Braves lifer Snitker receives reward for 44-year investment
Brian Snitker borrowed plenty from Bobby Cox learning to lead a clubhouse.
Now, he’s matched his mentor in chasing down the game’s greatest prize, joining Cox as the only Atlanta Braves managers to win the World Series.
The championship clinched with Tuesday night’s 7-0 Game 6 win over the Houston Astros was the payoff on Snitker’s investment of 44 years as a Braves lifer. After a long career as player, instructor, coach and manager in the Atlanta organization, the 66-year-old Snitker has earned his place in team history.
“Brian Snitker is an amazing human being,” star slugger Freddie Freeman said. “And it’s absolutely amazing that we get to call him a world champion now for everything he’s done for this organization.”
Snitker, a former Braves minor league catcher and first baseman, was given his opportunity to start a new career as a coach by Hall of Famer Hank Aaron, the team’s farm director. Aaron died at age 86 on Jan. 22, and Snitker became emotional during the World Series when he spoke of talking with Aaron’s widow, Billye.
Snitker’s patience in his long path to becoming Atlanta’s manager was tested in 2013. After serving as Atlanta’s third base coach from 2007-13, he was sent back to the minors as Triple-A Gwinnett’s manager. He had already served 15 seasons as the manager of almost every Braves minor league team, so he was being asked to retrace his steps.
It didn’t seem like a path that would lead him to a big league manager role. When Atlanta fired manager Fredi González during the 2016 season, Snitker wasn’t expecting a call.
“I thought it was probably off the table when I left that time in that last recycle like that,” Snitker said last week.
Cox, who managed the Braves from 1990-2010 and won a title in 1995, instilled lessons in Snitker that helped him make the most of the opportunity as interim manager in 2016 and then when he was named to the full-time position. His collection of four NL East crowns, and now the World Series championship, are more than he dared to dream of in 2016. He’s the second-oldest manager to win his first title, after 72-year-old Jack McKeon with the Marlins in 2003.
“I couldn’t imagine how great this has been and what’s transpired since that time, because I wasn’t looking for that,” Snitker said. “I wasn’t expecting it. When I got the call, that’s not what I was expecting to hear. I’ve been blessed to be able to be in this position.”
One notion taken from Cox was giving players their space in the clubhouse. Snitker rarely makes speeches and doesn’t hang out in the players’ area.
“He’s the kind of guy that, when he does talk, we do listen,” said Braves closer Will Smith. “He doesn’t talk that often, which is fine by us.”
Give at least partial credit to Cox.
“I’ve been like that pretty much my whole career,” Snitker said. “When I went in, it was for a purpose. … I probably got a lot of that from Bobby, watching him, and how guys respect that. I don’t have to be their buddy. I respect each and every one of them. But I kind of feel like that’s their haven in there.”
Smith says Snitker is “an old-school skipper.”
“His door is always open to talk to, but he doesn’t come in with rah-rah speeches and things like that,” Smith said. “He knows we’re pros inside that room, and we kind of police ourselves and show up every day to work and do our best to win the game that day.”
Like Cox, Snitker also preaches positive, uplifting messages even after players don’t have their best performances.
“We’re very fortunate to have him, and the way he treats us is phenomenal,” rookie right-hander Ian Anderson said. “He’ll shake your hand after every outing, good or bad, and that goes a long way. So you always look for it.”
It has been a successful approach. Snitker says he’s not sure he would have been as successful if the opportunity had come earlier in his career.
“I’ve said many times I think this happened to me at a really good time in my life,” he said. “I’m probably better versed to handle this position later in my career than I would have been earlier.”
Snitker has passed along lessons to his son, Astros co-hitting coach Troy Snitker. The younger Snitker said the most important lessons were about work ethic and consistency.
“I think that’s the biggest thing that I’ve taken away from him, being able to watch him from a young age at the ballpark,” Troy Snitker said. “He’s just so consistent. I think that’s the biggest thing. He’s so consistent, hard-working. He’s the same guy every day when you’re in the clubhouse with him.
“I think that’s what I got to be around for so many years, and just to see it in action, see how he treats people. He has so many positive qualities about him, but he’s always the same guy no matter whether they’re winning or losing. He takes the same mindset to the field every day.”
Brian Snitker also showed the value of never giving up.
“Just he’s been through so much in his career,” Troy Snitker said. “There were plenty of times where he could have easily decided to go do something else, but he stuck with it. I’d say his hard work is the biggest thing that I try to emulate with him.”
Brian Snitker said Sunday his wife, Ronnie, is “pretty tapped out a little bit” emotionally while cheering for her husband and son.
“It’s exciting,” Snitker said. “This is great. Wouldn’t want it to be any different. We’ve enjoyed it, thank God. So we’re excited about the rest of the ride.”
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By CHARLES ODUM
AP Sports Writer