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New role for Braves' boss
After 26 years as GM, Schuerholz eases into new job as Braves president
Atlanta Braves president John Schuerholz watches the Braves Major League Baseball spring training workout Wednesday in Lake Buena Vista, Fla. - photo by AP Photo/David J. Phillip

KISSIMMEE, Fla. -- John Schuerholz is wandering toward the Atlanta Braves dugout when a fan shouts out a request.

"Mr. Schuerholz, do you mind if I have your autograph?" he inquires.

Schuerholz looks toward the man, a bit startled, then gathers himself for one of those self-deprecating zingers that slip out from time to time, even though it's always been clear this is a man supremely confident in himself.

"I don't mind a bit," Schuerholz says, reaching for a pen and ball. "These sort of requests are getting further and further apart."

For 26 years, he was a baseball general manager, building a World Series champion in Kansas City, then another in Atlanta. With the Braves, Schuerholz deftly assembled teams that won 14 straight division titles, a standard of consistency unprecedented in any major team sport, a record as likely as any to stand the test of time.

But nothing lasts forever, and Schuerholz was determined to step aside on his terms. So last October, a couple of weeks after the Braves missed the playoffs for the second year in a row, he accepted an offer to move up to team president. He passed off his beloved title - the job he did so well for so long - to understudy Frank Wren.

"It's different," Schuerholz said after arriving at spring training, his first camp since 1980 without GM in front of his name. "But I'm really at peace with this and happy for the organization. Frank has done such a wonderful job this winter. I feel good about it."

That said, the 67-year-old Schuerholz wants to make one thing perfectly clear: He didn't take the president's job because it would allow him to spend more time on the golf course. He hasn't slipped into semiretirement, coasting toward the finish line of life while still drawing a full salary.

Indeed, Schuerholz intends to spend most of the next six weeks at spring training, overseeing the organization he always refers to with such highfalutin' adjectives as "great" and "grand."

"I can't just go cold turkey," he quipped.

Since arriving in Florida, Schuerholz has spent most mornings on the field, watching batting practice from his familiar perch behind the cage. He sits alongside Wren and manager Bobby Cox, making a comment from time to time, glancing down occasionally to reference a folded-up piece of paper in his hands.

But, from all indications, Schuerholz left his old job behind. Wren is the GM now, with full authority to decide who'll be traded, who'll be cut, who'll be there on opening day. He answers to the president, of course, but Schuerholz has said all along he'll let Wren be his own man, his own GM.

"I think he's handled it very well," Wren said.

The new GM had plenty to do over the winter: trading All-Star shortstop Edgar Renteria to free up money in the budget, signing Tom Glavine to bulk up a once-dominant rotation that faded in Schuerholz's final years, working out a deal for Mark Kotsay to replace Andruw Jones in center field.

Didn't Schuerholz miss all that wheeling and dealing?

"The thing about being a general manager that appealed to me the most was team building," he said. "Mixing the pieces together, making the right acquisitions, finding the right personalities to come up with the best blend of talent and personalities to put the best team on the field.

"But," he quickly added, "when I knew I wasn't going to be doing that anymore, I was very much at peace with it. I really am."

The Braves players haven't noticed much of a change in the way things are run. Schuerholz's frequent presence this spring seems to have reassured everyone that the transition of power has been a smooth one.

"It feels the same to me," third baseman Chipper Jones said. "Frank is so well-versed in what's going on because he's been watching John for so long. It's nice to still have that same tandem."

Schuerholz's new job encompasses the business side of running a team, and he's working hard to get up to speed on areas such as promotions, marketing deals and ticket sales. He won't be in the public eye as much, but he intends to play a key role in shaping the direction of the franchise.

"I'm going to be the full-time president of this team, involved and engaged in all facets of the operation," Schuerholz vowed. "I don't expect it to be a walk through the park."

He certainly hasn't lost his touch when it comes to "Schuerholz-speak," talking about his duties as team president without saying much of anything.

"You rely on your staff, get downloaded with information about decision-making, and you move forward," he said.

Ohhh-kay. Anything else?

"I'm educating myself, involving myself, getting some historical data on circumstances that come into play around some decisions we're making," he added. "That's pretty much it."

Vintage Schuerholz. As a GM, he was always cordial with the media but never discussed trades, and he could talk eloquently about controversial issues without taking a stand. On the day he officially stepped down, he seemed to relish most that he'd been talking with Braves chairman Terry McGuirk about a new role for six months, and it never leaked out to the public.

As president, Schuerholz still keeps things close to the vest. He let on that he took a long vacation with his wife and friends during the offseason, but wouldn't go into details other than to say it was "international."

"I don't need that to be public fodder," he said.

But Schuerholz sure seems comfortable as a team president. He's lost about 10 pounds and proudly proclaims that he now weighs the same as he did in college. He looks more approachable when he breezes through the clubhouse, perhaps because he's not the guy making the call on everyone's livelihood.

"I think he likes it," Jones said. "We all have that time in our career when it's time to do something else. It was time for John to do something else."

Besides, he'll always have those 26 years as GM, a legacy that should earn Schuerholz a spot in Cooperstown even though he regrets the Braves managed only one World Series title, in 1995, with all those playoff appearances.

"I'm proud of what we accomplished," Schuerholz said. "To win 14 consecutive division championships was a remarkable accomplishment. Our World Series championship was the first professional world championship in the city of Atlanta. To be part of building the franchise to the statures we now enjoy, I'm proud of that."

He paused and said it again.

"I'm proud of that."

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