If Braves serious about cleaning up mess, they’ll make changes at top

Braves president of baseball operations John Hart (center) is as culpable as former general manager John Coppolella (left) when it comes to rules infractions. (AP photo)

In the Braves’ perfect world, this goes away quickly.

Maybe they skate because they’ve already sacrificed their general manager. Maybe they get dinged with a fine, pittance for a $1.5 billion franchise that’s owned by a corporation with $41 billion in assets. Maybe they lose a prospect or two, which would hurt but not crush the organization. But in their minds, they would survive. They could move on from this ugly mess and resuming their primary objective, which is to get everybody focused on “potential” (because that marketing freshness date never expires), and also next season’s bobblehead nights.

But this won’t go away easily. It shouldn’t. Major League Baseball’s investigation into the Braves for breaking and/or extreme circumventing of signing rules in the international market is expected to be completed by next week. The stench from this will linger for sometime, however.

The Braves essentially fired general manager John Coppolella, but as in most walks of life where an executive is canned, there are people north of him desperately trying to deflect blame and hold onto their jobs.

John Hart, the Braves’ president of baseball operations, should be gone, too.

He is a long-time baseball executive and an affable, media-savvy guy. But he had to be talked out of semi-retirement by his (former?) good friend John Schuerholz, and one must always question the motives of somebody who basically has to be bought to take a job. Hart was Coppolella’s boss. So there are only two possibilities here: 1) He knew everything or most of what Coppolella was doing, in which case he’s equally complicit and/or culpable; 2) He had only little or no idea what Coppolella was doing – and that may be worse.

Terry McGuirk, the Braves’ chairman and CEO, shouldn’t escape blame either.

He is Hart’s superior. He has been everybody’s superior (south of ownership) for many years. As a former ranking Turner executive, McGuirk has accrued a certain amount of wealth and golf memberships over the years and certainly isn’t immersed in baseball operations. He’s living the dream.

But McGuirk is the link between the Braves and Liberty Media, the franchise’s absentee, corporate owner. On those rare occasions when Liberty CEO Greg Maffei descends from the mountain top and comes to Atlanta to visit the little people on the spread sheet, he speaks with McGuirk.

Question: If you’re Maffei, or any suit near the top of the Liberty flow chart, don’t you want to know who approved Coppolella’s not-quite-Kosher payments to players in Latin America? Don’t you want to know who signed the checks? Don’t you want to know who’s ultimately responsible for one of the more embarrassing episodes in the history of the Braves’ franchise? Because that’s McGuirk.

Liberty Media doesn’t care about baseball. But Liberty Media cares about the brand. It cares about budgets and money and the potential of looking bad.

The Braves have lost 95, 93 and 90 games in the past three seasons. (Yes, Annie: improvement trending upward.) But this is an organization that hasn’t made the playoffs since 2013, hasn’t won a playoff series since 2001, hasn’t been to the World Series since 1999. In the 17 seasons since, nine National League teams have played in the World Series: Chicago, New York, San Francisco, St. Louis, Philadelphia, Colorado, Florida, Arizona and Houston (which is now in the American League). The Braves are one of the other seven, but that group includes Los Angeles and Washington, who are in this postseason.

There comes a point when somebody other than a pitching coach, a manager or even a general manager need to get the blame for that.

Look up. It starts at the top. It always starts at the top.

Ownership isn’t expected to change any time soon. Liberty Media acquired the Braves for a tax benefit and have retained them because of the franchise’s lone area of expertise: real estate deals. The budgets aren’t likely to significantly change. But the mindset needs to change.

The Braves have to decide what they want to be. Because if it’s all about acquiring retail space and building stadiums and training facilities with other people’s money, they’re fine. They’re gold. Throw them a nice little sterile parade along West Paces Ferry, where everybody can relate.

But how about winning some games? How about giving people something to celebrate other than a fancy food court? How about putting together a front office with one person in charge and roomful of people who actually like each other and feel like they’re valued? That shouldn’t be that hard, and it hasn’t happened for a long while. People at the top have been focused on the wrong things.

For too long, this organization has lived in a bubble, thinking dirty clouds will dissipate with the next news cycle, believing marketing spinsters can talk gloriously about the future.

The problem can be fixed so easily: Phone Kansas City general manager Dayton Moore. Today. Give him control over baseball operations. That means making him team president and de-facto GM. He can bring in his own understudy.

That means Hart is out. Or offer him a chance to be an adviser, a voice in the room. My guess is, he would opt for a cushy broadcasting gig and golf on weekends instead.

Moore is a former Braves executive. He likely would have replaced the retiring Schuerholz as general manager after the 2007 season had he not already left for the Royals’ job in June 2006. So the job went to Frank Wren.

Moore might have been hired after Wren’s firing in 2014. But the Royals were in the midst of their first of two World Series runs, and the timing just wasn’t right. So the decision-making jobs instead went to Hart for a year, and then he and Coppolella for the past two.

The timing is right now. It’s believed Moore would come here only if he didn’t have to answer to Hart. This shouldn’t be a problem. If it is a problem, that’s on McGuirk, who at times seems to exist in a bubble when it comes to criticism of the organization. If McGuirk is allowed to make that call, that’s on Liberty Media.

This isn’t to suggest that Moore is the only executive who can put the Braves on the right path. There are other bright, young executives in the game. But none of them can bring the Braves’ immediate credibility like Moore can . He would be like an instant air purifier. The man is highly respected, universally admired and built two World Series teams (one winner) in a small market with a shoestring of a budget. He would bring the leadership that Coppolella lacked, the leadership that the organization has lacked since the peak of the Schuerholz/Bobby Cox regime in the 1990s.

The Braves’ system is stocked with some good young talent, thanks to this rebuild. But there’s so much they lack that prevents them from competing at the major league level today, and the dysfunction that has existed in the front office for too long will prevent them from getting there without a smart plan by a competent leader who can pull people together.

Schuerholz brought in Hart. Schuerholz, who has somewhat been out of the loop on things, now may regret that decision. His hope was to slide into the Hall of Fame and off the Braves’ letterhead with no smudges. That won’t happen now.

The Braves sacrificed Coppolella. McGuirk (who declined comment for this column) has said nothing, done nothing, when it comes to Hart. There’s no logical explanation for that.

Change needs to happen. Sometimes it’s on the field. Sometimes it’s in the dugout. Now it’s in the executive suite.

Subscribe to the,We Never Played The Game” podcast with the AJC’s Jeff Schultz and WSB’s Zach Klein on iTunes. Episodes also can be downloaded from on-demand link on WSBRadio.com.

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60 comments
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jwyatt2187
jwyatt2187

John Hart has to go.  Either he was complicit or he was not paying attention.  Neither is acceptable.  Besides, why are you saving him?  They've lost 90 games every year under his leadership.  I'm sure we can find a house plant that can lose 90 games.

Honestly, I think Schuerholz needs to leave as well.  Yes he oversaw the greatest stretch of Braves baseball as GM, but as President and above he's oversaw a terrible stretch that is longer than the good stretch.  So keep him around for a year to help the leadership transition, then he has to retire.  I mean if Bobby Cox had to retire, why not JS?


sea8491
sea8491

Can we trade Schuerholz?  Maybe Jeter would want him?

sea8491
sea8491

Can john Schuerholz please go into retirement?  Can John Hart please go in the Italian restaurant business with John Coppolella?  Fire McGuirk just to clean house totally.  Look at the job Brian Cashman did with the Yankees?

58Supersports
58Supersports

Jeff Schultz, Please keep calling Braves till they give you something on GM and moving Hart. You can, fans can't. Thanks.

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panacifuga

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aserby
aserby

"should not run any" 

aserby
aserby

I am almost 76. My mind and body still work well (body could be better) but I should not any of the businesses I used too. The organization lives in the past. It has not embraced the current or future ways of doing things. Evidence ? Snitker retention, Hale, McGuirk, Pendleton, etc. You simply cannot live in the nineties forever. If you could, I would be there myself! Young players need youngerand more modern leadership. 

JeffCriswell
JeffCriswell

Braves need hart surgery - take this one out, and bring Dayton Moore back home to Atlanta. No brainer. We appreciated Hart's efforts but the time is right for Dayton Moore. 

58Supersports
58Supersports

Jeff heard today Moore would stay with Royals, anything you got on that?

UnbiasedObserver
UnbiasedObserver

Spot on!!


Schuerholtz, Hart and Top Scouting guy need to be gone!  Now.



RangeRover
RangeRover

People like to give Schuerholz more credit than he deserves.  While he certainly does deserve some credit for the rise in 1991, this team started a slow, downward spiral after the 1996 season when he stupidly traded Justice and Grissom for Kenny Lofton and Alan Embree.  So, that's 5 seasons he did well (1994 was cancelled because of the strike) and about 15 seaons spiraling down to now 3 consecutive 90 loss seasons and a bottom 5 team in baseball.


You're right, Schultz...past time to clean out the swamp like my man Trump is trying to do in Washington. :-)

patriotdog
patriotdog

1) Dayton Moore is a KC native....doubtful he'd leave,

2) No way Coppy's actions were unknown to higher ups.

3) McGuirk is an empty suit

Buschleaguer
Buschleaguer

@patriotdog 1. At least make him an offer.

2. You may be correct .sir.

3. That is the most accurate statement you posted.

BTC
BTC

Don't hold your breath...    LM doesn't give a rodent's rectum.

Techmate
Techmate

If Liberty Media is going to clear house, they really need to permanently retire Scherholtlz (and politely ask his son John to look for work in another organization). JS Senior hired, Wren, Hart, and allowed Coppy and Coppy's crew to mismanage the international trades. JS also made some very bad trades in the 2000's to help empty the farm system.


Scherholtz seems to be "teflon man" within the Braves organization. But he has clearly overstayed his tenure with the team. 


If they do bring in Dayton Moore, it should be without Scherholtz at the head of the Braves. 


Really - all you sports writers at the AJC - take off your blinders and put the blame where it needs to be. You guys are turning out to be "homers" for Scherholtz. Do you play golf with him?

Buschleaguer
Buschleaguer

@Techmate They may not play golf with Hart and Schuerholz, but in my opinion someone in the front office is playing CYA by leaking stories to the AJC reporters (More with DOB and Bradley than Schultz) linking all of the Negativity and Wrong doing to Coppy and a couple of people in the scouting department. I think it is time for Maffei to walk into an office at Liberty and give one of his junior partners a one way ticket to Atlanta to clear house and become the resident CEO of the Braves. Retire or Fire (their option) McGuirk,Schuerholz, Cox, Hart, Snitker and any other holdovers the Braves way. 

Then go about hiring the right person to run the Braves and rebuild the  front office and the team on the field. As much criticism as  Liberty Media has received (most all of it deserved) as being absentee ownership, making a move like this could give the Braves fans a little hope that Maffei and Liberty Media are not just carpetbagging profiteers trying to squeeze the last nickel out of the franchise before selling it.

DawgNole
DawgNole

@Buschleaguer

Excellent suggestions there, Busch, which means LM probably won't be interested.

But at least you've posted them in a public forum, so they can't claim ignorance.

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Starksy
Starksy

We need to call Joe and Chip in to paint their normal rosy picture of this situation. Joe with his "good signs" and Chip always looking for that elusive "silver lining."

DawgNole
DawgNole

@Starksy

Don't forget to add the two Ds to that rosy picture--Delusional and Dishonest.

geronimo
geronimo

Well stated. Sooner the better.


tmc
tmc

When did John Hart become someone who could be trusted w/ making organizational moves? Cause John Schuerholz hired him?

The same guy who didn't win a playoff series for 5 years (& still counting for 16 seasons) before ducking further into the upper management no-accountability abyss. The same guy who hired the biggest villain in the organization before the latest villain in the organization, who was hired by his guy.

The entire Braves organization is paralyzed because of John Schuerholz, Bobby Cox & apparently now John Hart. Their philosophy of pitching, pitching, pitching at all cost has sunken this team to the depths of the entire league with very little hope in sight. They've constantly under spent their market value, their own choice or fault... however you choose to look at it. But I would be willing to bet the big 3 (or 4 if you add McGuirk) haven't missed a financial bonus because of their great moves reflected on the bottom line. All while they continue to live off the 14 straight division titles and 1 world championship.

Btw, the KC Royals have outspent the ATL Braves in 3 of the last 4 years. (spotrac.com) 
Rebuild or no rebuild, THAT should never happen. It seems the two teams have switched mid-market/top half market positions. If i'm Dayton Moore, I stay put and thank god he's far away for the disaster known as the Braves management.

 

DawgNole
DawgNole

@tmc: "All while they continue to live off the 14 straight division titles and 1 world championship."

_____________

How long ago was all that strange success anyway???

Gomez Addams
Gomez Addams

Agree with every word!  But lucky for me, the Dawgs now have their house in order, so the future isn't totally bleak.

BobDawg
BobDawg

.... and get rid of Jim Powell the "Johnny Carson" of announcers. I can't follow him on radio..... No inflection in his voice...Turrible as Charles Barkley would say!!!!

DawgNole
DawgNole

@BobDawg

They can get rid of all those disingenuous,  dishonest, butt-kissing, bootlicking, apple-polishing, fawning, groveling, bush-league announcers. It can't help but improve the franchise.

This team sorely needs a healthy dose of objectivity, integrity, and professionalism in the broadcast booth.

BobDawg
BobDawg

Schulzie, great article.... Keep the fire lit under their butts!   Hart/Scherholz - go tend to your golf clubs/memberships and get out of the way!  

Your time came and went... and you all are the problem.... and don't let the door hit you on the way out!

DawgNole
DawgNole

Another hard-hitting expose on the state of this moribund franchise--right on the heels of DOB's "pull-no-punches" look at the team yesterday.

Looooooong overdue--but much better late than never.

A shame it took a scandal to finally light a fire under our local (AJC) media.

DawgNole
DawgNole

"McGuirk (who declined comment for this column) has said nothing, done nothing . . . ."

_____________

Well, he HAS "declined comment," which speaks volumes!

escapeplan
escapeplan

I wouldn't characterize Liberty Media as a paragon of corporate decency.


They own Sirius Radio, which promotes itself in many places as giving you the raunch you can't get on the regular airwaves.  The same with Starz.


And they just bought Formula 1 - perhaps the most corrupt sports organization this side of FIFA - then essentially allowed the guy who made billions from F1's sleaze to hang around as long as he wanted to, albeit with no formal title.


No, Liberty is about the bottom line and always has been.  That does not mean they won't drop the hammer on more Braves execs, but it will be to safeguard their financials, not their reputation.

DawgNole
DawgNole

"But how about winning some games?"

_______________

Another million-dollar question.

DawgNole
DawgNole

"If Braves serious about cleaning up mess, they'll make changes at top"

_____________

That, of course, leads to the million-dollar question: Are they serious?!

Based on their record of winning championships over the past half-century-plus, one has to wonder.

Telllikeitis
Telllikeitis

We supposedly have the best group of minor league players, now is good time to bring the available leadership, let start with top, from Terry McGuirk all the way down to Snik. Dayton Moore sounds good, but as good as he seems the Royals have been nothing more than a facsimile of the Braves. Maybe this is the time to really look outside the box, what about some of the executives from say the Dodger or Cub organizations. Again, I feel that since we are suppose to have all this young talent, let's bring in talented leadership.

POV1948
POV1948

If there was as much dissension in the front office under Coppy as is now being reported, it's baffling that some word of it didn't osmose to people covering the team day in and day out. Or were others complicit with the ridiculous Mark Bradley in the "Coppy is the Next Theo" myth? Why are major Atlanta sports stories almost always broken by non-Atlanta media?

ErnestB
ErnestB

@POV1948


Great question!  The local beat writers have some accountability for not reporting this sooner.  How did non Atlanta media report about this before the local guys or did our guy hold the story?

BaseballBuff
BaseballBuff

Not that it's entirely germane, but the lack of a quality product on the field for several years now does not surprise me at all.  I anticipated it while the Braves were choking away quite a few post-seasons in the 1990s, despite having the most talented team in MLB on more than one occasion.  The good times don't last forever, which I knew then. You have to capitalize on them while they are there. Atlanta is still Losersville.


DawgNole
DawgNole

@BaseballBuff: "The good times don't last forever . . . You have to capitalize on them while they are there. Atlanta is still Losersville."

_____________

BINGO!

But I sure hope that 25-point 3Q lead in the Super Bowl doesn't qualify as one of those good times that don't last forever.

DawgDadII
DawgDadII

The Coppy regime ended much as I expected it would, but not the precise way I expected. 


All the John's, all of them, will forever bear the stain and shame of tanking a once-proud organization one year removed from a playoff appearance back to the baseball equivalent of an expansion team (think 1962 Mets), INTENTIONALLY. They created their problems, they exacerbated them with some off-the-wall moves and now this, and they should own the results. We can only hope history will be kinder to them.

DawgNole
DawgNole

@DawgDadII: "We can only hope history will be kinder to them."

___________

But we should hope that history will be quite UNKIND to them--based on what they've done to us.

Mountain6
Mountain6

General Bruce Clark, WW II leader, said it best, "When things go wrong in your command, start searching for the reason in increasing larger concentric circles around your own desk." 


This is all about taking responsibility for your actions. If you are unable or not willing to do that, you lose the privilege of being in charge.

58Supersports
58Supersports

Hart had to know what was going on. If he didn't know then he wasn't doing his job. Either way he needs to be fired. Agree everyone in front office needs to be escorted out asp. 

Agree with Jeff, Moore should be hired as President of all Operations, hire his own GM and manager plus all front office personal.  The man is no fool and better than anyone available. I believe he can turn this team around quick without destroying the farm system. 

Get it done McGuirk, lets see if you have the balls to do it right ones.

Great job Jeff, time someone told the truth about Braves.

ChrisCross
ChrisCross

The wings at the Chop House were the most gawd-awful, soggy mess I have ever had the misfortune of tasting.


Just sayin' - I'd fire the chef there for good measure.