The Atlanta Braves entered Saturday night’s game against the Miami Marlins with a 72-56 record and leading the National League East.
With 34 games left, the Braves had already matched their win total from last season, when they went 72-90 on the way to a third consecutive 90-loss season.
Several observers thought the team would be better this year, but few predicted this level of a turnaround so soon.
Consistent contributions from veterans Freddie Freeman and Nick Markakis, young leaders Mike Foltynewicz and Ozzie Albies, and the meteoric rise of rookie Ronald Acuna Jr. are among many reasons behind the Braves’ success so far. Offseason acquisition Charlie Culberson has come on strong as a utility player, and shortstop Dansby Swanson has improved in his second full season in the majors.
However, even as the Braves have been the benefactors of myriad of on-field talent, many credit manager Brian Snitker as well.
A part of the Braves organization for more than 40 years, Snitker was named interim manager on May 17, 2016, after Fredi Gonzalez was fired. Snitker was managing Triple-A Gwinnett at the time, and Atlanta officials wanted to give him a shot at the helm of the big league club.
Snitker first came to the Braves as a 21-year-old minor leaguer in 1977 and continued playing through 1980, primarily as a catcher. After batting .254 through 780 at-bats, he faced a crossroads in 1981.
“Well, I honestly realized that I wasn’t very likely going to make it to the show,” Snitker said, “but I loved baseball so much, and I knew I wanted to be around the game.”
Soon after, Snitker got a call that changed the course of his life. It was from Braves legend Hank Aaron, who joined the team’s front office shortly after his own retirement as a player.
“I didn’t really interview,” Snitker said. “He just released me and offered me a coaching job. He’s been very influential in my baseball life. I’m very in debt to him. It’s cool to have such a good friend that’s Hank Aaron. It’s neat. Just a terrific friend, and it’s cool.”
Snitker has been with the Braves ever since, spending 42 of his 62 years on Earth with the organization.
Chipper Jones remembers meeting Snitker well.
“He’s a baseball man in every way,” said the recently inducted Hall of Famer. “Snit is a great man, and it’s so good to see him and the team doing well. If you’ve worn a Braves uniform, chances are you know Snit. He’s important to this organization.”
In all, Snitker has played, coached or managed in the Braves’ organization in 13 different cities, from rookie-level Kingsport and Danville, to three tenures as a coach in Atlanta.
Snitker is a busy man with a lot to handle, but we were able to catch up with him for a few questions.
What is Hank Aaron like?: “Where do you even start with such a legend and even better man? He’s been such a good friend my entire career. He’s a good man. I remember as a young coach in spring training, after workouts, we’d hear all his stories, things like that. We always talked about his accomplishments. He never wanted to talk about himself. It was never about what he did. We’d ask him what did he think of those guys facing you, all that stuff, but he was never like a selfish guy.”
What did you learn from Bobby Cox?: “How long do you have? I wouldn’t be here without Bobby teaching me and poring into me. I still talk to him on a regular basis. He’s in the Hall, and deservedly so, but even he doesn’t get enough credit for the type of manager he was.”
What was it like seeing Chipper go in the Hall of Fame?: “He’s a ballplayer. That’s the highest compliment I think I can give somebody. You look at his career, the great career that he had, year after year after year, the numbers he put up. There’s a guy who came to play every day prepared. When you’re with him, you take it for granted. You look back and see what he did, and it’s phenomenal. Just the whole thing. How he did it day in and day out, year in and year out. All the postseason games, the short offseasons. It’s amazing how sturdy and durable that guy was.”