Jeff Schultz

This AJC sports blogger takes things seriously when he has to, but he really would rather not

Alex Anthopoulos can fix Braves but why is John Hart still around?


A corporation’s stock price doesn’t necessarily tell the picture of how one of its businesses is performing, but Wall Street insiders don’t seem to be whispering into the phone to their privileged clients, “Blue Horseshoe like BATRA. Go Braves!”

Since the Braves’ international-signing scandal broke six weeks ago, the Liberty Media-issued Braves stock (BATRA) has dropped 14 percent ($3.59) to $22.21 a share. That’s not nearly the stunning and lampooned one-day plummet from $36 to $19.96 per share when the stock opened in April 2016. But it’s apparent investors are paying attention to more than just the organization’s recent trumpeting of a $76 million jump in revenue in the past quarter.

Revenue doesn’t always finish first.

Revenue doesn’t prevent public humiliation.

Revenue is not something a fan can dance with in August when a playoff race ended in June.

The Braves introduced a new general manager Monday. Alex Anthopoulos becomes the fourth executive (Frank Wren, John Hart, John Coppolella) to run the Braves’ baseball operations in some form over in the past 10 years. Their predecessor, John Schuerholz, ran his scandal-free empire for 18 years.

Anthopoulos clearly is a smart guy. He has an impressive resume from his days with the Toronto Blue Jays and more recently with the Los Angeles Dodgers. He also works well with people, which puts him ahead of his predecessor.

He oozed with that typical first-day-of-work enthusiasm at his introductory news conference, and at one point said of his job interview two weeks ago, “The connection just felt right.”

That’s good. The Braves need this to work, for more reasons than just the on-field product.

For all of the stockpiling of prospects over the past three years, the Braves’ brand has taken a pounding. Franchise CEOs like Terry McGuirk don’t open new-hiring news conferences with an apology unless something is seriously wrong.

As an organization, the Braves have become known more for their pursuit of public money and advantageous real estate deals than winning games. The later months of Coppolella’s tenure were similar to those of Wren’s, with unhappy employees complaining of a borderline dictatorial boss who accepted little to no input. There has been a significant leadership void in baseball ops since Schuerholz stepped away as general manager after the 2007 season.

The most recent public damage is an MLB investigation into rampant rules breaking in the international signing market. Apologists can talk all they want about how, “Everybody does it,” but it’s clear the Braves were more blatant and cavalier about how they did things. Coppolella had not made many/any friends -- internally or externally -- so people were quick to turn him. Also, two teams already had been slapped for similar infractions.

So please. Enough with the, “Everybody does it,” excuses.

“The past few months have been the toughest in the storied history of the Atlanta Braves franchise,” McGuirk said.

He also apologized to “the fans and our partners.” Better (six weeks) late than never.

The hope is McGuirk meant those words because he answers to Liberty executives who are not happy about what’s happened to the Braves’ brand.

Owners can get past 90-loss seasons, assuming revenue streams are healthy. But they can’t get past scandal and negative perceptions ... and stock price.

Hart is out as president of baseball operations. McGuirk was uncomfortable answering questions about Hart during the news conference and said, “This day is about Alex.”

But McGuirk kept his good friend on as a “senior advisor.” Why?

I stopped McGuirk in a corridor following Monday’s news conference. Does he not believe Hart was complicit in the breaking of rules?

“That’s asking do I know what the investigation found, and I don’t. All I know is we’re going to hear in the near future what the answer is,” he said.

So you really believe Coppolella might have gone rogue, that Hart, as the president of baseball operations with an office next door, knew nothing about his actions?

“I see where you’re going. I’m not going to comment on the investigation just because it’s in the hands of the commissioner.”

Do you share any responsibility for what’s gone on in recent years? Should your own job be in question? (Note: The Braves have not won a postseason series since 2001.)

“I think the organization is so healthy. We’re poised for greatness. We have a great new executive to lead our baseball side. Things really look good. I don’t have any negatives to talk about.”

He was reading straight off the CEO talking-points memo.

The Braves potentially have a bright future, assuming Anthopoulos makes the right moves. The new GM will assess everybody and everything he’s inheriting: organizational structure, front-office staff, scouts, coaches, prospects and the major league roster. Then he’ll move forward.

But if the Braves really want to cleanse themselves, they’ll make changes north of Anthopoulos. Hart should be off the ledger. Even having him around as a mere “senior advisor” is wrong. Logic screams he knew and approved of Coppolella’s decisions. In the far-fetched scenario of him knowing nothing, that’s even worse.

McGuirk and possibly MLB seem determined to let Hart, a long-time respected baseball executive and former MLB Network commentator, slide off center stage without any mud splatter.

What’s more important: Taking care of friends or making employees accountable and sending the right message?

Liberty Media can’t be happy with McGuirk, either. I doubt a change will be made there, but if ownership really cares about restoring franchise credibility, a new CEO would go a long way.

Hart and John Schuerholz both were conspicuous by their absence Monday. Bobby Cox traveled from his vacation home in Amelia Island to attend the news conference, but he was off the dais. He said he has been impressed by Anthopoulos and spoke to former Toronto Blue Jays president Paul Beeston about him.

As for the franchise moving forward, Cox said, “You feel the pain. We got caught doing something. But it’s time to go forward and make peace and get after it again. I feel bad Coppy had to resign. He was just a little aggressive.”

The results of the MLB investigation and accompanying punishment will be announced within two weeks.

“We got slapped, and we’re going to get slapped a little bit more,” Cox said. “It’ll make us better, hopefully.”

Anthopoulos can fix the on-field problems. But there’s still more clean-up to be done.

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About the Author

Jeff Schultz is a general sports columnist and blogger who isn't afraid to share his opinion, which may not necessarily jibe with yours.