John Schuerholz was a school teacher in Baltimore when he wrote a letter to the Orioles, suggesting he would be a perfect fit for their front office. And here he is, 51 years later, getting ready for his July 30 induction into the Baseball Hall of Fame in honor of the career he put together with the O's, Royals and Braves.
Schuerholz talked about some of the highlights in this week's Q&A:
MLB.com: When you got that entry-level job in Baltimore, did you think that would be where you worked the rest of your life?
Schuerholz: I was a Baltimore guy. After the 1968 season, Lou Gorman walked into my office and said, 'We're going to Kansas City.' I said, 'What do you mean?' I grew up in Baltimore. I went to school in Baltimore. He said, 'We're going to Kansas City. It's our opportunity.'
MLB.com: A lot happened in Kansas City, including the famous Pine Tar Game when umpire Tim McClelland ruled George Brett had too much pine tar on his bat and negated a game-winning home run at Yankee Stadium. The Royals, however, won that appeal. Were you surprised?
Schuerholz: I thought it was a bad call. I had never seen anything like that before. There was no precedent for the call. No one had ever complained about the bat. George didn't break many bats. He had used it all year long without anything being said.
MLB.com: So you challenged the call?
Schuerholz: I wrote the protest letter to [then-American League President] Lee MacPhail, and he ruled in our favor. It was the first time that happened. Dean Taylor was my assistant. He outlined the details of the protest, and we collaborated at the end. Lee MacPhail said we were right, the bat should have been removed from the game before the at-bat so that home run George hit 480 feet off [Rich] Gossage still counted. It's part of baseball history.
MLB.com: What do you consider the key to your success as an executive?
Schuerholz: I hired all good scouts. I learned that starting in 1966 with the Orioles. They were competitive every year. It looked like the smart thing to do. I did it in Kansas City. Lou Gorman and I brought the 'Oriole Way' to Kansas City, and it played well there. Now, it is the 'Braves Way.' It keeps working.
MLB.com: There were some rough spots, though, like the effort to sign Will Clark out of high school?
Schuerholz: Ken Gonzales was a rookie scout that year. He scouted Will and talked to the dad. We had an agreement in place. He went to meet with the dad and Will the next morning and failed to put the contract in his briefcase. Mr. Clark was upset. Will still wanted to sign. Mr. Clark called Ron Polk, the coach at Mississippi State. Ron told him if he let Will come to Mississippi State, he would finish him off as a baseball player.
MLB.com: Kenny was the same scout who signed Bo [Jackson], wasn't he?
Schuerholz: Kenny would always stay in the same hotel in Memphis when he was scouting, and Bo's mother was a maid. She called him Mr. Kenny. Bo was drafted in the NFL No. 1 by Tampa Bay. They went to Tampa to negotiate with [then-owner] Hugh Culverhouse and didn't feel good about the way the negotiations went. Bo's mother said, 'Mr. Kenny, Bo's not going to sign with that football team.' Because of all the work Kenny did, Bo decided to sign a contract with the Royals.
MLB.com: And Guy Hansen did a pretty good job on Bret Saberhagen. You don't find pitchers like that in the 19th round very often, do you?
Schuerholz: He was a sore-armed pitcher and shortstop in high school. Guy knew the family and told them in his opinion Brett should not pitch his senior year because of the injury his junior year. But Guy had seen him since he was in the youth leagues, and he knew the kid. After we draft him, he winds up pitching in the [California Interscholastic Federation] championship game at Dodger Stadium and threw a no-hitter. Everybody got interested.
MLB.com: What made George Brett special?
Schuerholz: He loved being a baseball player, and he showed it, more than any anyone I have seen in 50-plus years in the game. When he first signed, he had that Carl Yastrzemski batting stance. His brother Ken was with the Red Sox, and George had been around Yaz. Charlie Lau changed that, however. It worked out pretty well.
MLB.com: So you have World Series rings from three teams? The 1966 Orioles, 1985 Royals and 1995 Braves?
Schuerholz: No, two: 1985 and 1995. When I left teaching to join the Orioles, there was the draft. The Orioles had me join the National Guard, and I was doing my active duty in 1966. I do have the rings for the two other seasons. There should have been a few more in Atlanta with the team we had and the manager we had. They deserved a few more. If it hadn't been for a couple breaks and a split finger instead of a hanging slider, there would have been a few more. Those teams in '97 and '98. The funny thing is the year we won, I felt Cleveland had the better team, but [Tom] Glavine was so good, and that Game 6 [1-0], David Justice hit the home run.
MLB.com: That was the cornerstone for the Braves, that staff with Glavine, Greg Maddux and John Smoltz, three Hall of Fame pitchers on one staff. Impressive?
Schuerholz: When a guy took the mound, we were pretty comfortable we were going to win. As competitive as they were when they took the mound, they had the full support of each other. It was a unique dynamic. I know the general manager and the manager loved it.
MLB.com: Maddux added something when you signed him as a free agent?
Schuerholz: Maddux was the most remarkable pitcher I ever saw. He could do things as a pitcher and get outs and know what was going to happen. Leo [Mazzone, former Braves pitching coach] went to the mound once and asked him what he was doing. Maddux said he was setting the hitter up to get a popup to third base on the third pitch. Third pitch? He got the popup to third base.
Tracy Ringolsby is a columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.