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Remembering John Schuerholz

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The former Royals GM goes into the Hall of Fame today

John Schuerholz

George Brett is the only person who spent the majority of his career in a Royals uniform to end up in Cooperstown. Harmon Killebrew, Orlando Cepeda, and Gaylord Perry all wore Royals blue for a short stint and ended up enshrined in the Baseball Hall of Fame. Today, the latest member of the Royals organization will be immortalized with baseball’s greatest honor as former General Manager John Schuerholz will be inducted into the Hall of Fame.

Schuerholz was a Baltimore kid who began his career in the Orioles organization as an administrative assistant. When farm director Lou Gorman left to join the expansion Kansas City Royals, he took Schuerholz with him. By 1979 he was Vice President of Player Personnel, and after the 1981 season, when General Manager Joe Burke was promoted to Team President, Schuerholz took the reins as GM.

Schuerholz inherited a talented team that had been in the World Series just one year before. He tried to get the Royals back to the Fall Classic by acquiring veterans like Vida Blue, Cesar Geronimo, Jerry Martin, Grant Jackson, and Leon Roberts. Many of those moves backfired, costing the Royals young talent like Atlee Hammaker, Ken Phelps, and Cecil Fielder. Even worse, Blue and Martin embroiled the Royals in a highly embarrassing drug scandal.

However Schuerholz was also accumulating an impressive collection of young talent, shrewdly acquiring first baseman Steve Balboni and pitchers Charlie Leibrandt and Bud Black in underrated trades, and drafting pitchers Danny Jackson and Bret Saberhagen. In 1984, he went with some of his young players, and while the team hovered around .500 most of the year, they went on a late run and made the playoffs, falling to the Detroit Tigers in the American League Championship Series.

With his youngsters hungry for more after getting a taste of the post-season, Schuerholz added veterans Jim Sundberg and Lonnie Smith in trades. The Royals were at .500 after 82 games, but won 50 of their last 80 games to win the division, then battled back from 3-1 deficits in both the ALCS and the World Series to win the first championship in club history.

Schuerholz tried to infuse new young talent into the Royals, with Danny Tartabull, Kevin Seitzer, and Bo Jackson joining the team in the late 80s, but they failed to make the post-season. His veteran acquisitions of Rich Dotson, Floyd Bannister, Storm Davis, and most notably the huge contract to Mark Davis turned out to be flops, and a trade of young hometown kid David Cone to the Mets for injured catcher Ed Hearn proved to be arguably the worst trade in franchise history.

According to Schuerholz in his book Built to Win, the Royals front office had factions loyal to each of the co-owners of the Royals - Ewing Kauffman and Avron Fogelman - that was causing problems. Schuerholz identified two franchises with up-and-coming talent he thought were on the verge of becoming contenders - the Rangers and Braves. After a chance conversation in which Braves Presiden Stan Kasten solicited advice from Schuerholz on who he should hire to run his team, Schuerholz nominated himself.

Schuerholz took over the Braves after the 1990 season, taking over a last place club. But they were indeed loaded with talent, and the very next year they not only made the playoffs but went to the World Series, falling to the Twins. Under Schuerholz, the Braves went to the playoffs 14 times, winning five pennants, and the 1995 World Championship. Schuerholz was General Manager when Dayton Moore first began work with the Braves, and Moore served as an Assistant General Manager under Schuerholz until he left to join the Royals in 2006. Schuerholz stepped down from the Braves after the 2007 season.

Schuerholz is, amazingly, not in the Royals Hall of Fame. I don’t know if it is because he left on poor terms, or if he never got along with the media, or if people thought he just inherited a good team, or if voters just haven’t gotten around to it. But it seems if they had time to put in a groundskeeper, they could put in the architect of the first champion in club history.

John Schuerholz will be just the sixth General Manager ever inducted into the Hall of Fame, along with Branch Rickey, Larry MacPhail, Ed Barrow, George Weiss, and Pat Gillick. He will be inducted with Jeff Bagwell, Tim Raines, Ivan Rodriguez, and former Commissioner Bud Selig at 12:30 CT on Sunday, July 31. The ceremony will be broadcast live on MLB Network and will be shown via webcast at www.baseballhall.org.