terence Moore is a columnist for MLB.com.