Schuerholz a front-runner for HOF enshrinement

Architect of World Series-winning Royals, Braves had tremendous influence

November 28th, 2016
John Schuerholz became the first GM to guide an American League team (Royals) and National League team (Braves) to World Series championships. (Brett Davis/AP)Brett Davis/AP

Fifty years ago, a 26-year-old junior high school teacher in Baltimore with a lifelong love affair with baseball made a pitch to then-Orioles owner Jerry Hoffberger, making the case for his hometown O's to give him a chance to be part of the organization.

John Schuerholz accepted the fact his dreams of playing in the big leagues would never come true, but he knew there had to be some kind of front-office job he could handle. All he wanted was a chance.

Schuerholz got it. Now look at him.

After 50 years in the game, Schuerholz finds himself in consideration for the ultimate recognition of his career. He is among 10 candidates listed on Today's Game Era ballot for consideration by a 16-member committee for induction into the Baseball Hall of Fame next July.

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There are 32 executives already in the Hall of Fame, but if elected, Schuerholz would join four others -- Ed Barrow, George Weiss, Branch Rickey and Pat Gillick -- as the only inductees who were described by the Hall of Fame at the time of Gillick's selection as "truly architects" of a team on the field.

Schuerholz is one of three candidates this year -- along with former Commissioner Bud Selig and Yankees owner George Steinbrenner -- who never played a big league game, but certainly influenced the way the game was played. The seven other nominees are former players, although Davey Johnson and Lou Piniella were nominated for their managerial efforts.

Also on the ballot are Harold Baines, Albert Belle, Will Clark, Orel Hershiser and Mark McGwire, who were previously considered in annual voting by veteran members of the Baseball Writers' Association of America, but not elected for enshrinement.

At the age of 76, Schuerholz is under consideration for the first time. Along with Selig, the executive would seem a front-runner for enshrinement.

Schuerholz received his indoctrination into professional baseball with those Orioles of the late 1960s, and he built off that in lengthy tenures with the Royals, who he joined for their expansion year in '69, and then the Braves, as he became their general manager in '91. That was the first year of Atlanta's record-setting 14 consecutive first-place finishes, not including the strike-shortened '94 season.

The youngest general manager in history when he was promoted from farm director of the Royals in 1982, Schuerholz was involved with organizations that advanced to the postseason 21 times in a 30-year stretch from 1976-2005.

Schuerholz became the first GM to oversee World Series championship teams in the American League (1985 Royals) and National League ('95 Braves).

Even more impressive is while the framework was in place for success when Schuerholz arrived in Atlanta, he had the ability to constantly adjust that franchise to run off those 14 division titles. Hall of Fame right-hander John Smoltz was the only player who spent all 14 of those seasons in Atlanta. Longtime Braves broadcaster Pete Van Wieren once told Schuerholz the club averaged 10 new players each time.

Schuerholz, however, is always quick to point out that the success was due to the people with whom he worked, not himself.

"I live by one theory as a leader," Schuerholz said. "Surround myself with as many good people as I can. Talk to the people who worked with me in Kansas City or here in Atlanta. I empower them. I trust them. I ask their opinion. That's how I make my decisions.

"I don't make them in a vacuum. This guy is smarter about outfielders. This guy is smarter about pitchers. This guy is smarter about infielders. I surround myself with good people, listen to them, and motivate them the best I can. I empower them, and they respond to that."

Schuerholz built a strong bond with Bobby Cox, the man he replaced as the Braves' GM, who in turn returned to the dugout as the manager. But then that wasn't really a surprise. Schuerholz had a strong respect for Cox before the executive was ever offered a job in Atlanta.

The late Dick Howser, the Royals' manager when Schuerholz became their GM, was also close friend of Cox from their days with the Yankees. That created such a strong relationship between Schuerholz and Cox that after Howser's death from a brain tumor, Schuerholz twice tried to convince Cox to become the Royals' skipper.

It has been suggested to Schuerholz that he went to Atlanta because he couldn't get Cox to come to Kansas City. He denies that was the reason, but admits knowing he would work with Cox was part of what made the job appealing.

After all, it goes back to what Schuerholz believes about leadership: surrounding himself with good people.