The celebration this week for John Schuerholz was met with widespread approval. He obviously has the credentials for election to Baseball’s Hall of Fame, but it is also a case of a good guy getting a deserved tribute.
Schuerholz was a keen observer of talent — so keen, in fact, that he put together two World Series championship clubs in two different cities. As general manager of the American League Royals, Kansas City won it all in 1985. It would happen again in Atlanta a decade later. You don’t have to bring it up in conversation — John will volunteer that during that run of 14 straight Divisional champions that “we should have won more World Series titles.”
“That’s the way baseball goes” is the term old timers would say about the vicissitudes of the game. However, those in the baseball community will tell you that the streak is one of the most remarkable records ever. The Braves under his leadership became known as the “gold standard” in baseball. His big league friends and executives would say, in exclamation, “You can’t do what you have done.” Much of it was about leadership, which is what he saw missing when he came to Atlanta.
His resume, dating back to his joining the Orioles’ staff, includes making coffee for the early risers, running errands, and tidying up the stock room. Few baseball men have started at the bottom more than this man who — though he is understated, egoless, and selfless — has deep and abiding pride. You ask him a question, he will give you a straight answer — direct and to the point. Taking credit is not the Schuerholz way. Exceptional leaders maintain a “team effort,” mantra.
The best example is the rapport he had with Bobby Cox when the Braves were winning all those divisional titles. No two men have ever succeeded in the game as famously as did Schuerholz and Cox. No two men in baseball have had less ego. That, in any profession, is rare. Schuerholz actually succeeded Cox as General Manager in 1990 with Cox going back to the field as manager. Cox has said that if the Braves had asked him who he preferred as general manager, he would have chosen Schuerholz.
John, during his teaching days, wrote Jerry Hoffberger, owner of the Orioles, and asked for a job. Taken by John’s enterprise and his forthrightness, the Orioles gave him what he thought was his dream job. In fact, when Lou Gorman, the general manager, told him in 1969 that they would be moving to Kansas City, which had been given a major league franchise, John said, “We can’t leave Baltimore. We are with the hometown team.”
Seizing opportunity, John realized that the move would be good for his career. In 1981, at age 31, he became the Royals’ general manager, the youngest GM in baseball. He and his wife, Karen, loved Kansas City, but it was hard leaving the man who had influenced his career the most, owner Ewing Kauffman. When John settled in at Atlanta, he found a different owner in Ted Turner, but Ted’s passion to win was so great, he stayed out of the way and let John run the ball club. All baseball executives loudly applauded John’s election this week along with groundskeepers, secretaries, concessionaires, and countless “little” people empowered by this exceptional and accomplished leader.