By Bill Ballew
December 7, 2005
No one would have blamed Dayton Moore if he had packed his bags and headed for Boston in early November.
Moore, Atlanta’s assistant general manager who has learned his craft as the Braves’ director of minor league and scouting operations for most of the past seven years, has been heralded as one of the game’s premier GMs-in-waiting. After turning down overtures from Arizona in October, Moore owed it to himself to listen when the Red Sox came calling in November.
“I did a lot of soul-searching,” said Moore, who joined the Braves in 1994 as a scouting supervisor. “I came to realize that my family and I have a huge support system here, both professionally and personally. Opportunities to become a general manager are few and far between, but the timing just didn’t feel right.”
Moore’s decision coincided with a collective sigh of relief throughout the Turner Field offices. The reasoning centers on the past and the present as well as the future. Virtually everyone in the Atlanta organization hopes to see Moore ascend to the GM job once John Schuerholz decides to call it a career. Not only has he proven capable, Moore also is a disciple of Paul Snyder, Atlanta’s long-time scouting director who joined forces in the mid-1980s with then-GM Bobby Cox to form a family feel that Schuerholz has helped maintain since arriving in 1990.
The result is a tight-knit team of passionate baseball professionals who believe character, loyalty and hard work are the cornerstones to success. In addition to winning 14 straight division titles, the Braves have achieved an unmatched level of consistency by developing their own and promoting from within. Employees possessing resumes with more than 10 years with Atlanta are more common than newcomers, which has paved the way for the Braves to become one of the game’s most proficient farm systems.
The team hit the mother lode in 2005 when 18 rookies reached the game’s top level, including 12 that made their major league debuts. That effort, combined with the ongoing dedication to scouting and player development, has made the Braves this year’s Baseball America Organization of the Year.
It would be hard to imagine one man having a greater impact on an organization for a longer period of time than Snyder. He signed with the Milwaukee Braves as an outfielder in 1957 before a back operation slowed his efforts on the field in 1960. By 1963, he was a player-manager at Greenville in the Western Carolinas League. Snyder developed an optimistic approach during that time, giving him the hope that every morning represented the start of the day he would find the next key component to a world championship team.
Snyder was scouting and managing by the early 1970s before heading Atlanta’s minor leagues by the middle of the decade. With a bare-bones staff, he handpicked the limited assistance the team could afford. Today, scouts Harold “Hep” Cronin, Stu Cann and Bob Wadsworth have been with the Braves for more than a quarter-century.
Cronin, one of the Braves’ four national crosscheckers, has been a major part of the Braves’ scouting efforts since joining the organization as a part-timer in 1968. Former outfielder David Justice is among the many players Cronin signed, all the while serving as a head basketball coach in the Greater Cincinnati high school ranks for 27 years and never enduring a losing campaign while piling up more than 400 victories.
Cronin says there are numerous similarities between coaching high school basketball and scouring the countryside for potential professional baseball players. He believes good makeup and character are the primary keys. When those traits are combined with toughness and even modest talent, a player has a chance to make an impact.
“In basketball, a kid may not appear to have any skills, then he takes the court and he’s beating the crap out everyone,” Cronin said. “Pete Rose, Jr. was that kind of kid, a guy who could not play basketball, but he could eliminate the opposing team’s best player by outhustling him up and down the court.”
While covering the Cincinnati area as an associate scout under Snyder, Cronin’s duties expanded to national tournaments. He joined the Braves on a full-time basis in 1985 and became a crosschecker three years later.
“I think the key to our success is a refusal to make exceptions,” Cronin said. “Once you start letting this kid slide due to questionable character, all the sudden things get real slippery. In all my years of working with the Braves, we have always put the highest priority on makeup and character.”
Scouting director Roy Clark, yet another Snyder protege operates under two main principles. One, he follows Snyder’s primary mantra in that he will never ask anyone to do something that he would not be willing to do. And, two, when it comes to signing a young player, he is adamant when he says, “We will be turning your son over to the best player development staff in baseball.”
Consistency is again the key. Richmond coach Rick Albert has been with the organization as a player, coach or manager since 1972. Rome skipper Randy Ingle’s tenure dates to 1979, the same year Danville manager Paul Runge joined the Braves as a ninth-round draft pick. Jim Beauchamp, the team’s supervisor of field operations, has been with the organization since 1985.
Brian Snitker became a Brave in 1977 when Bob Didier signed the University of New Orleans catcher as a nondrafted free agent to fill out the Kingsport roster. Four years later, after wringing every ounce of opportunity out of his washcloth of a playing career, Snitker received an opportunity to stay in the game when then-farm director Hank Aaron extended him a job offer.
“I played real hard to be mediocre, and I was fortunate when Hank offered me the coaching job,” Snitker said. “I was single and living out of my car, so I gave it a try to see what happened.”
More good fortune followed Snitker when he earned a spot on the Atlanta staff as the bullpen coach in 1985 and from 1988-90. Otherwise, he has managed 16 seasons in the minors, heading clubs from the rookie leagues to Double-A, in Anderson, Sumter, Durham, Macon, Danville, Myrtle Beach, Greenville and Mississippi. He was recently named skipper of Triple-A Richmond for the 2006 campaign.
“The players are the one thing that keeps you coming back,” said Snitker, 50. “And that’s because we have good players. The Braves always get guys who are good people with strong work ethics and great makeup. They have the intangibles that make them the best players they can be. And that’s what makes it fun to go to work everyday.”
The Pitching Prowess
Much of the credit heaped on Atlanta’s pitching success over the past 15 years, particularly from a national standpoint, has gone to Leo Mazzone. While Cox’ long-time pitching coach deserved kudos prior to his recent departure to the Orioles, organization insiders have always realized the Braves’ ability to develop hurlers has centered on a strong core of minor league coaches, a group that includes the likes of Bill Fischer, Mike Alvarez and Kent Willis.
Yet if one man earns more praise than any other coach, particularly from pitchers, it would be Bruce Dal Canton. A knuckleball twirler who was traded from the Royals to the Braves midway through the 1975 season, Dal Canton was teaching general science and biology in Burgettstown, Pa., in 1966 when he signed as a 24-year-old with the Pirates. While he reached the major leagues with Pittsburgh at the end of his second professional season, it has been Dal Canton’s ability to learn and teach that enabled him to have such a long career on the diamond.
“I tell the kids I’m still teaching, only it’s a different subject,” Dal Canton said. “It’s all about how you get your points across and knowing that they’re taking in what you’re teaching them. There are a lot of different ways to approach it. One of the things in teaching that I try to do is repeat things until it finally starts to sink in. You do that in coaching baseball and teaching in the classroom. It works in both settings.”
Dal Canton joined the White Sox at the end of his 12-year playing career before rejoining Atlanta in 1982. His first five years back with the Braves were spent as a pitching coach in the upper levels of the minors before serving in the same capacity on the major league club from 1987-90. The 2006 season will mark Dal Canton’s ninth consecutive year at the high Class A level, including eight straight at Myrtle Beach. As a Pelican, he has been a major influence on the careers of such promising pitchers as Kyle Davies, Anthony Lerew and Chuck James.
“There’s a reason why the light seems to come on for so many of our guys at Myrtle Beach, and it doesn’t have much to do with the ballpark (Coastal Federal Field),” Clark said.