He isn’t just a baseball unicorn, he’s a professional unicorn.
In 1977, Brian Snitker took his first professional at-bat for Kingsport in the Appalachian League, as a 21-year-old in the Atlanta Braves Minor League system. In four seasons as a player, he worked his way through the Minors - peaking at the Triple-A level for six games in 1978 - but spending almost half of his 236 career games at Double-A.
At 25, in 1981, he retired as player to become a coach in the Braves organization. The following season, the former catcher became the Manager for Anderson in the Single-A South Atlantic League, starting him on a path that has earned him 602 wins as Manager of the Atlanta Braves, through the All-Star break in the 2023 season.
This isn’t about Snitker’s performance as a Manager at the Major League level - although a World Series victory, a Manager of the Year award and a .556 winning percentage in almost 1,100 career games managed is impressive for anyone, much less someone who is just shy of his 68th birthday.
This is about the rarity in baseball - and professionally - of someone who has spent almost 50 years in a single organization.
The chances are that many of you - maybe most of you - reading this were born after Snitker first suited up in Kingsport. Frankly the same probably holds true adjusting the timeline for his first taste of coaching with Atlanta - a stint in 1985 as the team’s bullpen coach.
Professionally speaking, what are the chances that you’d stay with one organization or company for the entirety of your career? Maybe your current place of employment isn’t your first company, but even so, how many of you have been at the same place for five years? What about 10 or even 20 years?
It just doesn’t happen that often.
Yet that has been the reality for Brian Snitker.
Let’s take a look at Snitker’s professional career through the lens of you, the employee - or if you’re still in school - imagine this as your own career path.
Below isn’t every stop along the way - and by no means is moving up-or-down a level categorically a promotion or a demotion - so this will just focus on his Minors-to-Majors-and-back-again assignments.
Year: Assignment (age)
1981: MiLB coach (25)
1982-1984: MiLB Manager (26-28)
1985: MLB coach (29)
1986-1987: MiLB Manager (30-31)
1988-1991: MLB coach (32-35)
1992: MiLB Manager (36)
1993-1995: MLB coach (37-39)
1996-2006: MiLB Manager (40-50)
2007-2013: MLB coach (51-57)
2014-2016: MiLB Manager (58-60)
2016-Current: MLB Manager (60-67)
Take a moment and imagine yourself bouncing this many times between assignments on the Atlanta coaching staff and the Minor League system. After three separate stints with Atlanta, Snitker spent every year in his 40s in the Minors.
For many people, that age bracket is the beginning of the peak of their professional career, yet after being on the staff for the 1995 World Series winning club, Snitker found himself back helping develop the players who would play a role in keeping the organization humming; but rather than charter jets five-star hotels, Snitker was back to riding buses and dealing with less-than-top-shelf accommodations.
After spending seven seasons in his early-and-mid 50’s back with Atlanta on the Major League coaching staff, the Braves organization sent him to Triple-A, to manage in Gwinnett.
There are pros-and-cons about being a coach in MLB vs. MiLB - and Snitker provided great insight on this in an interview with Fangraphs in 2018. Here’s the link if you’d like to read that interview, which I’d recommend.
Here’s a portion of what he told David Laurila of Fangraphs about his perspective of going back to the Minors after prominent roles coaching on World Series- and Division-winning staffs. And note, it is this quote that highlights what has made Snitker successful.
The idea of using the lessons learned through one’s on professional challenges to help instruct and mold the future of younger players is not only admirable, but also traits of a good leader.
If you were in this position, what would you have done? Would you have hung around the same organization, or would you have set out to find a better career opportunity - specifically one at the Major League level?
Understanding that professional sports and “normal” industries are radically different, the employee perspective relative to career growth isn’t really any different. Both are full of ups-and-downs, with rewards never guaranteed despite one’s efforts and potholes often occurring at the most unexpected and inopportune times.
There’s no one way to be successful - what works for one person might not work for anyone else - but there’s no arguing that experience has been an asset for Snitker.
In 27 seasons as a manager, he’s been at the helm for 3,796 games through the afore mentioned All-Star break this season. Before August ends, his tenue in Atlanta will overtake his games managed at Single-A for the most at any one level in his career.
Anyone who is new in their role or career can listen to the advice of others, but ultimately has to go through experiences themselves to have the first-hand perspective that comes from the trials and tribulations of being a professional. When shifting to a leadership role, it becomes critical to be able take those learned experiences and use them as navigational tools for others.
Snitker has been revered by his connection to his players. Despite drawing criticism, at times, for some of his strategic decisions early in his Managerial career in Atlanta, he’s been adept at handling numerous on-and-off-the-field challenges in a way that has kept his players effective and the team unified.
It takes more than Snitker to achieve the success the Braves have had under his stewardship. He has a veteran coaching staff and front office management that believes in the importance of roster construction. But that’s not to diminish Snitker’s ability to keep his players motivated and accepting of their roles.
One of the greatest challenges any manager, in any organization, has is getting the most out of one’s employees while setting clear goals, juggling personalities, and being consistent with both communication and expectations.
In many careers, there is no World Series championship to aspire to and build towards. Usually, the goals are more mundane and rarely lead to any sort of short-or-long-term glory. Sacrificing one’s own professional career goals for the betterment of an organization may be well-intended but is rarely sought after by people whose definition of “long-term employee” is closer to five years tenue rather than fifty.
Yet here Brian Snitker is, a unicorn surrounded by bucking broncos, finding success by choosing a path rarely taken. And to paraphrase the words of the poet Robert Frost, that has made all the difference for Snitker and the Braves.