Kansas City Royals

Revisiting Lonnie Smith’s Plan For Hall of Fame General Manager

I was recently scrolling through a Reddit thread on the topic on Tommy Dreamer’s plan to execute former boss Paul Heyman at WrestleMania 17, which Dreamer recently went in detail on, and in the comments I was reminded of the story of Lonnie Smith and John Schuerholz.

For Braves fans, Lonnie Smith is synonymous with his World Series blunder in 1991 against the Minnesota Twins. John Schuerholz is remembered for taking over Bobby Cox (who became the team’s manager) in 1990 and oversaw the team’s operations until 2007.

However, Schuerholz’ ties with Lonnie Smith goes back farther than 1990 when Schuerholz joined Atlanta, as Schuerholz traded for the 1982 All-Star in 1985 as a member of the Kansas City Royals, who won the World Series following the trade. Nowadays, the 3x World Series Champion (1980 with Pittsburgh, 1982 with St. Louis and 1985 with KC), Smith lives with a scar by his thumb, a mishap from a gunfire, when he was testing a gun whose bullet was meant for Schuerholz.

In September of 1985, Lonnie gave his testimony in the Pittsburgh Drug Trials and was suspended for a year. The league decided that the suspensions would not be upheld if players donated 10% of the season’s salary to a drug related charity. This made Lonnie spiral even lower and his cocaine addiction hit rock bottom. After a down 1987, Lonnie ended up reaching out to every other team in baseball and nobody would sign him due to the reported reasons the Royals let him walk. He played winter ball and Puerto Rico and still had no offers. Struggling, he wanted revenge on Schuerholz for what he perceived was him being blackballed from The Show.

Smith went to the store and acquired a Taurus 9MM handgun with the intent of executing Schuerholz. That day, though, he was testing the gun on his property when he held his right thumb too high on the round and shot himself in his own thumb, slicing his hand. Having second thoughts, Smith did not go through with his original scheme. About a week or so later, his phone rang and it was MLB Hall of Fame inductee and then Braves-General Manager Bobby Cox. He signed him to a minor league deal, citing that his attitude had to turn around and he needed a solid veteran presence. In 1990, Smith won the National League Comeback Player of the Year.

In an interview with ESPN from 2010, Smith recounts:

“Some people tried to say that Bobby Cox saved John Schuerholz’s life, because he gave me a job. Well, people want to think that I actually would have done it — I don’t know if I would have or not. I still had two kids and a wife, and mortgages and everything that I had to take care of. Going away to jail, being on death row or whatever wouldn’t have helped. But I will tell you, I was frustrated. I was angry. And I am not ashamed to admit, yes, I did contemplate. During that winter I got so frustrated and angry because I couldn’t get a job. And it wasn’t that I couldn’t play. My agent said every place he shopped me said the word from Kansas City was I had a bad attitude and couldn’t play anymore.”

About two years after signing in Atlanta, Schuerholz joined the organization after Cox stepped down as general manager to manage the team. Schuerholz, all things considered, entered under great circumstances. The team was built around Tom Glavine, David Justice and John Smoltz. Mark Wohlers was almost Major League ready and Chipper Jones had just been drafted. The core of his team was set in stone, a core that would win the World Series in 1995. There was still the resentment and awkwardness surrounding the Smith situation, to the surprise of nobody.

In October of 1990, Stan Kasten introduced Atlanta’s new General Manager, John Schuerholz. Watching at home on television with his wife Dorothy, Lonnie threw a fit before his wife forced him to honor his contractual obligations. For two years, including Schuerholz first season in 1991 where the Braves went from worst to first, Smith actively avoided Schuerholz outside of one moment in time where he had no choice but to come face to face with the man he wanted dead. Standing six feet away from John Schuerholz after the Braves clinched the National West championship in 1991, he walked towards him and gave him a hug. Schuerholz didn’t know about Lonnie’s previous plan until years later.

For Schuerholz, he was high within the Atlanta Organization until 2016. Following his tenure as General Manager, he served as the President of Baseball Operations for the remainder of his career. He entered Cooperstown in 2017, when he scored 100% of the vote from the Today’s Game Committee.

As for Smith, he returned to Pittsburgh for the first time in 12 years in 1993, before retiring in Baltimore in 1994. He divorced his wife when he signed with the Braves, remarried and has been sober ever since, actively and openly discussing the issues correlating with drugs and mental health. He has not owned a gun in over 30 years.

Follow me on Twitter: @TheJameus

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