Bulls to Bigs: Brian Snitkers first month on the job

A shot at the Majors after 40 years in the organization,

Robert Hanashiro—X02835
Jun 4

Brian Snitker looked at his lineup card and couldn’t believe his eyes. He couldn’t remember the last time he had so many names to choose from.”Shoot,” he recalled, “I had five extra players the first game I managed here. I had a full bullpen. I’m used to having two relievers and maybe one guy extra on the bench.”The date was May 17, and Snitker had just taken over as the Braves’ interim manager, following the firing of Fredi Gonzalez.Braves outfielder Jeff Francoeur described his new manager as a “Braves lifer”. He should know. Francoeur is in his twelfth Major League season, playing for his seventh big-league team. He played for Snitker at Double-A Greenville in 2004 and Mississippi in 2005.The Braves first acquired Snitker, then a minor league catcher, during the 1977 season. In his 40th year with the organization, 29 of them spent in the minor leagues, Snitker had finally gotten his shot to manage the major league club.From 1982 to 2016, Snitker managed 2,610 minor league games for the Braves. He’d led a team at every level from Rookie League to Triple-A. His resume looks like a traveling salesman’s itinerary through the deep south — Anderson, Sumpter, Macon, Danville, Myrtle Beach, Richmond and, for three seasons, Durham.Snitker managed the Bulls in 1983 and 1984. Then, after a brief stint as major league bullpen coach for Atlanta and a year with the Braves’ Sally League team, he returned to Durham in 1987.”Oh man, just the energy of that ballpark. They hadn’t moved yet (from the DAP to the DBAP),” Snitker said. “That old ballpark was just unbelievable. That was like baseball back in the day. And the fans were so energized. It was a young crowd that just came out to have a good time.””I went back and had lunch with (Bulls owner) Jim Goodmon earlier this year. It was just really good to see him and Matt West, who used to managed there and pitched for me. We all went out to lunch and just talked about the past.”Twenty nine years after managing the Bulls, and shortly after his reunion lunch in Durham, Snitker joined a rare club. The Bulls have had 52 managers over their history. Only five have gone on to manage at the major league level. Snitker is the first since Grady Little, who replaced Snitker as Bulls manager, left the big league dugout in 2007. (Charlie Metro, Frank Skaff and Johnny Pesky, who all managed Durham in the 1950s, are the other Bulls-to-bigs managers.)Looking back after his first month on the job with Atlanta, Snitker said, “I’m a 60-year-old rookie, pretty much. I’m just learning the league and how to do things here.””I really didn’t have any expectations, because I really wasn’t prepared to take this job,until it came,” he added. “So it really hit me right off the bat. It’s a different routine than I’m used to. Every level, when you go from rookie league to managing A ball to Double-A, all the way up the ladder, there’s always going to be changes. You’ve just got to get used to the routines.”The majors aren’t entirely new to Snitker. In addition to his 1985 stint as bullpen coach, he spent 1988 to 1990 in the same role. From 2007 until 2013, he coached third base for the Braves. Still, there’s a difference between coaching and managing.”I’ve been up here 11 years,” he said, “but coaching, you focus on your job, not the total thing, like what’s going on now.”More than two years removed from the major leagues, the biggest adjustment for Snitker is in learning personnel.”I don’t really know the league as well as I’d like to yet,” he said. “Bobby Cox told me, ‘You’ve just got to go around the league a couple times, and then you’ll feel a little more comfortable.’ “As Snitker noticed on his first day, he has a full complement of players to manage, unlike other levels, where managers often find themselves short-handed due to last-minute roster moves. Snitker also needed to get used to National League baseball, since most of his games in the minor leagues had a designated hitter. The biggest adjustment, however, was in the sheer size of the organization he was managing.”You’re just so much more involved in everything here,” he said. “Just the total day in and day out workings of everything. You’ve got to deal with the media every day. It’s such a bigger scope. Every little thing is a big thing here.”Having familiar faces around has helped with the adjustment. Nineteen players on the Braves’ current 25-man roster previously played for Snitker in the minor leagues.”I mean that first day, in Pittsburgh, I addressed the team,” Snitker said. “I looked around the room and said, ‘Most of you guys have heard this before.’ I have had a lot of these guys. They’ve all been great.”Snitker doesn’t know if he’ll get the “interim” removed from his title or if he’ll be back in the minor leagues again after this season. In the meantime, he’s got plenty to worry about without pondering his long-term future.”The whole game is different, more involved,” he said. “There are a lot more moving parts than in the minor leagues. Everything in the minors is a lot more simple, that’s for sure.”It’s just one of those things where the more I do it, the better I’ll get.”