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Jeff Schultz

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

John Hart exits, finally does what Braves’ McGuirk wouldn’t


When Major League Baseball announces penalties against the Braves for circumventing rules in the international player market, and possibly other infractions, they likely will be slapped big time. The means a major fine, a likely ban on future signings for a certain time period and the potential loss of existing prospects that they’ve already spent bonus money on.

Former general manager John Coppolella and special assistant Gordon Blakeley have already lost their jobs because of wayward decisions. Now, finally, John Hart has lost his, too.

The Braves carried on a pathetic charade for nearly seven weeks by keeping Hart on the payroll. They had him step down as president of baseball operations after naming Alex Anthopoulos as the team’s new general manager Monday, but announced Hart would be retained as a “senior adviser.”

The charade is over now. Hart resigned Thursday “to pursue other opportunities” -- opportunities that I’m quite certain he had no intention of pursuing until his unemployment became inevitable.

It was shameful that Hart was around even this long after the Braves’ infractions came to light. Any thought or suggestion that he knew nothing of the actions of Coppolella and Blakeley was absurd. The man was in charge of the baseball ops and as such oversaw all of the front-office decisions.

But the Braves seemed bent on protecting him, possibly in part because of his friendship with long-time team chairman and CEO Terry McGuirk. MLB officials also appeared to want to whitewash Hart’s involvement. Hart has been close with MLB chief operating officer Tony Petitti, who also used to run the MLB Network, where Hart worked before stepping into the Braves’ job.

An ESPN story on Oct. 30 quoted an unnamed source that Hart "did not play a role in numerous rules violations that forced two club officials to resign." I can only imagine who leaked that bunk.

McGuirk was uncomfortable discussing his decision to keep Hart. When he was asked following Anthopoulos’ introductory news conference if he doubts Hart was complicit in Coppolella’s and Blakeley’s actions, he said, “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.

I asked if he actually thought Coppolella went rogue with his signings: “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.”

The reason he did not want to answer the questions is simple: He was trying to protect his friend.

McGuirk has shown no leadership at a time when the franchise needed it most.

Hart made no mention of the MLB investigation in his statement Friday. He said, “This was a difficult decision, but it’s one that I made with the best interests of the Atlanta Braves in mind. With the hiring of Alex Anthopoulos as general manager, this organization is in great hands. … This is a good time to step aside ...”

Seven weeks ago was a better time.

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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.