Braves president John Schuerholz wanted John Hart in the big chair all along.
Why Schuerholz didn’t call Hart the general manager when he named him Thursday as the man in charge of the Braves baseball operations is a bit bizarre, but titles should not get in the way of what Hart is being charged with.
Hart is very well-respected around the game of baseball. He built the Cleveland Indians in the 1990s and prepared the Texas Rangers for their World Series appearances the last few seasons. But above and beyond the record Hart amassed as the GM of those teams, it’s his reputation that Schuerholz had to have back in charge of the Braves organization.
“The Braves Way” is a slogan often scoffed at, just like some chuckle at Mark Richt when he talks about “The Georgia Way.” But when you when a championship, as Schuerholz did as GM with the Braves in 1995, you can usually call your philosophy anything you want to.
That “Braves Way” is about the professional and business-like approach the Braves had for all those years during the run of division championships. It’s more than the banners that hang at Turner Field or the suspenders Schuerholz wears around the ballpark. It’s about an environment during Schuerholz’s tenure that created a winning franchise.
It wasn’t perfect, but it was a lot better than it was before Schuerholz got to Atlanta. And when he ascended into the president’s chair after the 2007 season, his successor simply did not hold up the standard. Frank Wren’s biggest problem and biggest difference compared to Schuerholz was the way he conducted business.
Wren had to have his hands in everything, and it made people hate him. Schuerholz allowed his scouts the freedom to do their jobs, while Wren selected draft picks. Schuerholz would have never interfered with the responsibilities of a coach. Wren, meanwhile, was texting players behind former hitting coach Greg Walker’s back to give them hitting tips.
The Braves went from having someone in the GM chair that everyone respected to having someone that everyone despised. There was no respect at all for Wren, and it flowed down. He meddled so much in manager Fredi Gonzalez’s business that the players lost respect for Gonzalez, since Gonzalez rarely bucked Wren. Their relationship was strained, at best, and the players knew all about it.
The talent in the farm system eroded. People who had been in the organization for years were shown the door, and the ones who remained were not always treated well. It really hasn’t been the Atlanta Braves the last few years, but instead Frank Wren’s Braves. And when it fell apart and the record collapsed, it gave Schuerholz the power to get Wren out of the way.
Hart must rebuild all that was torn down. He has the reputation to do it. He has the respect to do it. The Braves could have gone with young John Coppolella, who is going to be a great GM one day. But right now, to get this back on track, this was the right move. Coppolella, or “Coppy” as he is called, will work with Hart and form a great team. Hart will teach Coppy more about the job, and when Coppy inherits the job in a few years he’ll be even more prepared to lead the Braves into the next decade.
Hart had to step in first, and that’s why Schuerholz pushed him so hard to take the job. Everyone in baseball will know the Braves are back, at least in the manner of which they conduct business. And that matters, especially considering all the work Hart must do to fix this roster.
It will take time, perhaps even into 2016. But you can bet Schuerholz wants Hart to make certain the roster is set for 2017, the year the team moves into Sun Trust Park in Cobb County. Coppolella might be running the team by then, but Hart is the one that will lay the foundation.
Step one was getting Hart into the GM’s chair. Hart’s next steps, with all the expected player moves, should set the tone for this organization for years to come. That will make this a very interesting offseason. Just be glad Hart is the one making the tough decisions.
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 email@example.com.
Schuerholz needed Hart to fix the mess
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