It would be hard to claim that the Hart/Coppolella partnership worked, given that neither of the two Johns will be around for a fourth season. To say that it failed wouldn’t be accurate, either. The Braves are in a better place in November 2017 than in November 2014, when the Johns – as was the case in every trade, of which there were many, the John that mattered was Coppolella – embarked on what Hart deemed a “reset.”
The resetting part went about as well as a reset can. (Yes, there were mistakes. Go ask the Astros if they got everything right in their climb from 111 losses to World Series champs.) The Braves wanted young pitching, and they’ve got scads of it. But the way in which the reset was conducted drew scrutiny from MLB, and that’s why Coppolella was jettisoned Oct. 2. And now, in the wake of Alex Anthopoulos’ arrival as general manager/head of baseball operations, Hart likewise has been elbowed aside.
The Braves, see, were embarrassed. They were embarrassed that Coppolella, apparently in conjunction with the also-booted Gordon Blakeley, flouted rules in the international market. (That many clubs flout doesn’t make it right.) They were also embarrassed that Hart’s supervisory style was viewed by MLB – invoking the description offered to ESPN’s Jerry Crasnick – as “disengaged.” Such ignorance is the reason Hart might walk away from this mess without being sanctioned; it’s also the reason the Braves wanted him gone.
Background: Hart was living in semi-retirement when John Schuerholz, among his best friends, commissioned him as a consultant in the offseason of 2013-14. In retrospect, it’s clear that Schuerholz was laying groundwork for what would be the firing of GM Frank Wren, on whom Schuerholz had soured, in September 2014. At the cold-blooded media briefing following Wren’s “termination,” Hart – who hadn’t done anything but consult for the Braves – shared a dais with franchise pillars Schuerholz and Bobby Cox.
Schuerholz’s grand design was to dump Wren and have Hart serve as a caretaker. Hart initially balked at staying long-term. He liked his life. He was working at MLB TV and living in Orlando. He brought the Cleveland Indians up from oblivion. He left the Texas Rangers in the hands of Jon Daniels, among his many proteges. His legacy in the sport was secure. After much cajoling, he agreed to take over as Braves president and serve as mentor to Coppolella.
Some in baseball wondered how hard Hart, who turned 66 in 2014, would work. (Toward the end of his time with the Rangers, he was more figurehead than force.) He and Coppolella would talk every day, many times most days, but the much younger man was the reset’s engine. When Coppolella was named full-blown GM in October 2015, the question then became: What would be left for Hart to do?
Today we have something approaching an answer, and that answer is, “not much.” Hart wasn’t always in the office – he maintained his Florida residence and also a place in the mountains – and this became a source of concern. He was being paid a president’s wages while acting as more of a consultant. If Hart really didn’t know what Coppolella/Blakeley were doing, where the heck had he been?
Monday’s presser was rich in subtext. We’d been led to believe that Hart would hire the new GM, but he wasn’t on the dais or even in town for the actual presentation. CEO Terry McGuirk announced that Hart would become a “special adviser,” and he took pains to stress that the ex-president would have no part of baseball operations. As if to allay any fears of lingering contamination, he also said this would happen “immediately.” Whenever a reporter subsequently broached Hart’s name, McGuirk all but cringed.
Friday’s announcement that Hart was leaving the Braves “to pursue other opportunities” was the official kiss-off, and not a moment too soon. It had been reported that Hart was telling people at this week’s GM meetings in Orlando that he was still involved in baseball ops – even after McGuirk had told the world otherwise. With Anthopoulos aboard, there was no further need for a mentor or a president. In sum, no further need for Hart.
Thus ends a strange chapter in Braves’ annals. The men in charge of the great rebuild have been tossed aside, while their successor seems downright giddy over the riches he inherits. Said Anthopoulos: “The young talent that’s here is as good as you’re going to get in the game.”
And maybe, for the Braves to go from rebuilders to contenders, this needed to happen. (Not in this way, but you can’t always get what you want.) Anthopoulos has run a team before. He knows what he’s doing. He’ll essentially be his own president. He’ll be, ahem, fully engaged.