September 30, 2014

Braves should be Cautious of a ‘Braves’ Way’

The more I hear about the Braves’ firing of Frank Wren, the more I get concerned about the Braves merely trying to recreate the John Schuerholz/Bobby Cox years instead of being open to anything and everything that would help the team win and the franchise to return to more consistent greatness.  But the Braves franchise had a lot going for it back then besides having a great general manager and a great field manager.  Schuerholz and Cox taking too much credit for the franchise’s success and trying to get a general manager in their molds could be a dangerous thing for the Braves.

It sounds like Cox and Schuerholz, because of their success, almost think they are the Braves and bigger than the franchise. It’s understandable. I’d imagine it’s hard to not be a little bit arrogant if you were at the helm for such a huge turnaround for a franchise. But hopefully they realize that they didn’t built it alone. There is a lot of luck in landing three Hall of Fame pitchers, making moves that usually worked out for the best, and having the resources to keep the best players for as long as the did.  Of course they deserve plenty of credit.  There’s no denying their results and Hall of Fame credentials.  But even the best GMs and managers don’t build successful franchises alone.

They may need someone to come along to instill the idea that winning and building a great franchise is bigger than the “Braves’ Way,” Cox, or Schuerholz.  But, with absentee ownership, it feels like maybe the inmates are running the asylum.  There is no strong voice above Cox and Schuerholz who wants to win like a fan and has the power to do something about it.  There’s no one to force the baseball folks to focus on winning rather than thinking they can do so simply by trying to recreate the Cox/Schuerholz’s years.  There’s no one to encourage examination of “The Braves’ Way” (to the degree that such a thing exists), taking the most reliable aspects of it, discarding the rest and replacing it with what is reliable.

Of course a real person or group of real people as owner(s) as opposed to a faceless corporation doesn’t guarantee success.  Ted Turner’s Braves and George Steinbrenner’s Yankees weren’t successes until they had the right people in charge and they trusted them with the baseball operations.  But in the Braves’ current situation, it would be good to have someone keeping the baseball operations people from getting stuck on their own ways (consciously or not) over winning and building a solid franchise.  Of course it’s unlikely the Braves’ ownership situation will change anytime soon.  This is more an expression of the problem rather than a solution.

The good news is that John Hart is in the mix.  Hart’s disciples include Jon Daniels, Dan O’Dowd, Josh Byrnes, Mark Shapiro, Neal Huntington, Paul DePodesta, and Chris Antonetti, kind of a who’s who of the best and the brightest in baseball over the past decade.  And Schuerholz does seem to put a lot of stock in Hart’s opinions and views of the direction the franchise should take.  Hart may be the best guy out there who has both experience at the highest levels of building a franchise and believes in a mix of scouting, player development, and sabermetrics.  He may have been the first guy to bridge the gap within the game between old school and new school (for lack of better terms).  If Hart has most of the power in the GM choice and pointing things in the right direction, that does a lot to alleviate concerns.



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