If there’s one thing for certain that Frank Wren has done for the Braves, it is he has gotten fans talking again.
Braves fans have often gained the reputation, fairly or unfairly, of being indifferent and not vocal.
Chalk it up to the unprecedented success that the team enjoyed in the 1990’s, or to the fact that the fans had grown accustomed to former General Manager John Schuerholz’s operations over the years.
Saavy. Professional. Tight-lipped.
So, whether you are pro or anti-Wren and his personnel decisions, there is no question that the man had impossible shoes to fill.
John Schuerholz was a visionary. A true architect who knew exactly the type of team he wanted to assemble.
He originated and then solidified the Atlanta Braves blueprint that turned a fumbling franchise into an iconic one.
Schuerholz targeted the same type of personalities and looked for a certain make-up in every player. He would never sign or trade for a player who he didn’t feel could fit into Bobby Cox’s clubhouse.
No egos. No attitudes. No drama.
The Atlanta Braves became a well-oiled machine, run with the utmost class and professionalism
Schuerholz’s model worked with precision. Under him, the Braves won fourteen consecutive division titles and a World Championship.
He stressed the importance of developing a strong farm system and as a result the Braves saw many homegrown products come up within the organization and become superstars.
So, the day Schuerholz announced he was leaving his duties as Braves General Manager and taking the reigns as president of the club, many were worried about who would be his successor, and how he would fare.
Enter Frank Wren.
Wren served as Assistant General Manager to John Schuerholz for almost eight years.
Fans had hoped for a seamless transition, assuming Schuerholz’s style and technique would carry over to Wren.
However, Wren’s early tenure as Braves GM has been met with very mixed reviews, and often a great deal of criticism.
Wren lost out on some prominent free agents this past off-season.
He failed to complete a trade for then-Padres ace Jake Peavy and then let A.J. Burnett slip through his fingers and sign with the New York Yankees.
Shortly thereafter, it was reported that Wren had come to terms with former Brave and fan favorite, Rafael Furcal. It turned ugly fast when Furcal apparently reneged on the deal and ended up re-signing with Los Angeles.
The Furcal saga humiliated the organization and Wren felt the brunt of the heat.
But, it didn’t end there.
Wren was then vilified in the media for his decision to let Braves icon John Smoltz leave the organization and sign with Boston and for releasing 300-game winner and 1995 World Series MVP Tom Glavine.
Two Braves legends were shown the door and both accused the Braves of handling the situation poorly and for being unprofessional.
Unprofessional and the Braves? These were two words that were never synonymous with each other.
So, the whispers began… John Schuerholz would never let this happen on his watch.
The witch hunt for Wren began to gain steam.
The Braves were all over the media, and getting negative publicity. Even Braves players, specifically Chipper Jones, were also critical of the organization’s handling of these personnel matters.
Wren appeared to be a marked man.
Yet, despite the controversy that surrounded these moves, Wren had quietly assembled a contending team on the field.
After losing out on Peavy and Burnett, he spent the off-season feverishly rebuilding a starting rotation that was plagued with injuries in 2008.
And, his acquisitions of Derek Lowe, Javier Vazquez and Kenshin Kawakami have thus far paid dividends.
Wren addressed the team’s offensive woes by aggressively pursuing a bat –Nate McLouth– and acquiring him earlier then many expected this season.
He wasn’t afraid to pull the trigger on a Jeff Francoeur trade, signaling the end of the underachieving but talented right fielder’s time with Atlanta.
Then, on deadline day, he added another bat in Adam LaRoche, attempting to improve the team’s power at first base heading into the stretch drive.
As a result, Wren has rebuilt a team that had lost 90 games last season and has put them back on the map and in a position to make a run at a playoff berth.
How can one not be impressed by his tireless effort, dedication and desire to make the Braves relevant again — and to bring them back on top?
Right or wrong, the debate about Frank Wren will surely rage on as the season winds down.
Regardless of what side of the fence you stand on, I think there’s one thing about Wren all Braves fans have to learn to accept.
He is not John Schuerholz.
He never will be.
And, it is not fair to compare him to a man that has done and could do no wrong in the eyes of Braves Nation.
Wren is a different personality.
Fiery. Risky. Vocal.
And, not quite nostalgic.
The team has a different leader now, with a different voice and a different style.
Whether he’s the popular choice or not, and more importantly, his longevity with the team, will ultimately be determined by how his team fares in the end.
If the Braves become winners again… Wren will become the toast of the town.