The Braves’ first year in Atlanta featured an unusual amount of management churn in both the front office and dugout.
On June 28, 1966, it was announced that Paul Richards, a veteran former MLB manager and general manager, would join the team as a roving troubleshooter in its farm system. The Braves were then a disappointing 34–42 (.447) and in eighth place in the ten-team National League.
Braves president and GM John McHale remarked that Richards, 57, was poised to assume greater responsibilities within the Atlanta organization if called upon, leading to speculation that he would replace embattled field manager Bobby Bragan.
Richards was hired as Director of Player Personnel by the Atlanta Braves – returning to the city where he excelled as a minor league catcher and player-manager for the Southern Association’s Atlanta Crackers from 1938 to 1942. By the end of the 1966 season, Richards was given the title of general manager of the Braves. Richards’ six years at the helm of the Atlanta organization were in some ways his most successful in baseball.
He inherited a strong core of players including Henry Aaron, Joe Torre, Felipe Alou, and Rico Carty. He added several young pitchers and position players to the mix and converted knuckle balling reliever Phil Niekro into a successful starter. His 1969 Braves, skippered by his longtime protege Luman Harris, won the National League Western Division title but, that team was swept by the eventual world champion “Miracle Mets” in the first National League Championship Series ever played. The Braves failed to contend in 1970 and 1971 and, Richards was fired in the middle of the 1972 season, replaced by Eddie Robinson.
More than a quarter-century earlier, in 1938, Richards had begun his management career as the successful player-manager of the minor league Atlanta Crackers.
Richards was already showing a keen baseball mind as Atlanta’s catcher in 1936 when he helped turn around pitcher Dutch Leonard’s career. After three seasons in the major leagues with the Brooklyn Dodgers, Leonard had been sent back to the minor leagues where he played with Richards in Atlanta.
Richards encouraged him to throw a knuckleball and, within two years, Leonard was back in the major leagues with the Washington Senators, where he became a twenty-game winner in 1939. Richards played for the Crackers from 1936 to 1942. From 1938 to 1942 he served as a player-manager for the Crackers.
Richards led the Crackers to the pennant in 1938 and The Sporting News named him as minor league manager of the year.