MLB.com Columnist

Joe Posnanski

Schuerholz's greatest day: signing Pendleton

Third baseman would win NL MVP Award in 1991, help start a dynasty

Schuerholz's greatest day: signing Pendleton

When John Schuerholz left Kansas City to take the general manager's job in Atlanta in October 1990, it seemed for all the world like he had entered a dead end. The Braves had just lost 97 games for the second consecutive season. The year before that, they had lost 106.

This was around the time when the Atlanta Constitution newspaper had put out a call to fans for a slogan to sell tickets, and the winning one if memory serves was: "Atlanta Braves baseball, better than getting hit in the head with a hammer unless it's a doubleheader."

What wasn't immediately apparent was that the Braves had already accumulated a startling amount of young talent. The 1990 Braves featured three young pitchers (Tom Glavine, John Smoltz and Steve Avery), two who would pitch their way into the Hall of Fame. Future All-Stars Ron Gant, David Justice, Jeff Blauser and Ryan Klesko were already on the team or in the Minor League system, as was their first pick of the '90 Draft, a pretty decent player named Chipper Jones.

"We had good players," Braves scouting director Paul Snyder would say again and again to a young Atlanta scout, Dayton Moore. "But John showed us how to win."

It's funny. When you look over Schuerholz's Hall of Fame career, you don't really find one spectacular trade -- his best was probably when he dealt for Fred McGriff in 1993, but it's a spotty record that does include him moving David Cone and Adam Wainwright. His Draft record is also uneven, with a few great picks (like Bret Saberhagen in the 19th round and Bo Jackson in the fourth) and a few misses like Mike Kelly with the second pick in '91. Schuerholz's free-agent signings include a few big wins and a few big losses.

But Schuerholz's teams won, they always won, and that onetime Braves scout Moore, who is now general manager of the Royals, believes it comes down to something bigger than trades and signings.

"I think the word for John is 'integrity,'" Moore says. "That is what made him successful, I think. He shows integrity in everything he does -- integrity in the way he carries himself, integrity in the way he deals with people, integrity for the game. You always know where John stands. You always know that he's behind you. You always know that he will do what's best for the team, and if it doesn't work, he will be there to take the blame for it. I think that's how you build a winning organization."

Moore on lessons from Schuerholz

On Dec. 4, 1990 -- less than two months after Schuerholz took over as Atlanta's GM -- he made his first big move, signing former Cardinal Terry Pendleton for what was, at the time, the biggest contract the Braves had ever given a third baseman (four years, $10 million). It was barely noticed nationally at the time -- it was probably the third- or fourth-biggest signing that day. It was noticed in Atlanta. Pendleton was coming off a spectacularly bad offensive year, hitting .230/.277/.324 for a struggling St. Louis team that seemingly couldn't wait to be rid of him.

"Rare is the player who hits .230, then is rewarded with a 10-mil contract," columnist Furman Bisher wrote in the Atlanta Constitution. "It's a high price for being able to catch and throw a baseball, and even then, Terry Pendleton made 19 errors at third base in St. Louis."

But Schuerholz trusted his scouts, who told him that Pendleton had been hurt in 1989 and was finally healthy. Schuerholz trusted his instincts about Pendleton as a hard-working player with leadership skills who (despite Bisher's crack about errors) played great defense. And perhaps more than anything, Schuerholz followed the competitive drive that compelled him throughout his career. He knew the Braves were loaded with young talent, but he believed deeply that he needed to move fast to alter the big league club.

In the next few days, Schuerholz signed Sid Bream and Rafael Belliard, and before the season began, he traded for Otis Nixon.

Pendleton's Game 4 homer

"When I took over in Kansas City," Moore says, "John gave me a lot of advice, but the thing I remember most is him saying: 'I have no doubt you will build a great farm system. But that's not enough. You have to work on the big league club. That's what fans care about. They won't relate to the farm system. You have to build a team that can win.'"

Pendleton came to Atlanta and became a star, winning the National League Most Valuable Player Award in 1991, as the Braves went from worst to first and lost to the Twins in a seven-game World Series. It's hard to pick one greatest day in the remarkable career of Schuerholz, whose teams won 17 division titles, six pennants and two World Series. But that day he signed Pendleton (the Yankees, apparently, were making a big push, too) was special because Schuerholz followed his intuition and kick-started a dynasty.

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Joe Posnanski is an executive columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.