NATIONAL HARBOR — Five decades ago, Baltimore native John Schuerholz was an eighth-grade English and world geography teacher at North Point Junior High in Dundalk when he spent a free period penning a letter to Orioles owner Jerold Hoffberger, the opening act to what on Sunday afternoon officially became a Hall of Fame career.
The letter eventually landed Schuerholz a job with the Orioles, an opportunity that launched one of the most successful careers for a general manager in this era. In 26 years as GM of the Kansas City Royals and Atlanta Braves, 20 of Schuerholz's teams won division titles, including two World Series championships. Schuerholz was the first GM to win World Series titles in both leagues, first with the Royals in 1985 and then with the Braves 10 years later, an accomplishment that's happened just twice since.
And on Sunday, Schuerholz, 76, received the top honor in the game, selected for induction into the Baseball Hall of Fame along with former commissioner Bud Selig. He was a unanimous selection of the Today's Game Era Committee, a 16-member group consisting of Hall of Fame members, major league executives, media members and baseball historians. Schuerholz was one of 10 candidates on the committee's ballot and had to receive at least 75 percent of the members' vote to be elected.
"I started with the Orioles in 1966, and that began this wonderful career path for me, and I've been so blessed to have the opportunity initially and to work with so many great and talented people along the way," Schuerholz said on a teleconference with reporters Sunday evening. "I kept my ears and eyes open and tried to learn from the greatest and the best and here I am,  years later, being told that I've been selected to be inducted into baseball's Hall of Fame. And it all started with that letter in that free period at North Point Junior High School in Dundalk."
Schuerholz, whose election was announced Sunday at baseball's winter meetings at the Gaylord National Resort & Convention Center, will be inducted July 30 in Cooperstown, N.Y., with Selig and any candidates selected by the Baseball Writers' Association of America, announced Jan. 18.
"I always had aspirations of being a successful general manager, to build winning teams, and we were able to do that and do it for a while consistently," Schuerholz said. "But this honor almost — it puts me in a position where I seldom am, and that is to be without words to describe what this means to me. … [Being told of the selection], those words will ring in my ears and in my brain for the rest of my life. I can't tell you how thrilled I am."
After Schuerholz, who attended City, Towson State and Loyola College, had his dream of becoming a professional baseball player squashed, he became a teacher while pursuing a master's degree. He still had a passion to be in the game, so he wrote Hoffberger a letter asking for an opportunity.
Hoffberger sent the letter to team president Frank Cashen, who knew of the Schuerholz name from his days as a sports reporter for the Baltimore News-American newspaper. Cashen passed it along to general manager Harry Dalton.
"[Cashen] said to Harry Dalton when he took the letter to him: 'I don't know this guy from Adam, but I know this family, this sporting family, the Schuerholz family. He comes from great stock. We ought to talk to him,' " Schuerholz recalled.
Schuerholz was hired, taking a pay cut for an opportunity to work as an assistant to Lou Gorman, who had just been promoted to be the Orioles farm director. He learned under Baltimore baseball royalty in Gorman, Cashen and Dalton, all of whom were instrumental in guiding the franchise to its glory years, beginning with the Orioles' first World Series title, in 1966.
His time with the Orioles was brief, as Schuerholz joined the expansion Royals in 1969 along with Gorman. He became Kansas City's general manager in 1981; at the time, Schuerholz was, at 41, the youngest GM in the game.
"And now, at 41, they're looking for your keys and inviting you to leave the room so some 27-, 28-, 30-year-old comes in," Schuerholz said. "But I was so blessed to be in organizations that were well structured, had great leadership at the ownership level, and believed and trusted in the plan that I had and supported it more than anything."
His Kansas City team won the World Series in 1985, but Schuerholz was better known for his part in building a perennial National League power in Atlanta. He became Braves GM in 1991, and in his 16 years in the post, he turned around a long-struggling Atlanta franchise that did not have a large payroll. The Braves won 14 straight division titles from 1991 to 2005, six NL pennants and the World Series in 1995. Schuerholz won the Executive of the Year award twice, in 1985 and 1991. Schuerholz later served as team president and is currently Atlanta's vice chairman.
Schuerholz also donated $250,000 to Towson University; the school's baseball facility is named in honor of Schuerholz's father.
Schuerholz will be the fifth member of his iconic Braves teams to enter the Hall of Fame, joining manager Bobby Cox and pitchers Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine and John Smoltz, but he said he always will remember his unlikely start in Baltimore.
"I always had aspirations in whatever I was doing," Schuerholz said. As a teacher, "I wanted to be the best, and I tried to prepare myself to do that, and when my chance came to get into baseball with the Baltimore Orioles in 1966, I knew that I had to work hard and keep my eyes and ears open and learn from people and have a work ethic that was appropriately required and expected. And I did that. I had a natural, I guess you could say … capability or human quality that I got along with people well and I communicated with people honestly and forthrightly, and they knew where I stood and how I felt and what we needed."