There are two ways you can go when you move into a new place.
The obvious move is to start fresh – clear out all the accumulated flotsam from the past and replace everything with brand new stuff.
The other way is to maintain a few creature comforts to instill a familiar sense of home.
The Braves opted for a little comfort food when they make the transition from Turner Field into Sun Trust Park next season. They stripped the interim tag off of a lifetime Brave and retained Brian Snitker as manager.
I can’t begin to tell you if this makes sense from an X’s and O’s tactical standpoint. But from a results perspective, the nearly 61-year-old Snitker seems like the right choice.
The system lifer got called up from Triple-A Gwinnett in May to take over a sinking shipwreck of a ball club that was 9-28 under manager Fredi Gonzalez. In fairness to Gonzalez, he was dealt a losing hand to begin with.
The Braves weren’t much better in the first four weeks under new management, going 9-18 under Snitker.
But then a funny thing happened over the last nearly 100 games of the season. Snitker’s Braves went better than .500 (50-47) the rest of the way. They finished the season on a relative tear, winning 20 of their last 30 games and 12 of their final 14. They said goodbye to Turner Field in style, winning five of the last six games at their home since 1997.
Granted, new pieces like Matt Kemp and star prospect Dansby Swanson featured prominently in the late-season surge, but Snitker deserves credit for steering the leaking ship into port still afloat.
“If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it,” general manager John Coppolella said when Snitker was announced Tuesday as the full-time manager for 2017. “We saw a lot of good things at the end of the year, and there was a momentum created by the way the team performed, and Snit was the guy leading the charge.”
Short of bringing back Bobby Cox in his prime, the Braves arguably couldn’t do much better than Snitker. After 40 years as a player, minor-league manager and a coach spent entirely within the Braves organization, Snitker has a little Cox in him. He did work directly with the Hall of Fame skipper during his stint as third-base coach in Atlanta from 2006-13.
Much like Cox, he earned the support of his players who lobbied for him to keep the job over outside candidates like Bud Black.
“He’s just a calm guy. He goes out there, puts the lineup down and lets guys go to work,” first baseman Freddie Freeman told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution recently. “His presence is something that just makes you want to run through walls for (him). I think everybody in this clubhouse has responded to him, because he’s such a good guy, he treats everybody the right way. I love him, so you just want to go out there and do as good as you can for him.”
Snitker reportedly even got the backing of another in-house candidate, Terry Pendleton, who served as bench coach alongside Snitker after Gonzalez was fired. During his own interview for the job, Pendleton started off by saying that Snitker deserved a shot based on his performance as interim manager.
That certainly makes for an easy enough Plan B. If things don’t work out next season when the Braves move into their shiny new Cobb County home, Pendleton is still on the staff to take over if necessary.
This was the move the Braves should have made. They’ve gotten rid of so many familiar pieces over the last couple of years as they rebooted the franchise by accumulating prospects, there is something to be said for retaining a piece of the past who is intimately familiar with the farm system.
When you look back at the glory years of the franchise, what kept the Braves so successful for so long was continuity – great players feeling at home in a professional work environment under a strong manager who always had their backs.
It will take some more pieces around Freeman, Swanson, Kemp and Julio Teheran for the Braves to start contending again. But after so much turmoil in stripping the club down to the foundation for a complete rebuild, it feels right giving a chance to the home-grown manager who picked them up from the bottom.