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Schuerholz retiring after 17 years

POSTED: October 15, 2007 5:04 a.m.
ATLANTA — As John Schuerholz stepped aside Thursday after 17 years as general manager of the Atlanta Braves, he had only one regret.

That’s an easy one.

Despite winning 14 straight division titles, the Braves managed only one World Series championship during Schuerholz’s remarkable tenure, one that could eventually earn him a spot in Cooperstown.

If only he had a few more rings, this would have been the perfect farewell to the job he did so well.

"What else is there?" said Schuerholz, who will become team president and turn over the GM duties to his right-hand man, Frank Wren. "It would have been, unequivocally, the complete validation of the grand nature of this franchise. Nobody could have said anything about the Atlanta Braves and ended the sentence with the word ‘but."’

Otherwise, Schuerholz has no complaints. He turned 67 last week and was admittedly worn down by the grind of more than a quarter-century as a general manager. Before coming to Atlanta, he spent nine years in the same post with the Kansas City Royal, winning another World Series title in 1985.

But he will forever be remembered for his impact on the Braves, a perennial last-place team when he took over in 1991. That very first year, Atlanta won the NL West and went all the way to the World Series. In the years that followed, the division titles kept coming with numbing regularity, until the streak finally ended with a third-place finish in 2005.

"Obviously, John has done an unbelievable job with the organization," outfielder Jeff Francoeur said. "He definitely deserves to retire and enjoy what he’s accomplished. It’s sad, because we didn’t want to see him go."

Actually, he’s not going anywhere. Schuerholz remains second in command to chairman Terry McGuirk but will step away from day-to-day personnel decisions, such as trades, free-agent signings and other roster moves.

"I’ll miss that," Schuerholz said during a news conference at Turner Field.

Wren, a former GM with the Baltimore Orioles, spent the past eight years working for Schuerholz and hoping to eventually replace him.

"Our styles are different," Wren said. "But our philosophies are very, very similar."

Wren only got word Tuesday that Schuerholz was looking to move upstairs, even though the idea was first proposed by McGuirk six months ago. Schuerholz broke the news to his successor over iced tea after they watched a developmental league game in central Florida.

"I really had no inkling this was coming," Wren said.

Schuerholz, who’s always been notoriously tightlipped about personnel moves and the inner workings of the organization, grinned and pumped his fist when Wren described his reaction.

"I can keep a secret," said Schuerholz, baseball’s longest-serving GM with one team.

The 49-year-old Wren turned down an offer to become Pittsburgh’s general manager a few years ago and didn’t pursue a couple of similar opportunities. Now, he’s got the job he really wanted.

"We’re going to keep doing things the way we’ve been doing them," Wren said. "The Braves way. It’s been working pretty well."

While Schuerholz is willing to provide advice in player matters, calling himself a "mentor" and a "sounding board," he’ll mainly be involved in the business side of the franchise. He made it clear that he won’t be looking over Wren’s shoulder.

"I let people establish themselves, do their jobs and support them," Schuerholz said.

Atlanta’s only World Series title came 12 years ago, a six-game victory over the Cleveland Indians that gave the city its first, and still only, major sports championship.

Four other times during the streak, the Braves lost in the World Series. They also were the losing team in four NL championship series, and were eliminated four more times in the division series.

After the team’s ownership passed from Ted Turner to Time Warner, the Braves began to cut payroll though they remain one of the highest-spending teams in baseball. McGuirk said the move had nothing to do with another ownership change from Time Warner to Liberty Media.

This season, the Braves missed the playoffs for the second year in a row with another third-place finish in the NL East.

Still, the postseason failures and recent slide do little to diminish Schuerholz’s reputation for assembling talented teams year after year, with manager Bobby Cox running things in the dugout throughout the remarkable run.

The 66-year-old Cox has a year left on his contract and hasn’t made any decision about whether he’ll return beyond 2008. But the change in GMs shouldn’t have an impact.

"I think everything’s great," Cox said when reached on his cell phone. "Frank is extremely capable and a huge part of what we’ve done through the years already. The good thing is both of them are still here. It’s business as usual."

Schuerholz came to the Braves from Kansas City in 1991, taking over a last-place team that had plenty of potential: pitchers John Smoltz, Tom Glavine and Steve Avery were just starting their careers.

The new GM filled out the roster with established veterans such as Terry Pendleton and Sid Bream, a combination that took Atlanta from worst to first in the NL West and all the way to a 1-0, 10-inning loss to Minnesota in Game 7 of the World Series.

Even though Smoltz is the only player who’s been with the Braves throughout the Schuerholz era, the general manager kept a steady flow of talent moving through Atlanta.

Greg Maddux and Andres Galarraga were signed as free agents. Fred McGriff and Gary Sheffield came to the team through trades. Chipper Jones, Andruw Jones, Brian McCann and Francoeur worked their way up through the farm system.

Schuerholz left his job as a junior high school teacher to begin his front-office career with the Baltimore Orioles in 1966. He moved to Kansas City two years later with the expansion Royals, eventually working his way up to general manager in 1981, at the age of 41.

During his nine years as GM, the Royals won two division titles and the ‘85 Series with a seven-game victory over the St. Louis Cardinals.

"John Schuerholz is an unbelievable judge of talent," Chipper Jones once said. "It almost seems like he has a crystal ball."



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