Braves remove interim tag from manager Brian Snitker

The Atlanta Braves have rewarded Brian Snitker for reversing the team’s direction in his role as interim manager in the 2016 season.
The Atlanta Braves have rewarded Brian Snitker for reversing the team’s direction in his role as interim manager in the 2016 season. AP

Brian Snitker is an interim manager no more.

He’s the Braves’ new full-time manager, chosen over a field of candidates that included veteran managers Bud Black and Ron Washington and three members of the Braves coaching staff.

After receiving overwhelming support from Braves players, Snitker, who'll be 61 next week, got the job, signing a one-year contract with a club option for 2018. Braves president of baseball operations John Hart said Snitker had to pull his car over to the side of highway, so excited was he when Hart called to give him the news.

“It’s great for Snit, great for the Braves,” general manager John Coppolella said.

“He deserved this opportunity,” Hart said in making the announcement Tuesday, nine days after the team ended its season with 20 wins in its final 30 games and five consecutive series wins.

The Braves also announced Chuck Hernandez will move up from his minor league pitching coordinator position to replace Roger McDowell as pitching coach, and Washington was hired as third-base coach. The Braves last week declined to pick up McDowell’s contract option.

The team exercised the 2017 contract options on all of their other coaches except third-base coach Bo Porter, who’s moving into the front office as a special assistant to the GM.

Snitker was a popular choice among Braves fans and a consensus choice in the clubhouse. Many players openly lobbied for him to get the job, after he moved up from his Triple-A Gwinnett manager position May 17 and led a dramatic midseason turnaround of a moribund team that was 9-28 when manager Fredi Gonzalez got fired.

It was Snitker’s first time managing in the majors.

“The players certainly seemed to respond to Snit,” Coppolella said. “You saw it reflected in our win-loss record but also in the energy with which we played. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. 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.”

The Braves made substantial improvement in their record, going 59-65 under Snitker including 50-47 after his first four weeks on the job. But even beyond the standings, Braves players said there was tangible improvement in team morale under Snitker.

“We all respect him, so you really want a guy like that on your team,” center fielder Ender Inciarte said in the last week of the season. “You really want to play for him. Everybody here has been doing that. … I didn’t play for Bobby Cox, but a lot of people say Snit is very similar. Personally, I really respect him and I really want to play hard for him.”

The Braves met or surpassed all expectations under Snitker, a player, minor-league manager and coach in their organization for 40 years – his entire professional baseball career - before stepping into a difficult situation when Gonzalez was dismissed with more than three-fourths of the season remaining.

After managing nearly 2,600 games in 19 minor-league seasons, Snitker didn’t hesitate when asked to take the interim major league job, taking on the challenge with his friend Terry Pendleton assisting as bench coach. Pendleton, the former Braves star and longtime member of the team’s coaching staff, moved from first-base coach to bench coach at Snitker’s request, and the two thrived in the new roles.

Pendleton was among three Braves coaches who interviewed for the managerial job last week, along with Eddie Perez and Porter, a former Astros manager. A person familiar with the search said Pendleton began his interview by saying that Snitker deserved the job after his work as interim manager.

Hart was candid with reporters about the process when he said Oct. 3, the day after the season ended, that it would be difficult to hire a member of the coaching staff as manager over Snitker after the job Snitker had done in the interim role.

Some were surprised the team even found it necessary to interview candidates other than Snitker after the performance of the rejuvenated Braves in the second half, when they overcame shaky starting pitching with improved bullpen work and major offensive improvement – particularly after the arrival of Matt Kemp via trade and the call-up of prospect Dansby Swanson.

But team officials said after the Gonzalez firing that they would do a thorough managerial search to find his full-time replacement, and they felt it prudent to go through with that plan despite the team’s encouraging second half.

“I love Brian. Love the job he did,” Hart said Oct. 3. “If in fact he becomes our guy, I want it to be because we went through the process. When it’s said and done, we’re not afraid to make an unpopular decision, if we think it’s in the best long-term interest of the Braves. … But if in fact we do come back to Brian and he’s the guy, it'll be because he’s the guy we wanted, and we will have looked around.”

They looked around, interviewed a handful of other candidates including Black, a former National League Manager of the Year for San Diego, and Washington, who guided Texas to four consecutive seasons with at least 90 wins and back-to-back World Series appearances in 2010-2011.

In the end, the Braves stuck with Snitker, the candidate who had convinced players he was the right man for the job during a 4-1/2 month trial run of sorts that began May 17.

“I loved him when he was here as a third-base coach,” Braves slugger Freddie Freeman said, referring to Snitker’s previous role with the Braves from 2006-2013. “He’s just a calm guy. He goes out there, puts the lineup down and lets guys go to work. 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.”

Freeman and the Braves will get that chance again. Snitker is staying, this time without the interim label attached.