It is said that, in war, the generals get the
fancy biographies and the foot soldiers get the heavy lifting. It’s sort of like
that in baseball.
Inevitably, it’s the front-line guys who wind up
with most of the attention. Star sluggers and power pitchers become nationally
famous multi-millionaires. Pennant-winning managers can become household names.
The moves of front office gurus like Brian Cashman and Theo Epstein attract
daily media headlines and commentaries. Nowadays, even broadcasters and player
agents give out autographs and do the rounds in glitzy speaking circuits.
For the foot soldiers in baseball, the scouting
staffs, it’s a whole different story. Oh, insiders might sing the occasional
rhapsody about the organization men who scout, draft, sign, and develop young
ball players, but that’s about it. Only the most devoted fans know their
favorite team’s scouting director or head of Minor League development. As for
the unheralded many who trek out to school yards and sandlots throughout the
and the world, well, . . . they’re unheralded. Scouts may be the foundation for
the game’s talent renewal, but fame and fortune have never been a part of the
If there ever comes a day when premiere talent
evaluators do get their due, much less their deserved places in the Hall of
Fame, there’s one individual who might be in line for a whole lot of accolades.
That would be one Paul Snyder of the Braves.
Snyder’s tenure with the organization began when
he signed on as an 18-year old first base prospect in 1957. A standout Minor
Leaguer, Snyder was hampered by injuries before retiring as an active player in
1963. After several seasons as a manager in the Minors, Snyder took successive
jobs as a Scout, Assistant Minor League Administrator, and Director of Scouting
and Player Development. Since his 1999 retirement from day-to-day work, he’s
kept active as Special Assistant to Braves General Manager John Schuerholz and
Scouting Director Dayton Moore.
By all accounts, Paul Snyder has been the singular
architect of the Braves player development system over the years and decades.
And just how important has that been to the team?
The Braves’ ongoing, unbroken string of 14
straight National League East titles since 1991 might provide a strong hint that
something is going very right, but even a glance at the players behind that
success trace back to the team’s farm system. It turns out that Braves have been
one of the most consistent regular season winners in Major League history
because they’ve had one of the most consistent new talent pipelines in history -
from 1991 to 2004, no less than 13 home-grown Braves garnered Rookie of the Year
votes. Multiple prospects ended up as stars (David Justice, Tom Glavine, Andruw Jones, Chipper Jones, Jermaine Dye, Javy Lopez) during that run, while even more
made All-Star appearances (the honor roll includes guys like Jeff Blauser, Steve
Avery, Rafael Furcal, Ryan Klesko, Marcus Giles, Mark Wohlers, and Mike Stanton).
The 2005 season might have been the ultimate
testament to the Braves’ unsurpassed scouting and player development system. A
ballclub that was barely over .500 after 65 games, with injuries to Chipper
Jones and three starting pitchers, nonetheless managed to win yet another NL
East title after the mid-summer arrival of Jeff Francoeur and more than a dozen
other kid contributors. Once again,
Atlanta reloaded on talent. Once
again, Atlanta won.
It’s a spectacular record of achievement, one
perhaps unmatched in baseball’s long history. The Braves evidently think so; in
a nearly unprecedented move, those who know Snyder best inducted the super-scout
into the team Hall of Fame back in July.
Many of Paul Snyder’s friends have said he is one
of the most optimistic, kind-hearted men to be found anywhere else. Based on our
long conversation, I wouldn’t be inclined to argue. On August 29th,
the ultimate in veteran baseball sages reflected on some of the lessons in a
life in the game.
When did you first get interested in
It was something that started for me in the
backyard of my grandparents’ house, back when I was three or four years old,
somewhere in there. My family was living with them at the time, and I remember
my uncle and neighbors pitching to me while I swung a toy bat.
It’s something that I always wanted to do for
later in life. I went to school on a football scholarship, but I always loved
When did you first start thinking of yourself as a
potential Major Leaguer?
I had to be talked into it!
I’d been playing semipro ball against former Minor
Leaguers since I was 15 years old, playing for $50, $60, $70 per game. A fellow
named Sterling Arnold had been away during that time, playing in the Cardinals
organization for about three or four years, but he came back to see me in York
County, Pennsylvania by the time I was 21, 22.
Sterling was the one who kept after
me, ‘You’ve got to get out of here; you’ve got to get out of here’.
I owe it all to him. Matter of fact, I called him
just before my Braves Hall of Fame induction. He’s 85, 86 now, I guess. I said,
‘You’ve done it again’. He said, ‘What did I do?’. I told
Sterling about the honor and he
said, ‘You must have fooled a heck of a lot of people after you left here’.
I owe it all to him - I almost became a plumber,
my dad’s profession. But Sterling Arnold convinced me to try baseball first.
Well, you went on to have a very good Minor League
career, but you never did make it to the Majors. Why did you decide to retire as
an active ballplayer?
I didn’t realize the end was near. [In 1963] I was
in the Texas League, coming off a year with .312, 18 home runs, 113 RBI’s. I was
playing in Denver for Jack
So Jack pulls me to the side and says, ‘It’s time
you start your managing career’. He saw me get a little red and told me to take
a shower; that he’d meet me and buy me something to eat after the game. So we
ate and he was honest with me, he broke it down. I had only one tool - all I
could do was swing the bat.
Minor League managers have always had a difficult job,
particularly in those days. Why did you decide to stay on in the game rather
than go back home?
In the fall of ’59 and early ’60, I was laying in
a hospital in Milwaukee, recovering
from spinal fusion procedure. Things looked pretty dire, I guess, so
[then-Braves Assistant Scouting Director] Roland Hemond asked me if I wanted to
stay in the game after I retired. I said, ‘I haven’t really thought about it,
but I’m sure I would; ‘cause I know nothing else’.
Mr. Hemond, of course, became a legendary talent
evaluator in his own right, in his future career as GM of the White Sox and
I’ve tried to model a lot of my actions after Mr.
Hemond, a humanitarian who showed so much caring for all of us. [One-time Braves
Minor League manager] Harry Minor taught me to how to treat young men and expect
players to conduct themselves as gentlemen. And Jack Tighe, of course, taught me
what honesty meant in this business.
After you retired, you did become a Minor League manager
for a couple of years. How did that help you in your future
I got released, but I never had chance to cry over
it - I signed the release papers, then turned around and signed my managing
I was so lucky. It’s the best way to learn the
scouts and prospects. Every scout should manage and every manager should scout.
I’ve head from managers 100 times - ‘Who the heck recommended this guy?’ If they
were out in the field scouting, they’d know who recommended that guy and would
see that they probably would have recommended him, too.
As a scouting director, you were in charge of hiring. How
did go about finding some of your future
That was my job. When I’d go out to check on a
player, I tried to get the player done as fast as I could and then look around
to see who was still working. Just in case I needed a scout in that territory -
Who’s the guy who’s working the game for all 27 outs? If we saw an evaluator on
the other side of the fence, someone who could make a difference for the Braves
in a key region, his ballclub had to be careful, because we were likely to make
him an offer.
Does a scout really need a background as a former
By and large, many of them have college degrees,
but playing on a professional level is no longer a necessity. We’re hiring a
number of people who have never played, who just know how to evaluate players.
They’re just baseball men to me.
I mean, [General Manager] John [Schuerholz] never
played professionally, and his understanding is phenomenal.
For all that though, scouts tackle an inherently tough
job. Every one of them face constant travel, often from one small
town to the next, and long hours.
We ask so much of them - many of them, they’re
probably going 11 months a year. It takes a special kind of person, an immensely
dedicated person. When Bill Clark was setting up our international program, he
might have been home three weekends out of the year. He was a warrior, a
They’re not doing it for the money; they’re doing
it because they love the game. You’ll never see a scout retire as a millionaire.
But, while they’re working at a ballpark, you’ll see a lot of happy
Well, in reading coverage of the team, a respect for the
scouts’ role seems to be a hallmark of the Braves organization.
You have to depend on scouts. The evaluators are
the first line of a baseball organization, the ones who get star players into an
organization in the first place. And I know [Braves manager] Bobby [Cox] and
John [Schuerholz] approach our scouts like they’re long-lost brothers. They always make our scouts feel welcomed and
God knows John’s been on this side of the game,
that he’s walked in our shoes. He knows what we go through because he’s been
through it himself.
It’s a philosophy that’s not necessarily shared by every
team. As you know, several teams have cut back on field evaluators, based on the
belief that better statistical analysis can be more objective and
I’ve seen young GM’s today get rid of all their
older scouts and I have no idea why they would do that. You have to depend on
experience, too. Veteran scouts have personal information and relationships
money can’t buy.
I heard, one time, a guy say, ‘You’ve got to fire
one or two of your guys every year, just to keep the rest of them on their
toes’. That’s kind of an odd statement. Why did you hire them in the first
Do high school and college coaches tend to provide much
help in the evaluation process?
There are a handful of coaches around the country
where I can truthfully say have been as upright and honest as the day is long.
They’ve never tried to soft-sell me or peddle one of their ball players. But,
otherwise. . . (chuckles) I’ll decide
on a kid’s playing ability. One thing, Peter - you can’t kid a kidder.
One of the amazing things about baseball talent is the
fact that different, great scouts can see different things in different
ballgames. Someone might see a young player when he’s especially hot while
another scout may see the same ball player when he’s in a slump. How have you
settled those kinds of differences?
As for disagreements, they happen, but when
you get in that room for draft day, all our people have to be on the same page.
We can’t sit there arguing over one particular prospect for half a day.
Some years ago, we had a very good cross-checking
scout come in to see a young fellow who turned out to be an outstanding Major
League pitcher. Our guy just didn’t see it, though. He told me, ‘Damn, Paul, I
saw what I saw’. Well, we had three other scouts over three ball games, covering
the kid, and they saw what they saw, too. I made him go back to take another
look, and he saw what the rest of us had seen.
At the end of the day, it’s always ‘we’. I can’t do anything by myself in
baseball. But you and I can do
guess scouts have to have pretty thick skin when their own skills are being
You have to trust your scouts; otherwise you
shouldn’t have them on the team in the first place. But, yeah, everyone has to
speak his piece before the draft.
When we’re grilling a scout, all we’re doing is
finding out how sold he is on his top players. He’s facing a scouting director,
an assistant scouting director, four national cross-checkers, and the old man
here, and we’re grilling him. We want to be sure we’ve got the right
(chuckles) It’s one of the few cases where you can
call a guy a blind S.O.B. and half an hour later, you’re going to lunch with
Have you ever been on the other end of that
Many, many times.
One time I, remember, I made a mistake on a
pitcher - I put $1 million on him and went $130,000 over budget. The young man
did make it to the big leagues, but he was never the player I thought he was
going to be. I had come back and face the music and I was nervous as a hooker in
church. [Team President] Stan Kasten said, ‘Evidently, you thought he was worth
it’. I said, ‘I sure did’. He said, ‘I hope it works’ and that was it.
Getting back to the scouting process for a second. One
thing that’s a bit unusual about your approach is that you don’t necessarily use
radar guns to evaluate young pitchers.
Can you explain why?
Probably 50% of my thought process came from the
Braves former cross-checker, Bill White, who was taught by Bobby Mattick. I was
taught to study what the pitcher does with the 3-4-5 hitters, that the rest was simple. Bill always said,
‘You don’t need that radar gun’. Why should you worry too much about how fast a
teenager might be throwing? The objective is for him to get the batters
wonder how you can account for something you hear a lot about in the game -
intangibles. How can you get a sense of a player’s ability or willingness to put
up with the stresses in the game?
The more you can get to know a player over the
years, the better.
A player will communicate something without saying
anything, Peter. If this is your profession, you can notice things without
saying a word being spoken, I mean just through body language and so forth. You
can tell is someone is negative or positive in his approach to the game and to
life in general.
For a number of years, I’ve said it - leave the
bats and the balls in the clubhouse for all those pre-draft workouts. We’ve
already seen them play. If we just
walk around and talk to them, we’ll know more about the players at the end of
Along those lines, how important is character, a young
prospect’s value decisions off the field?
It means so much. The personal gets awfully,
I tell you, we lose so many talented players from
bad girlfriends, bad wives, bad habits, drugs, alcohol; all the ills of modern
life. We definitely lose more players from those things than from a lack of
Put it this way - have you ever had a player who’s had bad
off-field habits, but still managed to become a Major Leaguer through his sheer
athleticism on the field?
(laughs). Oh, no. If a young man has bad off-field
habits, he’ll be a Minor Leaguer, and he won’t be a Minor Leaguer for long. You
have to ask, ‘Would you want your daughter to date him?’ That answer tells you a
On the other side, are there any players who stand out in
your mind for the fact that their good character and habits allowed them to
overachieve on the Major League level?
I have to go back to Mark Lemke, who was drafted
in the 27th round [in 1983]. We thought he was going to be a backup
middle infielder. Boy, did he surprise us. He just didn’t know how to give in.
In the Minor Leagues, Bobby Dews, who’s now our
bullpen coach, would do drills and drills for guys like Glenn Hubbard because he
knew the young man could take the extra work. Later, in
Macon, as a manager, Glenn put in
the extra work to develop Marcus Giles.
Do any players stand out for the fact that you might have
Oh, I forget them. Because I want to forget them!
(laughs) Oh, but I tell you who doesn’t forget ‘em - the General Manager! He’s
got ‘em all down. But he might have missed a few when he was a scouting
director, too, so we’re even!
Seriously, though, [veteran General Manager] Paul
Richards once told me - when you miss one, just get it out of your mind. I’ve
just tried to take the best information at a given time and go from there.
After you evaluate your prospects, how do you decide on
their signing bonus offers?
You always have to put a value on the player’s
worth, one way or the other. When we evaluate a player, we have to put a figure
in our final report. We draw a conclusion based on the framework from a scout
and four national cross-checkers and I think we come up with signing bonus
figures that are very, very fair.
That doesn’t necessarily mean that signing them is an
easy process, though.
(sighs) Oh boy, Peter.
I don’t resent the players for holding out for the
millions of dollars. If someone had that kind of money in front of you or me,
we’d take it. Careers might only last a year or two.
What I say to them is this - ‘Is this the last big
contract you’re ever going to sign? If it is, I don’t know if you’re for the
Atlanta Braves’. My thinking is - If a kid’s afraid that a signing bonus is all
he’s ever going to get, because he’ll never make it to the Majors, well, we
really don’t need that guy. He’s scared, he doesn’t trust himself. We think more
of him than he thinks of himself.
How closely do your scouts work with Minor League
By and large, our scouts know what our top-notch
Minor League instructors can do - that kind of cooperation is another benefit of
low turnover, by the way. Those instructors have made us scouts look so good,
I heard, one time, ‘How do the Braves keep coming
up with a pitcher every time they need one?’ Well, have you ever been down to
[AAA] Richmond to see the color of
Bill Fischer’s hair, the hair he has left? Or Bruce Dal Canton down in [A-level]
Myrtle Beach? Have you ever seen
these people? They’re as gray as gray can be.
That’s one of those things - you can have young
Minor League managers, you can have young coaches, but you better have a senior
pitching coach. Somebody who’s already had his day in the sun, who’s worried
about getting the kids their day in the sun. The good people in our
organization, their focus isn’t on their own future, but on the future of
Oh, you said it. What does Bill Fischer need? He
doesn’t need the money. He loves the game and he loves teaching.
Speaking of teaching - have the Braves tried to teach
all-around athletes how to become baseball
We’ve tried, but we’ve never been successful. In
1981, for instance, I said, ‘OK, fellas, give me the best athlete in your area,
someone we can convert into a player’. We put $50,000 into a number one pick.
So we take Jay Roberts, this guy who was an
all-state running back, who was an all-state linebacker, who was an all-state
basketball player, who had set a state record for the javelin and the 440-yard
dash. He hadn’t played high school baseball, but he was a stud - 6’3”, 190
He never got out of A ball. Roberts simply could
not accept baseball failure, the fact that he was going to fail for most of the
time no matter what.
I’ve always marveled in the sacrifices ball players have
to go through to reach the Majors - even the most talented young ball players
have to develop in the Minors for years on end.
It’s a sacrifice, it’s a sacrifice, though
the reward is special for that lucky 10, 11 percent who make it. There’s nothing
glorious about life in the Minor Leagues. I know from having played for six
Another unique feature about baseball - scouts seem to go
out of their way to explain just how tough it is.
That’s exactly right. Exactly right. I remember
meeting with [Braves Assistant General Manager] Dayton Moore and [then prospect]
Jeff Francoeur, and we did not glorify it one bit, just so Jeff would know what
he was getting into.
You’ve got to be as honest as the day is long.
That’s one thing I pride myself in - I don’t think I’ve ever had a player who
can say I lied to him. If you’re lying to a kid about his chances, you’re just
asking for trouble.
At the same time, you have to be a bit sneaky, too. If
outsiders find out how eager you might be to sign a particular kid, that can
only make it more difficult to draft or sign him.
(laughs) You’ve probably heard that story about me
crawling under the bleachers to watch Javy Lopez, just so no one would know I
Yeah, we try to hide what we’re doing sometimes.
We might lay off until the last week or ten days of the season or really early
in the season, maybe tracking an individual through associate scouts and so
forth. There are a lot of ways to skin a cat. Sometimes it works, sometimes it
It’s often said that few, if any, real prospects quit on
their own terms. In almost every case, teams have to tear the uniform off a
You have to look at yourself honestly. I want them
to give their fullest effort, so there are no doubts. I know I said I’d give the
game five years, tops. Well, I missed. Here’s another 43 years on top of
Even so, the overwhelming majority of your drafted picks
will never make it to the Majors, no matter how much they sacrifice and
Oh, my wife could always tell the night before I
would have to release someone, because I’d toss and turn all night long.
I’ve been around this game almost 50 years now,
and I don’t care if I make it to 100 years, I’ll never get over it. It’s
someone’s dream, it might have been as big as the dream I had back in my day. It
might die hard for them, the way it was hard for me.
I’ve sat there and I’ve cried with them, Peter.
I’ve cried with them.
At the same time, you also have a chance to see kids
fulfill their dreams - those you first saw as a raw 16, 17-year-old kids can
transform themselves into a productive Major Leaguers.
Oh, on those days - I’ll never get over the goose
pimples, I’ll never get over them. Those are very, very happy
don’t doubt that’s true. You may be the one scout who’s been most familiar with
that feeling over the years.
I think that’s one of the things that struck me
hardest when this [induction into the Braves Hall of Fame] was announced, the
people who have called me and things they all said about the impact I’ve had on
their lives. The number that have thanked me - I could get a little weepy on
you, just thinking about that. The number that thanked me. Some of the gracious
people in the baseball world.
Well, I never did anything for them, or anyone
else, what they wouldn’t have done for me.
With the benefit of good health, do you see a time where
you’ll leave baseball behind?
Oh, boy, I better not say anything - my wife’s in
I’ve had the right wife. I was in the Minors when
I met Petie. I didn’t want to tell her she was wrong, but she thought she was
marrying a world-famous baseball player. (laughs) At my [Braves Hall of Fame]
ceremony, I had to thank my wife and my son and his family and my daughter and
her family, for letting me run around the country like a crazy little boy,
watching ball games.
To answer your question - I hope not. Everyone’s
been so good to me. I hope I’ll always be doing something in this great game.