John Schuerholz has just announced that, after 17 years sitting in the big chair, he is no longer the General Manager of the Atlanta Braves. Those 17 years saw 14 consecutive division championships, 5 league championships, and one world championship. It is a run of success that has known no equal.
Every couple of years now, Braves fans and sports beat writers have had to write "end of an era" columns about the gradual breakup of the Atlanta Braves as one future Hall of Famer has departed. Five years ago, Tom Glavine left. Four years ago, Greg Maddux found more money elsewhere. Two years ago, Leo Mazzone departed to join a childhood friend, Sam Perlozzo (fired this year), on the Orioles. Two weeks ago, John Schuerholz announced he wouldn't make an offer to resign Andruw Jones. Three hours ago, he announced his own departure. (Actually, Schuerholz will now be team president, so he'll still have a nice chair and an affiliation with the organization. But he'll be a figurehead rather than an active force.) In the next couple years, we'll have to bid adieu to Bobby Cox and John Smoltz, and not long after that, Chipper Jones.
It's not a stretch of the imagination to say that Maddux, Glavine, Smoltz, Mazzone, Cox, Schuerholz, and Andruw and Chipper Jones are headed to the Hall of Fame. While Mazzone would be the Hall's first pitching coach inductee, his reputation with the Braves is sufficiently sainted that he will almost surely blaze the trail. Bobby Cox's reputation is even more certain -- he has the fourth-most wins ever. Maddux, Glavine and Smoltz have been sure things for a while now, and continue to add to their legacy. Andruw Jones, the best defensive center fielder since Mays, would be a serious Hall of Fame contender if he retired tomorrow, and he's only 30; and Chipper Jones, though he plays at the most underrepresented Hall position, is the best offensive 3B of his generation (other than Alex Rodriguez). And Schuerholz will almost certainly join Bill Veeck and Branch Rickey in the tiny General Managers' wing, as he has been incontrovertibly the best general manger since Rickey. He brought in Maddux to join Smoltz and Glavine, and discovered Andruw in Curaçao. Then around them he built a team that won, and kept winning.
And, of course, Schuerholz outranked all of them. He can take as much credit for their wins and losses -- and they won more than anyone else, while he was at the helm -- as any of them, because he assembled the team that took the field, and kept all those Hall of Famers together for nearly a decade and a half. His demeanor was like his forever-suspendered wardrobe: tight, conservative, pursed-lipped, oblivious to outside appearance in favor of internal effectiveness. He won respect from his opponents even as he beat them. They kept calling him because he didn't draw attention to himself or flaunt his ego, and he never tried to hoodwink anyone. He simply won because he was smarter, better, and worked harder.
Many will write more eloquently than I can about his gifts and flaws. The Braves will not fade; they will remain a fine ball club for a good many years into the future. What they have lost is not hope for the future but another part of the unbroken legacy of the immediate present and past. And it's one of the greatest legacies in all of professional sports.
I'll miss you, John. Thanks for the memories.