Let’s be honest. John Schuerholz knew this could happen. He knew the foundation of what he had built was crumbling to a certain extent even a year ago. Why else would he have brought John Hart into the Braves organization in the first place.
In a way, Thursday’s press conference, where Schuerholz announced that Hart, his best friend in the game, was taking over his club, was almost inevitable. With all of the dysfunction that was around the Atlanta organization the last few years, this was simply bound to happen.
The lackluster and underachieving regular season for the major league team should be good enough, but the underlying cause that lets you know how bad it’s gotten in the Braves world is the lack of talent in a once-robust farm system. There is, comparatively, no talent in Atlanta’s minor leagues, at least not like there has been in years past.
So when Justin Upton leaves after the 2015 season, there is really no one ready to take over. So if a big money free agent, like B.J. Upton, flops, there is really no one to take over. So if a number of starting pitchers come down with injuries in spring training, there is really no one to take over.
That’s why Schuerholz has been walking around saying he’s got to get this organization back to “The Braves Way.” That’s why Schuerholz begged Hart to take over control of the front office.
Frank Wren did this. That’s why he’s gone. He micromanaged everything. He had to have his fingers in every pot. He wanted to select the draft picks. He wanted to make a splash with B.J. Upton. He wanted to tell hitters how they should hit. He wanted to erode the organization of organizational people to bring in outsiders. He wanted this to be the Frank Wren Braves, Atlanta be damned.
That’s why Hart had to take over. Schuerholz knew Hart could command the respect Wren never gained. Hart walks into a room and takes over. Wren walked into a room and most of his staff cringed wondering what would happen next.
Schuerholz admitted Thursday in the press conference announcing Hart’s appointment that earlier that day Hart walked into a meeting of some of the Braves senior staff members. Hart was given a standing ovation.
It was sort of like when Wren traded Yunel Escobar to the Blue Jays in the summer of 2010. Most of his teammates hated Escobar. He was loud, obnoxious and didn’t play the game the way most of the players around him did. Escobar had little respect for the game, much less his teammates. So when Alex Gonzalez walked into the clubhouse the first time, his new co-workers gave him a standing ovation.
Schuerholz had to have Hart. He knew last year if the major league record fell apart, he would have to pull the trigger. Schuerholz knew about the unhappiness, how Wren treated people. He knew how even with a 96-win season in 2013 this thing could fall apart fast.
And when it did, Schuerholz knew what he had to do. He knew who had to do it. That’s why he stayed on Hart to be full-time. Part-time would have been nice. Hart could have been around, could have been a phone call away. But Schuerholz needed more. He needed a makeover. He needed Hart to reshape the organization the way he did when he came to Atlanta 24 years ago.
Bobby Cox had laid the groundwork then. He had gotten the players, built the farm system. But Schuerholz came in and taught everybody how to win. Now Hart will have to do the same thing.
Hart built up the Indians. They got to the World Series twice. They didn’t win, but it was an accomplishment. Then he went to the Rangers. He laid the groundwork for Jon Daniels to take over and get the team back on top. It took a few years, but the Rangers had two World Series appearances to show how the plan worked.
There’s a respect that follows John Hart. When he’s talked on television the last few years, it comes across very well. His fellow broadcasters respected what he had to say. They wanted to know what a GM would think, and Hart’s knowledge would make any segment sound smarter. He had a command, a presence on air that was an exact replica of what he was like in person. There was little pretense, little show. He was genuine, straight-forward. That’s probably why Schuerholz likes him so much.
Schuerholz needs that respect back in his organization. He needs the respect that Hart commands to infect his organization, just like the disrespect had been spreading with Wren in charge. No one liked Wren. No one respected him. When the head of an organization, any organization, any business, is disrespected because of his actions, the inevitability of failure is always possible.
The Braves could have turned to John Coppolella, and they probably will in time. But he’s young, still learning. Schuerholz knows “Coppy” is going to be good. But he knows Hart is good now. Coppy is well-liked, and all know he wasn’t in Wren’s camp. They know how frustrated he was with what went on. But Schuerholz obviously felt an older voice, an older tone was needed for now.
Who knows how long the current arrangement will last. Hart is not the general manager, but instead the president of baseball operations. Schuerholz said there will not be a GM, at least not now. But don’t be surprised if Coppy becomes the GM in a year, or even maybe two. He’s the future leader, but right now Hart is the one needed to steady the ship, to tighten the screws. Hart is the one needed to fix what has been badly broken.
Listen to “The Bill Shanks Show” from 3-6 p.m. weekdays on WPLA Fox Sports 1670 AM in Macon and online at http://www.foxsports1670.com/. Follow Bill at twitter.com/BillShanks and e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Braves had to have John Hart
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