John Schuerholz, now 76 years old, will be inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum this summer, having been a unanimous selection of the “Today’s Game” Eras Committee which voted last December.
Schuerholz got his start in the Baltimore Orioles organization in 1967 and joined the expansion Kansas City Royals two years later, slowly working his way up the organizational ladder until he became farm director in 1976, Scouting Director from 1977 to 1980, Assistant GM in 1981 and General Manager from 1982 to 1990.
In October 1990, he left the Royals to become General Manager of the Braves, replacing Bobby Cox, who had taken over the team as manager during the season and had been serving the dual role of manager and GM. Schuerholz remained the team’s GM until 2007, after which he relinquished the title to Frank Wren and became the team’s President.
Schuerholz, as a team-builder, watched his teams win a whopping 15 division titles as well as World Championships in 1985 (with the Royals) and 1995 (with the Braves).
The last GM to get the nod into Cooperstown was Pat Gillick, who was the architect of the Toronto Blue Jays’ two championships (1992 and 1993) and won a third title with the Philadelphia Phillies in 2008. Gillick was also responsible for constructing the 2001 Seattle Mariners, who won 116 games but failed to advance to the World Series. Gillick entered the Hall of Fame in 2012.
It is very easy to look at Schuerholz’s decades-long record and rubber stamp his induction into the Hall but I’m going to focus the lens a bit and point out some things that you might assume he was responsible for which he wasn’t.
Let’s start with the Royals, remembering that he served in multiple capacities before assuming the GM reins in 1982:
- He was not directly responsible for the Royals team’s four division titles and pennant from 1976-1980.
- In the eight years that he was the team’s GM, the best #1 draft pick was pitcher Kevin Appier (in 1987), a solid pitcher but not a Hall of Famer.
- He did draft Bret Saberhagen in the 19th round of the 1982 draft and Bo Jackson in the 4th round of the ’86 draft. Saberhagen was instrumental in the team’s World Series victory, pitching two complete games while giving up just one run.
- The rest of the players on the ’85 Kansas City squad who were “Royals originals” were not drafted while Schuerholz was the GM, although one would assume he played a significant role as Scouting Director and Farm Director.
- From 1983-’85 he did trade a bunch of mostly nobodies for pitcher Charlie Liebrandt, first baseman Steve Balboni and catcher Jim Sundberg, all key members of the title team. In fairness, he traded catcher Don Slaught (a decent catcher, not a nobody) for Sundberg.
- He did make a doozy of a bad trade in March 1987 when he sent David Cone to the New York Mets for the immortal Ed Hearn and Rick Anderson. He also traded Liebrandt and Danny Jackson in subsequent years without getting much in return.
So Schuerholz’s record in Kansas City is solid but not uniquely spectacular. As GM, the team had the title run in 1985 and one other division title (in 1984) but he was also at the helm at the beginning of the team’s playoff drought that would not end until 2014.
Schuerholz’s record in Atlanta was something quite different indeed and one can assume is the cornerstone of what the “Today’s Game” committee considered when voting him into Cooperstown last December. He took over the Braves in the fall of 1990 and the team immediately went from last place to first place in the National League East, made it all the way to the classic Game 7 of the World Series in Minnesota and proceeded to win every single NL West or NL East title until 2006. The record of 14 straight division crowns is one that is unmatched in baseball history.
Of course, Bobby Cox and the players deserve a little bit of credit for that post-season run as well.
Anyway, here are the highs and lows of Schuerholz’s tenure with the Braves:
- Just to set the record straight, he did not draft Tom Glavine, David Justice or Chipper Jones or make the brilliant Doyle Alexander-for-John Smoltz trade. These cornerstone Braves, two of whom are in the Hall of Fame already and another of which (Jones) certainly will be next year, are the product of Cox’s tenure as the team’s GM, not Schuerholz’s.
- Because of the team’s year-to-year success, the Braves never drafted close to the top of the first round during Schuerholz’s tenure but the team’s cadre of picks in the opening round of the player draft are poor. The most well-known player drafted in the first round was Adam Wainwright, but he was shipped to St. Louis while still a minor leaguer in a trade that netted J.D. Drew. The high-touted Drew had a fantastic year in his lone year in a Braves uniform before signing as a free agent with the Dodgers.
- The only other first-round draft picks that you’re likely to even have heard of are Jason Marquis, Jeff Francoeur, Jarrod Saltalamacchia, and Jason Heyward. Must be something about the letter “J” for John Schuerholz.
- Under Schuerholz’s watch, the Braves did make a few good later round draft picks but not a whole lot for a 17-year period. The most notable names are Jason Schmidt, Kevin Millwood, Jermaine Dye, John Rocker, Adam LaRoche and Brian McCann.
Overall, between his record with the Royals and Braves, you would not put John Schuerholz in the Hall of Fame because of his team’s drafting record as a GM. It was through trades and free agent signings, specifically with Atlanta, that build a nice Cooperstown resume. Here are the highlights:
- In April 1991, he traded two unknowns to the Expos for outfielder Otis Nixon, a key member of the ’92 and ’93 pennant winners.
- In August 1991, he traded Tony Castillo and Joe Roa to the New York Mets for reliever Alejandro Pena. OK, so Pena was the losing pitcher to Jack Morris in the famous Game 7 but he was a significant part of the reason the team made it to the Fall Classic, saving three games in the NLCS against Pittsburgh.
- In August 1992, he traded two unknowns to the Red Sox for veteran reliever Jeff Reardon, who helped the team down the stretch and played a key role in the NLCS against Pittsburgh.
- In probably his best trade, in July 1993, he acquired first baseman Fred McGriff from the Padres for three players that only a die-hard fan will have ever heard of. 1993 featured a classic pennant race, with the 104-win Braves barely beating out the 103-win San Francisco Giants for the NL West title. They would never have won it without the Crime Dog, who also was a part of the ’95 World Series Champion lineup.
- In April 1995, right as the players’ strike was ending, he traded Roberto Kelly, Tony Tarasco and Esteban Yan to the Expos for Marquis Grissom, who was a key member of the 1995 title team.
- This was kind of an even trade, but in August 1996, he traded Jason Schmidt to the Pittsburgh Pirates for Denny Neagle, who would be a fixture in the team’s rotation for the next two years before a trade to Cincinnati for Bret Boone and Mike Remlinger.
- In January 2002, he traded Brian Jordan, Odalis Perez and Andrew Brown to the Dodgers for Gary Sheffield. Jordan had been a productive player in Atlanta but he only had one decent year in Los Angeles before the final four years of his career as an injured or part-time player. In the meantime, Sheffield had two excellent seasons in Atlanta, including a magnificent 2003 campaign in which he hit 39 homers, drove in 132 runners and had a slugging percentage of 1.032 (netting a 3rd place MVP finish).
- In December 2004, he traded three players who would amount to nothing in the majors to the Oakland Athletics for pitcher Tim Hudson, who won 113 games in 9 solid years in a Braves uniform.
- In July 2007, he sent Elvis Andrus, Neftali Feliz, Matt Harrison, and Saltalamacchia to the Texas Rangers for Mark Teixeira. If you look at Tex’s sterling career since then, this looks like a fair swap but the Braves didn’t follow through on signing a long-term deal with Teixeira and Schuerholz’s successor (Frank Wren) dealt him to the Angels the following summer.
In seventeen years as the team’s General Manager, I can only count just two poor trades made by John Schuerholz against many great ones. The first bad deal was when he sent Ryan Klesko and Bret Boone to the Padres for Reggie Sanders, Wally Joyner and Quilvio Veras, none of whom made a major impact in Atlanta. The second was the Wainwright for one year of Drew deal.
Anyway, in addition to the multitude of solid trades, Schuerholz also was responsible for several shrewd free agent signings, and I’m not just talking about the obvious one of Greg Maddux, a Cy Young Award winning pitcher coveted by many other teams. I’m talking about signing Terry Pendleton, who would go on to win the MVP Award in his first season with the Braves, leading the “worst-to-first” charge. The Braves won the 1991 NL West title by just one game; they would never have won it or made it to the Fall Classic without Pendleton.
Other significant free agent signings include Sid Bream to play first base and 16-year old Andruw Jones (who would win 10 Gold Gloves) as an amateur free agent. There’s also the amateur free agent signing of Rafael Furcal, who would become Rookie of the Year in 2000 and deliver 21.7 Wins Above Replacement in six years with the Braves.
Often forgotten was Schuerholz’s signing of Andres Galarraga from Colorado after the ’97 season. Even after leaving the hitting-friendly confines of Coors Field, the Big Cat would blast 44 home runs in ’98, finish 6th in the MVP voting and help the Braves back to the World Series. And finally, there was the November 1998 signing of the Cardinals’ Brian Jordan, who gave the team three very good years before being part of the Sheffield deal.
For the record of 14 straight division titles and the role that he played, both with good to great trades and solid free agent signings, John Schuerholz richly deserves to be in the Hall of Fame.
Thanks for reading.