The story is from 26 years ago, before John Schuerholz built the Atlanta Braves into a model of staggering consistency, before he bequeathed a protege to resuscitate baseball in Kansas City, before he became the latest executive voted into the Baseball Hall of Fame, a unanimous choice by the Today’s Game Era committee on Sunday evening.
The story is from 1990. Schuerholz’s last year as the Royals’ general manager. Just days before he bolted for Atlanta.
Schuerholz had been the general manager in Kansas City since 1981. He’d been with the team since 1969. But as drama roiled the front office, as the future seemed uncertain, an opportunity surfaced with the Braves. Schuerholz was unsure. In the days before he left, he shed tears with Royals owner Ewing Kauffman. By the end, Kauffman had to come out and say it.
“You must go,” he said.
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For years, Schuerholz would carry the story with him. But the wisdom of Kauffman would prove prescient. In more than two decades with the Braves, Schuerholz helped guide the organization to 15 division titles, including 14 straight from 1991 to 2005, five National League pennants and a World Series championship in 1995.
That resume, along with a World Series won with the Royals in 1985, made his Hall of Fame case a near certainty. On Sunday, he appeared on all 16 ballots from the Today’s Game Era committee, a veterans committee that considers retired Major League Baseball players no longer eligible for election by the Baseball Writers’ Association of America (BBWAA), along with managers, umpires and executives whose contributions to the game were realized from 1988-2016. Former MLB commissioner Bud Selig was also elected, receiving 15 of 16 votes.
“I’m speechless, almost,” Schuerholz said Sunday evening while sitting on an MLB Network set here at the Winter Meetings. “What a remarkable honor, and I’m so very, very proud to have received the call and the invitation to join baseball’s Hall of Fame.”
Schuerholz’s greatest accolades, of course, came in Atlanta. But his impact on the Royals organization and baseball in Kansas City remain undeniable, a career that dovetails with the glorious era of the 1970s and early 1980s. But the beginning? Yes, this is a story. A former schoolteacher, Schuerholz’s career in baseball began at the age of 26, when he wrote a letter to the nearby Baltimore Orioles, inquiring about a job. Somehow it worked out.
And three years later, he joined the staff of the expansion Kansas City Royals. Working under Cedric Tallis and Joe Burke, Schuerholz helped the club become the most successful expansion team in history. The division titles in the late 1970s. The rise of George Brett. The breakthrough against the New York Yankees in 1980.
By 1981, he had ascended to the role of general manager at the age of 41, the youngest in all of baseball.
“There’s definitely a John Schuerholz model of leadership,” said Royals general manager Dayton Moore, who worked under Schuerholz in Atlanta before coming to Kansas City in 2006. “There’s hardly a day that goes by in this job where I don’t think about John.”
Schuerholz, now 76, never returned to the Royals after departing in 1990. But he did mentor Moore, the architect of the club’s second World Series champion in 2015. On Sunday night, Moore pondered the symmetry. It’s a source of pride, Moore said, a connection he thinks about often. Schuerholz built a champion in Kansas City, then headed to Atlanta. Moore learned the game in Atlanta, then built a champion in Kansas City.
In his early days in Kansas City, Moore often found himself out speaking in the community, talking to business leaders or just meeting Royals fans. On most days, Moore said, those fans wanted to ask about Schuerholz.
“John’s leadership and influence and expertise and professionalism paved the way for me in this city,” Moore said. “John’s an incredible person and leader and it was an honor to work for him.”
Schuerholz will be officially inducted into the Hall of Fame on July 30, joining Selig and a group of players who will be unveiled on Jan. 18.
“I always wanted to be a major-league baseball player, and that dream died quickly because of good scouts in our business,” Schuerholz joked on Sunday. “And so I said, ‘Here I am in my dream world, I’m going to work as hard as I can and try to do all I can to be the best executive I can be,’ and it turned out like this.”