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Ashway: Schuerholz brought big league baseball to Atlanta
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Forsyth County News

Fantastic news came Sunday when baseball bestowed its highest honor on John Schuerholz, the man who truly brought big-league baseball to Atlanta.

“I know some Hall of Famers,” Schuerholz told Bob Nightengale of USA Today.  “Saw many Hall of Famers perform.  But never in my imagination did I imagine someone would pick up the phone and say, ‘Congratulations!  You have been elected into baseball’s Hall of Fame!’

“Those words will ring in my head and brain for the rest of my life.”

That’s perfect, because memories of what Schuerholz’ Braves teams accomplished on the field will forever ring in the heads and brains of Braves fans everywhere.

Anyone who lived through that magical summer of ’91 will never forget it.  An entire metropolitan area revolving around the fortunes of a baseball team.  A baseball team that captured our imaginations, that led us to believe that it really was possible to go from worst to first.

They left a populace bleary-eyed and dead on its feet after staying up late when the team ventured to the west coast.  The fan base suddenly energized, expanded.  Soon Braves hats appeared everywhere.  Everyone was doing the chop.

And that young team that didn’t know any better just kept winning.

They chased down the Dodgers, and passed them on the final day of the season (thank you, Joe Morgan!)  They went up against the Pirates in a thrilling NLCS, and in Game 7, John Smoltz pitched the Braves into the World Series.

I remember attending the very first Series game ever played in Atlanta.  We’d only waited 25 years.  My seats were right behind home plate, but barely in the stadium.  Three more rows and I’d have missed the upper level entirely.

But that proved to be the perfect vantage point from which to view the full stadium on its feet waving their red, foam tomahawks in unison.  It looked like waves rolling across a red sea.  What a sight!

Yes, this was what we always hoped baseball would be like in Atlanta.

It took John Schuerholz to bring it to us.

What ensued was one of the most exciting of all World Series, seven thrilling, gripping games, with the Braves coming up just short.

But, no matter.  We knew they’d be back.

And, boy, were they.

For 14 years in a row, the Braves won their division.  Even writing those words, despite the common knowledge of the fact, I still find myself dumbfounded by the magnitude of the accomplishment.

And to think, before Schuerholz arrived, all Braves fans ever hoped for was a pennant race.  Please, just let the Braves play meaningful games in September.  They had done so only three times while in Atlanta.

To be sure, Schuerholz had lots of good help.  He had a fantastic manager in Bobby Cox.  Often overlooked now is how Cox, during his own term as GM from ’85 through ’90, built the Braves farm system from non-existent to second to none.

For the most part, Cox managed players he either acquired or developed.

But Schuerholz put the icing on the cake.  Before that ’91 season, he acquired the glovemen to back up the young pitching staff.  Suddenly, with Sid Bream at first, Rafael Belliard at short, and Terry Pendleton at third, the Braves infield no longer resembled a sieve.  Schuerholz then acquired Otis Nixon, who would run down anything hit anywhere close to centerfield, and some things hit over the fence.

Consider:  in the six seasons before his arrival, the Braves average record was 65-97.  During the run of division titles, the Braves average record was 98-64.

Schuerholz literally reversed the Braves fortunes.

Without Schuerholz, Bream never slides home.

Fred McGriff never comes over in one of the most lopsided trades ever consummated.  For Vince Moore, Donnie Elliott, and Melvin Nieves, the Braves obtained the clean-up hitter who would hit 130 homers for the Braves from ’93 through ’97.

And remember the night of his arrival, when the old stadium caught on fire?  So many memories ringing in the head and brain.

Schuerholz always tinkered with the roster, dropping a player a year too soon rather than a year too late; ever adding helpful additions here and there.

Yet the core group remained the same, all now enshrined in Cooperstown.  A wonderful testament to that golden era:  Schuerholz joins Cox, Smoltz, Tom Glavine, and Greg Maddux.  And Chipper Jones will doubtless join them next year.

What a run they had.  What a treat to get to watch them play every day.  Yes, they should have won more World Series.

But they won one.  Atlanta’s only professional championship.

And it wouldn’t have happened without John Schuerholz.