At home at fenway

Keeping on eye on Dustin, Papi, Youk & a few good books

John Schuerholz : Built To Win

Posted by athomeatfenway on July 25, 2010

BUILT TO WIN by John Schuerholz, Warner Books, 2006.

Judging by the Royals & Braves stars that played under him, it seems it would to have been near impossible for John Schuerholz to fail. 

In K.C., he employed George Brett, Willie Wilson, Dan Quisenberry, Darrell Porter, Dennis Leonard, and Frank White.  Bo Jackson, too.

In Atlanta, he had Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine, John Smoltz, Chipper Jones, Andruw Jones, Terry Pendleton., Steve Avery, Fred McGriff, David Justice, Javy Lopez, Brian McCann and Kevin Millwood. 

His Royals won a World Championship in 1985; his Braves in 1995.  His Braves won their Division title for 14 consecutive years and 5 N.L. Pennants.

Hall of Fame Veterans Committee, are you feeling it ?  Someday, someday.

Well…’s easy when you have the players.

Right ?

Not exactly.  Along with the Bretts & Madduxs came Vida Blue, Deion Sanders John Rocker & others.  Blue infested The Royals with cocaine.  Sanders made the All Narcissist Team and signed to play football.  Darrell Porter succumbed to alcohol and drug addiction.  John Rocker ranted against jews, blacks, teenage mothers, immigrants and New York City in an S.I. interview.

Yet the hard parts of the G.M. job aren’t limited to players with warts and the firestorms that result.

According to JS, the evolving complexity of baseball itself is the challenge.

Schuerholz writes,

“In Baseball, change has come in a multitude of ways:  the explosion of media dealing with performance-enhancing substances and many other areas.  But the most pronounced and dramatic change in Baseball has been the evolution of our dysfunctional salary system and its impact on baseball economics.”

To paraphrase him, it isn’t enough to have a good staff, talented roster, full pipeline and a master plan.  The challenge is how to be a GM in the land of big contracts, an aggressive union, agents and the intrusive media.

Schuerholz’s views on agents are sharp and amusing.  They are the only participant in the dance of Baseball that does not add to the show.  Every other individual adds something to the game, from the greeter who tears your ticket to the concession worker who steams your dog.  Agents bring absolutely nothing to the equation.  Agents subtract.  They drain dollars.  They minimize competitiveness between teams.  They impersonalize labor-management relations.

Agents are everywhere.  Sometimes in the open, sometimes in hiding.  Minor Leaguers frequently have agents.  Even top high school players have them.  If you see a pair of shoes protruding from behind the curtains in a high school player’s home, that’s their agent, the person they typically refer to as the “family advisor”.

Schuerholz has had his run-in’s with agents.  He threw Randy Hendricks out of his office when the agent looked down his nose at the venerable G.M.  He said a heated & bitter farewell to Tom Glavine after Greg Clifton pressured him into reneging, actually a double reneging, from his commitment to resign with the Braves in 2002.  He circumvented Scott Boras while still paying him grudging respect in the long term resigning of 26 year old Andruw Jones.  His dealings with agents aren’t all distasteful, but they have run the gamut.  And judging from the narrative, Schuerholz felt he needed a shower after dealing with Boras, Hendricks and Clifton. 

Though Schuerholz won a round or two, it is clear who has the upper hand.

With the double barreled shotgun of free agency and arbitration, players and agents  cannot lose.  That shotgun has led to what Schuerholz calls the present economic stupidity of Baseball.

After the Braves allowed their player salaries to reach $100 million in 2003, they cut payroll to $80 million and won 96 games and their Division by 10 games in 2004.

Success on the field doesn’t equal financial success. They lost over $20 million in 2003.  They lost over $10 million in 2004.

How stupid is that.  Winners are the losers.

By comparison, the current financial landscape makes low budget winners like the Tampa Bay Rays all the more admirable given their 2008 AL Pennant on a $40 million budget, and their current status as perennial contender.

Schuerholz is the key note speaker at the annual S.A.B.R. convention in Atlanta on August 6.  I’d like to ask him just how hard it was for the Rays to construct what they have on that paltry sum, given agents, free agents and arbitration.

I’m sure his reply will reflect the depth of 40 years in Baseball.

He is the old school G.M. who has bridged the gap from hands on everything to specialization and delegation.

Probably what makes him so good as the final decision filter in the age of computerization is all the understanding gained while directly running every aspect of a team back in the day.

John paid attention along the way.

“I’ve always considered myself a rapt listener.  A person who wants to learn.  That is partly due to the fact that I became completely deaf in my right ear when I contracted measles at the age of five……..I began to instinctively compensate by learning to read lips and listen intently.  To this day, I still read lips and still listen carefully.

John’s athletic roots run deep.  He is a Baltimore kid.  He adores Brooks Robinson (along with Henry Aaron, as he should.).  His grandfather, William, at one time coached all five of his sons on the same semi-pro basketball team.  His Dad, John, Sr., was a successful amateur and pro athlete in the minors.  John, Sr. instilled in his less talented son a self-confidence that grew and grew.  A good college athlete that excelled in baseball, John won the Athlete of The Year Award at Towson State in 1962.  After teaching middle school for 4 years, John leveraged the family name  and attentive nature into a job assisting Lou Gorman, the AGM with the Orioles.

John is also a poet.

Baseball and poetry have been entangled in the Sports section for over 100 years and people have collected thousands of them.

It’s only fitting that Schuerholz, the old school guy, has written some poems.  Here is the one he wrote on the passing of K.C. Manager Dick Howser:


Connie Mack and Casey Stengel and Walter Alston wait,

To greet their newest brother outside the Pearly Gate,

Connie was the first to speak as their new member passed,

“You’ve taught us all something more about this word called class.”

Schuerholz understands what Baseball has become and where it is going…

If you read this book you’ll get his view of the past and vision of the future.  Don’t miss it.

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