FOX 5 Sports Executive Producer Chip Zeller back in his early days with FOX 5.
ATLANTA - So after 51 years in the game, John Schuerholz is moving on. Sort of. He claims he’s not stepping back, but stepping forward in his new role as vice chairman of the Braves. When Schuerholz took over as GM back in 1990 the Braves franchise couldn’t get out of its own way. Schuerholz was the architect of the kind of glory years this city had never known, before or since: Multiple division titles and a world championship. That’s right, I said a world championship. In his press conference Thursday, Schuerholz himself preened just a little when speaking about that singular accomplishment: "That's what I was trying to do. We did that here in 1995 and not only that, for 14 years we gave this organization and this community a chance to celebrate world championship-caliber baseball every year, year after year, and I'm proud of that.”
If he builds it, they will come -- as in fans, and winning seasons. In all actuality, those early glory days became my own personal field of dreams. I was a 27-year-old sports producer who grew up in Atlanta when Mr. Schuerholz arrived on the scene. I always addressed the man as “Mr. Schuerholz” because those suits alone commanded respect. You see, I was used to covering losers. Heck, I grew up in “Losersville” as most people called the “ATL” back then. With the exception of the Falcons in 1980 and those magical Hawks teams with Spud, Nique and Doc, I was the Yukon Cornelius of local TV. No matter how much I wanted some tangible evidence of success for my local teams, I always came up with nuthin’. Bragging rights at that time consisted of boasting to my out of state cousins that Atlanta DID have a national championship back in 1968 when the Chiefs won a NASL soccer title. Okay, I was five, but it happened.
That brings me back to Mr. Schuerholz. Thanks to him, I was able to learn how to really produce television. All of the sudden our baseball team was winning and our sports department was jumping wakes every time Gant hit a bomb, or Glavine threw a shutout. Fourteen 30-minute live pregame specials in fifteen days you say? No problem. Twenty-hour work days? Why not? In the end I got to travel around the country following the team that I loved as a boy and covered as an adult. I amassed big-fat credentials with my name on them. Wore them to bed and slept with them like they were my first glove. I remember feeling woozy with joy — a self-induced seizure of sorts when I ran onto the field in 1995 after Marquis Grissom squeezed his glove around the final out of our city’s only REAL championship. Jeff Hullinger and I sprinted through the gate in left field and suddenly found ourselves on the mound as the players jumped on each other, searching for anyone to interview. I remember Jeff shouting out players’ names, trying to get their attention as they celebrated with each other -- and with me. Players that I covered actually smiled and high-fived ME. I was celebrating the greatest moment in Atlanta sports history with MY team. I managed to snap out of it in time to attempt to show at least a little journalistic integrity as the night wore on and our live coverage stretched into the wee hours. All that was made possible by one man- John Schuerholz.
So, I would like to thank Mr. Schuerholz and his team of winners for bringing something special to this city. I would also like to thank him for allowing me to discover and eat my very first prawn. Big shrimp, you know. I forgot to tell you about Mr. Schuerholz’ fabulous postgame spreads under the huge circus tent in the Fulton County Stadium parking lot. Media members got these special passes that looked like passports, you see, and under the big top was a cornucopia of exotic eats. I was new to food that wasn’t boiled, drained and covered with processed cheese product, so Filet Mignon and monstrous shrimp looked pretty good to me. I took pictures of those puppies (seriously the prawns were almost the size of a puppy) and smuggled them home most nights. Now I’m 53. And now I try very hard NOT to eat things. But, that’s not Mr. Schuerholz’ fault.