Who was more important to the success of the Atlanta Braves during their 14 consecutive division titles? Was is the master of the one-sided trade, John Schuerholz? Was it the pitching coach, Leo Mazzone, who could take just about any thrower off the scrap heap and make him an All-Star pitcher? Or was it the skipper, Bobby Cox, whom players all around baseball long to play for?
He engineered the first big acquisitions that radically altered the face of the team before the 1991 season - signing Terry Pendleton, Rafael Belliard, Sid Bream, and Deion Sanders. He always seemed to be able to add the right guy at the trading deadline, be it Alejandro Pena or Fred McGriff or Denny Neagle. Schuerholz kept the team fresh with young talent and veterans in their prime in the midst of the salary explosion, initially riding the wave with a free spending owner and then existing in the world of the constrained budget.
Is it just a coincidence that the streak ended the year Mazzone decided to leave? John Burkett, Chris Hammond, Darren Holmes, Jaret Wright and others all owe Mazzone for revitalizing their careers or remaking them as pitchers. Many people have tried to determine how much of an effect Leo actually has on pitchers, but there is still no way to accurately measure the Mazzone Factor, other than to say that the year he left was the worst year our pitching staff has had since before he arrived..
Considered one of the top three best managers in the game today, and one of the top ten best of all time, he is the guy who creates the environment for all of these talented players to find success. He fights for his players, not with his players like some managers. He never says anything bad about current or former players - always finding a way to take any bad situation and put a positive spin on it. That's why they play so hard for him, because they know he's behind them one hundred percent. When he was the General Manager prior to 1991, Cox was the one who brought us guys like John Smoltz via trade and drafted the likes of Steve Avery and Tom Glavine.
So who was more important? I think a case can be made for all three and that without any one of them the Braves run of success may not have been as long or successful.