John Schuerholz’s journey reaches pinnacle: ‘This is the sterling moment’

Oxon Hill, Md. — On his first day in the Baltimore Orioles' front office in 1966, John Schuerholz, a former 8th-grade teacher who orchestrated a drastic career change at 26 years old, rummaged through green filing cabinets underneath old Memorial Stadium. He considered the conditions subterranean.

Schuerholz poured over baseball rulebooks in his new surroundings, flinging the wings on his typing table up when more space was required, and asked himself essential questions about his new path.

“How long can I stay in this game? How long will it take me to become a general manager?” Schuerholz remembers wondering. “And I knew that day. You may believe me if you wish, but it’s the truth: I knew that day that this is where I belonged. This is the industry I should be in.”

Fifty years later, at 76 years old, Schuerholz sat in a conference room at the Gaylord National Resort and Convention Center in Maryland, with an oversized Hall of Fame uniform on. His intuition met the ultimate vindication.

The longtime MLB executive with the Orioles, Royals and Braves organizations was unanimously voted into Cooperstown on Sunday evening through the Game Era committee, joining former commissioner Bud Selig in the 2017 class. Schuerholz enters as the sixth Hall of Fame electee whose primary function was team-building — as opposed to being a former player, manager or league official — after becoming the first general manager to win a World Series in the American (1985 Royals) and National leagues (1995 Braves). After joining the Braves before 1991’s worst-to-first season, his teams won 14 consecutive division titles and compiled an MLB-best 1,594-1,092 record before stepping into the vice president’s role after the 2007 season.

“I never dreamed this would happen to me,” Schuerholz said. “If it is a dream, I don't want to wake up. This is the sterling moment. The Shangri-la, if you will.”

From the beginning, Schuerholz set his own timetable. He gave himself five years. If in five years, he told himself, he was not a general manager, he would look elsewhere.

By 1971, he had moved to the expansion Kansas City franchise but the promotion had not arrived. Still, he knew he was close. As Schuerholz said on Monday, “I knew I could do the job. I knew that.”

After setting the stage for the Royals big-league team as the farm director, he became the youngest GM in baseball — 41 years old — in 1981. The Royals won the World Series four years later.

When approached by former Braves president Stan Kasten about the GM job in Atlanta, Schuerholz made one thing clear: Bobby Cox returning to the dugout was not only considered a positive, but it was a necessary prerequisite to him accepting the challenge. The two men had previously met when Cox made a scouting trip to Kansas City in 1976. According to both Schuerholz and Cox, there was an immediate mutual respect and appreciation that carried on throughout their historic run together.

“We thought so much alike about the kind of team we wanted and the kind of players to make up that team and the kind of environment we wanted to create and maintain and sustain,” Schuerholz said. “We were like two peas in a pod. We were like Siamese twins in terms of our intellectual property and our thinking of how this organization ought to be built and run.”

Schuerholz now joins Cox and his former superstar pitching trio, Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine and John Smoltz, in the Hall of Fame, with first-ballot option Chipper Jones waiting on the 2018 ballot. He navigated the changing landscape of baseball — as he told it: from player agents to arbitration to dynamic shifts in media and the advent of social media — and simply kept winning. His personal World Series ring collection stopped at two, but after 50 years in baseball it's apparent that the young man buried beneath stacks of paper in Memorial Stadium knew his place all along.

Even if he didn't predict the final outcome.

“Who can ever expect to live this dream?,” Schuerholz asked. “Who can never expect to be a young baseball executive in 1966 and ever expect that your career ends with someone saying, “Welcome to the Hall of Fame?”