Managing in the majors is different than managing in the minors. In the opinion of Brian Snitker, it’s a lot different. And he should know: prior to taking the helm in Atlanta in May 2016, Snitker skippered Braves farm clubs in Rookie ball, Low-A, High-A, Double-A, and Triple-A. Interspersed with three stints as a big-league coach, he managed in the minor leagues for 20 seasons.
He’s proven to be more than capable at the highest level. Now in his second full season on the job, Snitker — a 62-year-old baseball lifer who has helped nurture countless careers — has his young Atlanta squad 11 games over .500 and in first place in the National League East.
Brian Snitker: “Your daily norm isn’t close to the same in the major leagues as it is in the minor leagues. After I got this job, I remember telling my wife, ‘It’s like I can’t get there early enough to have any time for my myself. All I do is talk.’ I could probably change the hinges on the door once a week, because every time I turn around there’s either a player, a coach, a front-office person, medical staff, or a media person coming into my office and closing the door. You have a piece of everything that’s going on here. This is a lot more involved job than managing in the minor leagues ever was.
“I always loved having a relationship with the players in the minor leagues. I wanted to be invested in what they were doing. It’s a different relationship here, because these guys are grown men. They have families. In the minors, especially in the low minors, they’re getting their electricity cut off because they paid $300 for a pair of tennis shoes, or bought their girlfriend a dog, instead of paying their bills. You’re more of a father figure in the lower minor leagues.
“When you get here, it’s more about managing individuals and what they’re going through in their trials and tribulations as a major leaguer. There are different angles and different things. But it’s still about managing people, about managing men. You talk. It’s like an open conversation. It’s like with your wife. If there’s a problem, you talk it through. You see where guys are coming from.
“I enjoyed Triple-A. When I was there, I was coming out of the big leagues, where I’d been coaching third base for a division-winning club. I was successful at what I’d been doing — I was good at what I’d been doing — and I was taken out of the job and put back in Triple-A. So, if a guy came in pissed off (after being sent down) I could tell him, ‘You’re not telling me anything I haven’t been through. Hang with it. If you want to keep playing, grind through it and don’t let it bother you.’ Again, I enjoyed it. I knew I could use my experiences to help guys get through those times.
“Up here, the front office doesn’t tell me who to play. In the minors, [playing time] is dictated by the organization. You know that as a minor-league manager. But if you’ve been around, and have any wherewithal at all, you know who the prospects are. You know who needs to play and pretty much where you need to bat them. You want them higher up in the lineup, because you want your prospects getting the extra at-bats, not somebody who’s just hanging around.
“Who to play isn’t your job. Your job is to get the most out of those players. If the higher-ups in the organization want you to play somebody, you just do it, because it’s not about you. Those wins and losses aren’t about you in the minor leagues. The [managers] who get caught up in… the guys who get in trouble in the minor leagues are the guys who think they’re the reason why these teams are winning. In actuality, if you’re winning in the minor leagues, you probably have a really good team.
“It’s really not that different in the big leagues. If you win, you’ve probably got a good team. You’re doing your job if you’re keeping everyone together, keeping a good clubhouse, and providing an atmosphere where guys are going out and wanting to play hard. They don’t feel tied down. They can express themselves. They can play their games and let their talents flow.
“That said, when you have a young team — and we’re starting to bring up a lot of young players — you are still teaching. You’re coaching. How to be big leaguers, the right way and wrong way to carry yourself on the field… all of our coaches are taking that role because we have such a young team, an inexperienced team. You have to do that.
“How many… every time you turn around, somebody is bringing a 19-year-old to the big leagues who ran through the minor leagues and was never anywhere long enough to learn how to play the game. Consequently, they’re going to have to learn to play the game here. And doing that at the major-league level is tough. That’s the thing. A lot of people don’t realize just how tough this game is to play. These guys are really good. They make it look real easy, but it’s not. It’s a hard game to play and you have to be aware of that.
“There’s also a ton of information up here. But do you know what? We’re starting to get a lot of it in the minor leagues, too. Analytics are being introduced to players and coaches in the minors. It’s becoming the new norm. We’re more involved analytically in the minor leagues right now than we’ve ever been. We’re a lot more involved in analytics up here with the Atlanta Braves than we’ve ever been.
“I’m 62 years old and have been in the game for 40-some years. [Analytics] are new to me, but at the same time, it’s really interesting. And a lot of it is substantiated. It’s black and white and it’s right there, so I’m learning to use it. The players use it. If the coaches get it to them — our coaches do a great job of that — and it makes them better, that’s going to have a direct influence on me. If the players are better we’re going to win more games, and that’s going to make me look like some kind of genius.”
David Laurila grew up in Michigan's Upper Peninsula and now writes about baseball from his home in Cambridge, Mass. He authored the Prospectus Q&A series at Baseball Prospectus from December 2006-May 2011 before being claimed off waivers by FanGraphs. He can be followed on Twitter @DavidLaurilaQA.