ATLANTA — Frank Wren has previous experience as a general manager. Not that it taught him a lot for his second crack at the job.
When asked what he learned during his brief tenure with meddlesome owner Peter Angelos and the Baltimore Orioles, Wren chose his words carefully but spoke volumes.
"I think the primary lesson is what a great organization this is," said Wren, who's been with the Atlanta Braves since 1999. "What a great, comforting place it is to come to work every day."
Wren came to work Friday with a new title: general manager of the Braves. He got the promotion after serving eight years as John Schuerholz's right-hand man, handling the matters he preferred to stay out of such as arbitration and dealing with player agents.
Schuerholz, who stepped aside after 17 years to become president of the team, left an impressive legacy that will be tough for his successor to live up to: 14 straight division titles and the 1995 World Series championship.
"It's a daunting task to be the general manager of a major league franchise," Wren said. "But I'm comforted to know that we have a great staff in place. We've got a team that is positioned to win."
The Braves' unprecedented streak of division titles ended in 2005. The team failed to make the playoffs again this season, finishing third in the NL East for the second year in a row.
Still, Wren is encouraged by what he sees on the field. A lineup anchored by Chipper Jones, Mark Teixeira, Jeff Francoeur, Edgar Renteria and Brian McCann. A pitching staff led by John Smoltz and Tim Hudson. A farm system that has long been one of the most productive in the game.
"If you had sat where I sat the last three days in the instructional league, and saw our young players and the job that our player development and scouting people have done in assembling talent, there's a lot to be encouraged about," Wren said. "And I'm definitely encouraged."
Still, he'll face plenty of challenges getting the Braves back to the playoffs.
The team needs at least one more reliable starter, and probably two. Will Wren try to persuade Tom Glavine to finish his career in Atlanta?
Also, in one of his last moves as GM, Schuerholz told longtime Braves star Andruw Jones that the team would not even hold talks with him on a new contract, having determined that his demands would be too high for the Braves' tightened budget. So, Wren will have to come up with someone else to play center field.
If that's not enough, Wren also will have Schuerholz lurking right down the hall, though the new team president insisted that he won't meddle in personnel matters.
"I love helping to build baseball teams," Schuerholz said. "But I'm also smart enough to know that there's a separation required for the health and well being of this organization."
Wren turned down a chance to become Pittsburgh's GM a few years ago and didn't pursue a couple of other opportunities, all in hopes of being Schuerholz's eventual replacement.
Wren had no idea that Schuerholz was planning to move upstairs until his boss delivered the news on Tuesday, after they had just watched an instructional league game in Kissimmee, Fla. Amazingly, Wren had been talking with his wife about their future plans on the way to dinner just a few days earlier.
"My feeling (was) that if I'm going to be an assistant GM for who knows how long until an opportunity comes up, this is not a bad place to be," Wren recalled. "It's a great place for my family. My kids love it where they are in school. My wife is happy. Like they say, when things are good on the home front, everything else is good. I was not in a great hurry."
Wren got his first crack at a GM job in 1999, joining the Orioles after spending seven years as the assistant general manager of the Florida Marlins. He had plenty of money to spend Baltimore had the league's third-highest payroll at the time — but also had Angelos looking over his shoulder on just about every move.
The Orioles struggled to a losing season, and Wren rubbed management the wrong way with several incidents — most notably, when he ordered a team flight to leave on time after Cal Ripken Jr. called to say he would arrive late.
At the end of the season, Wren was fired. A week later, he joined the Braves as Schuerholz's top lieutenant.
While Wren projects a more congenial, down-to-earth image than the buttoned-down Schuerholz, the Braves' new GM insists they are "amazingly alike in a lot of ways."
"Our styles are going to be different, there's no doubt about that," Wren said. "But our philosophies and the way we see an organization being run and the type players we like are very similar, and they always have been, from the very first year when I got here we found that out. And I think that's what has made us so comfortable for us to work together."
Schuerholz said he always felt that Wren would be the perfect replacement.
"He's been with me at every turn," the new team president said. "He knows how this organization works. He knows what this organizations needs."