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Schuerholz stepping down as Braves GM

    ATLANTA — John Schuerholz stepped aside as general manager of the Atlanta Braves on Thursday to become team president after assembling teams that won a record 14 straight division titles and the 1995 World Series championship.
    Schuerholz, who turned 67 last week, remains second in command to chairman Terry McGuirk but will step away from day-to-day personnel decisions, such as trades, free-agent signings and other roster moves.
    ‘‘I’ll miss that,’’ Schuerholz said during a news conference at Turner Field.
    He was baseball’s longest-serving general manager with one team, having spent 17 seasons with the Braves after a nine-year stint as GM of the Kansas City Royals.
    Assistant general manager Frank Wren, a former GM with the Baltimore Orioles, moves up to replace Schuerholz after spending eight years as his assistant.
    ‘‘Our styles are different,’’ Wren said. ‘‘But our philosophies are very, very similar.’’
    Outfielder Jeff Francoeur got word of Schuerholz’s decision earlier Thursday.
    ‘‘I figured he would be with us another year of two,’’ Francoeur said. ‘‘It kind of happened quick for all of us. It caught us off guard.’’
    The Braves won 14 consecutive division titles from 1991 — Schuerholz’s first season in Atlanta — until 2004, a streak unprecedented in major American leagues. The only blemish on his resume was a lack of success once his teams got the playoffs.
    ‘‘What else is there?’’ Schuerholz said. ‘‘It would have been, unequivocally, the complete validation of the grand nature of this franchise. Nobody could have said anything about the Atlanta Braves and ended the sentence with the word ’but.’’’
    Wren, who was Baltimore’s GM in 1999, only got word Tuesday that Schuerholz was looking to step aside, even though the idea was first proposed by McGuirk six months ago.
    Schuerholz broke the news to his successor over iced tea after they watched a developmental league game in central Florida.
    ‘‘I really had no inkling this was coming,’’ Wren said.
    Schuerholz, who’s always been notoriously tightlipped about personnel moves and the inner workings of the organization, was clearly pleased. He grinned and pumped his fist when Wren described his reaction.
    ‘‘I can keep a secret,’’ Schuerholz said.
    The 49-year-old Wren turned down an offer to become Pittsburgh’s general manager a few years ago and didn’t pursue a couple of other GM opportunities, all because he was hoping for a chance to succeed Schuerholz in Atlanta.
    ‘‘We’re going to keep doing things the way we’ve been doing them,’’ Wren said. ‘‘The Braves way. It’s been working pretty well.’’
    While Schuerholz is willing to provide advice in player matters, calling himself a ‘‘mentor’’ and a ‘‘sounding board,’’ he’ll mainly be involved in the business side of the franchise. He made it clear that he won’t be looking over Wren’s shoulder.
    ‘‘I let people establish themselves, do their jobs and support them,’’ Schuerholz said.
    Atlanta’s only World Series title came 12 years ago, a six-game victory over the Cleveland Indians that gave the city its first, and still only, major sports championship.
    Four other times during the streak, the Braves lost in the World Series. They also were the losing team in four NL championship series, and were eliminated four more times in the division series.
    After the team’s ownership passed from Ted Turner to Time Warner, the Braves began to cut payroll though they remain one of the highest-spending teams in baseball. McGuirk said the move had nothing to do with another ownership change this year from Time Warner to Liberty Media.
    In 2005, Atlanta’s postseason streak ended with a losing season and third-place finish in the NL East. The Braves climbed back over .500 this season but again finished third, out of the playoffs.
    Still, the postseason failures and recent slide do little to diminish Schuerholz’s remarkable record of assembling talented teams year after year, with manager Bobby Cox running things in the dugout throughout the remarkable run.
    The 66-year-old Cox has another year left on his contract.
    ‘‘Obviously, John has done an unbelievable job with the organization and this team,’’ Francoeur said. ‘‘He definitely deserves to retire and enjoy what he’s accomplished. It’s sad, because we didn’t want to see him go.’’
    Schuerholz came to the Braves from Kansas City in 1991, taking over a last-place team that had plenty of potential: pitchers John Smoltz, Tom Glavine and Steve Avery were just starting out their careers.
    The new GM filled out the roster with established veterans such as Terry Pendleton and Sid Bream, a combination took Atlanta from worst to first and all the way to Game 7 of the World Series.
    The memorable series ended with a 1-0, 10-inning loss at Minnesota, a precursor of more postseason losses to come.
    Even though Smoltz is the only player who has been with the Braves throughout the Schuerholz era, the general manager kept a steady flow of talent moving through Atlanta.
    Greg Maddux and Andres Galarraga were signed as free agents. Fred McGriff and Gary Sheffield were acquired in trades. Chipper Jones, Andruw Jones, Javy Lopez and Ryan Klesko were developed by a productive farm system.
    More recently, Francoeur and All-Star catcher Brian McCann came up from the minors to lead the next generation.
    Schuerholz left his job as a junior high school teacher to begin his front-office career with the Baltimore Orioles in 1966. He moved to Kansas City two years later with the expansion Royals, eventually working his way up to general manager in 1981, at the age of 41.
    During his nine years as GM, the Royals won two division titles and the 1985 World Series with a seven-game victory over the St. Louis Cardinals.
    ‘‘John Schuerholz is an unbelievable judge of talent,’’ Chipper Jones once said. ‘‘It almost seems like he has a crystal ball.’’

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