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Friday, October 12, 2007

John Schuerholz stepping aside as Atlanta Braves GM, becomes president

By PAUL NEWBERRY, AP Sports Writer
October 12, 2007

ATLANTA (AP) -- Fourteen straight division titles. Five trips to the World Series. And just one regret.

John Schuerholz stepped aside Thursday after 17 years as general manager of the Atlanta Braves wishing his team had captured more than one Series title during their unprecedented run of division titles.

Otherwise, he's perfectly content with his legacy.

"What else is there?" said Schuerholz, who will become team president and turn over the GM duties to his right-hand man, Frank Wren. "It would have been, unequivocally, the complete validation of the grand nature of this franchise. Nobody could have said anything about the Atlanta Braves and ended the sentence with the word 'but."'

After turning 67 last week and admittedly worn down by the grind of more than a quarter-century as a general manager, Schuerholz decided it was time to go.

He'll still be a key figure in the organization, but will no longer make the call on decisions such as trades, free-agent signings and deciding on the 25-man roster.

"The hardest thing for me was knowing I would have to separate myself from what I love most and what I do best," Schuerholz said. "Team building. That's working with scouts, getting judgments, analyzing reports, asking questions, listening to answers and analyzing information, all of that. I love that. I think I've done it fairly well."

Indeed, he has.

Schuerholz came to the Braves in 1991 after nine years as Kansas City's GM, taking over a last-place team that had signs of potential: pitchers John Smoltz, Tom Glavine and Steve Avery were just starting their careers.

The new boss quickly flushed out the roster with established veterans such as Terry Pendleton, Sid Bream and Rafael Belliard, a combination that took Atlanta from worst to first in the NL West and all the way to a Game 7 loss of a classic World Series against Minnesota.

Even though Smoltz is the only player who's been with the Braves throughout the Schuerholz era, the general manager kept a steady flow of talent moving through Atlanta.

Greg Maddux and Andres Galarraga were signed as free agents. Fred McGriff and Gary Sheffield came to the team through trades. Chipper Jones, Andruw Jones, Brian McCann and Jeff Francoeur worked their way up through the farm system.

And the division titles kept coming with numbing regularity, 14 in a row with an ever-changing roster, until the streak finally ended with a third-place finish in 2005. No other major-league team in one of the four top sports has won that many division titles in a row.

"Obviously, John has done an unbelievable job with the organization," Francoeur said. "He definitely deserves to retire and enjoy what he's accomplished. It's sad, because we didn't want to see him go."

Actually, he's not going anywhere. Schuerholz signed a four-year contract and remains second in command to chairman Terry McGuirk, but will be more involved in the business side of things.

Wren, a former GM with the Baltimore Orioles, spent the past eight years working as Schuerholz's assistant and hoping to eventually replace him.

"Our styles are different," said Wren, who also got a four-year deal. "But our philosophies are very, very similar."

Wren only got word Tuesday that Schuerholz was looking to move upstairs, even though the idea was first proposed by McGuirk six months ago. Schuerholz broke the news to his successor over iced tea after they watched a developmental league game in central Florida.

"I really had no inkling this was coming," Wren said.

The 49-year-old Wren turned down an offer to become Pittsburgh's general manager a few years ago and didn't pursue a couple of similar opportunities. Now, he's got the job he really wanted.

"We're going to keep doing things the way we've been doing them," Wren said. "The Braves way. It's been working pretty well."

While Schuerholz is willing to provide advice in player matters, calling himself a "mentor" and a "sounding board," he made it clear that he won't be looking over Wren's shoulder.

Schuerholz's door will be open. He won't go knocking on Wren's unless asked.

"I let people establish themselves, do their jobs and support them," Schuerholz said.

Atlanta's only World Series title came in 1995, a six-game victory over the Cleveland Indians that gave the city its first, and still only, major sports championship.

Four other times during the streak, the Braves lost in the World Series. They also were the losing team in four NL championship series, and were eliminated four more times in the division series.

After the team's ownership passed from Ted Turner to Time Warner, the Braves began to cut payroll though they remain one of the highest-spending teams in baseball. McGuirk said Schuerholz's new role had nothing to do with another ownership change from Time Warner to Liberty Media.

This season, the Braves missed the playoffs for the second year in a row with another third-place finish in the NL East.

Still, the postseason failures and recent slide do little to diminish Schuerholz's reputation for assembling talented teams year after year, with manager Bobby Cox running things in the dugout throughout the remarkable run.

The 66-year-old Cox has a year left on his contract and hasn't made any decision about whether he'll return beyond 2008. But the change in GMs shouldn't have an impact.

"I think everything's great," Cox said when reached on his cell phone. "Frank is extremely capable and a huge part of what we've done through the years already. The good thing is both of them are still here. It's business as usual."

Updated on Friday, Oct 12, 2007 3:33 am, EDT


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