Bill Shanks

‘The Braves Way’ is dead so it’s time to start over

Atlanta Braves assistant general manager and director of pro scouting John Coppolella talks on the phone in the dugout during batting practice before a game against the Washington Nationals.
Atlanta Braves assistant general manager and director of pro scouting John Coppolella talks on the phone in the dugout during batting practice before a game against the Washington Nationals. AP

The Atlanta Braves have become a soap opera. A scandal. The Braves. Of all teams, the Braves.

How embarrassing it must be for those who still take pride in what the Braves were to know what they have become. They are no longer the standard bearer in baseball. They are now branded as cheaters. They’ve allowed people to infect the organization and create a disaster.

I have thought this week about what Paul Snyder, the legendary scout, must think. He loves the Braves like he loves the air he breathes. He is the Braves, and yet look at what they have become.

Or what would good men like Bobby Dews and Jose Martinez think about all this. They died a few years ago. They loved this organization, and yet a part of me is glad they are not here to see this.

For years, John Schuerholz and Bobby Cox were the epitome of professionalism and class. They weren’t perfect, and they didn’t try to be. But they were good at what they did. They were good together. Think of what they once had, and now look at the embarrassment this team is.

Would this have happened under Schuerholz and Cox? Well, it never did. Both are now semi-retired and no longer in the day-to-day operations of this team, so the inclusion of either for blame should stop. When they were in charge, nothing like this happened.

The Braves are just like any other business. They are as only as good as their people. Even when the Braves weren’t very good on the field, before 1991, there were good people trying to make the team better. They then made it better, won in historic fashion, and the people stood out even more.

Unfortunately, with what has happened the past 10 days, people are tired of the term “The Braves Way.” Schuerholz and Cox used it on stage when they brought John Hart into the mix three years ago. Now, that yearning for yesteryear has backfired. People are sick of hearing it.

They want a new chapter. They want a new cast of characters. They want to turn the page of what happened and instead worry about what will happen going into the next decade.

The 2020s are a long way away from the 1990s.

The sad part is many don’t understand what the true meaning of “The Braves Way” really is. It’s not about building through the farm system, with young players, with pitching. It was always about the people. It was about the men who found the prospects, made the young men ballplayers and then tried to play the game the right way.

“The Braves Way” was people like Snyder, Cox, Dews, Hank Aaron, Stan Kasten, Brian Snitker, Randy Ingle, Jim Beauchump, Bruce Dal Canton, Leo Mazzone and then Schuerholz, Martinez, Roy Clark and Dayton Moore. The Braves Way was the tremendous scouts who have spent hours on the roads looking for the players to make this organization better.

I used the past tense with “The Braves Way” because it died on Oct. 2. It died when the announcement came that the general manager was being forced to resign due to a scandal.

A scandal. The Braves. Of all teams, it’s the Braves.

“The Braves Way” became “Their Way.” Do it their way or else. Schuerholz led by trusting his people, like Dean Taylor and then Moore. Cox trusted his coaches. Snyder trusted his scouts. There was trust, goodwill and a dedication to winning.

But the people who have led the organization in the past decade? They wanted it done their way or else. They had all the answers. Disagree with them and you would be demoted or fired. They were more about themselves than the effort.

Former general manager Frank Wren ruined the chemistry that had been created in the front office. He didn’t care what scouts said. He didn’t want to know what coaches or his minor league managers believed about players. He wanted it done his way, or else.

And then Hart and John Coppolella took over. They fooled people for a while, but the past six months have been hell. They created a poisonous atmosphere that for some reason has been ignored by team chairman Terry McGuirk. Maybe when your buddy, your golfing partner has won over your ear, you look the other way on things.

But they cannot run from what is to come. This scandal will get worse before it gets better. This organization is not even in the recovery room yet. McGuirk and Hart, whether they like it or not, will have to answer questions.

What would be going on if this happened to a team in New York, or any larger market? McGuirk and Hart would be getting creamed. The Braves may think the Atlanta media will not ask the difficult questions. They will be proven wrong.

What did Hart know and when did he know it? If he knew what was going on, as many believe and have speculated, then why did he allow it to get out of hand? If he didn’t know it, why not? Why would his neglect lead to the biggest scandal in Braves history? And why would his boss not seem to care?

Has Hart been interviewed by MLB investigators in New York? If not, why not? Why would MLB not interview the president of baseball operations? Did they think sacrificing the GM would save Hart’s legacy?

“Follow the money.” Remember that line from “All the President’s Men?”

Who directed and approved the payments to the prospects in question? Who approved the money for the international prospects? Why did certain international prospects get certain amounts? Why were there not red flags, eyebrows raised at the highest level when things were going on that normal people wondered about? Who was all involved in meetings about the high-priced international prospects? Who directed the scouts to get the deals done?

These are relevant questions. Fans want to know why the team they love is in this mess. Fans want to know the answers.

This is the Braves’ equivalent of Watergate. Make no mistake about it. This is a horrible stain on a once-proud franchise that now must answer questions about why and how this happened. They can’t blame this all on one bad apple, one overzealous, young executive. Maybe they cut the head of the snake off, but the rattle is still attached and still causing problems.

It would be nice if the owner could step in, but that’s a joke. They may not even care. The Braves have built their stadium. The men in charge have significantly increased the value of the franchise that will likely be sold in the next five years. But Liberty Media needs to care. They must realize this is a big deal, even if the chairman likely thinks this will just go away in time.

To think that Hart could remain in charge is incredible. He’s 69 years old. He had to be dragged into this job in the first place. Is he really going to be around the next five years to see this through? No way. And yet, McGuirk won’t take the keys to the candy store away from Hart. How could Hart not have known about the shenanigans that were going on?

Give Hart a cushy title as a consultant, like he had in Texas after he was the general manager. Pay him half-a-million and let him go play golf and be on TV. But to think Hart deserves to have the final word, any say in the future of this franchise considering what has happened under his watch is embarrassing.

How can the man in charge of this team survive the biggest scandal of its history? Hart must go, or the Braves will look like they just didn’t care what happened with him in charge. Why shouldn’t Hart be held accountable? What (or who) provides him that luxury?

Dayton Moore needs to save this. Moore has respect and credibility, something the Braves crave right now. Let Moore fix this, instead of allowing someone who helped mess it up stay in the job for no logical reason.

Would McGuirk really allow his friendship with Hart, who is likely to retire the next few years anyway, get in the way of bringing someone in who has won a World Series and is familiar with what has been done right with this team in the past?

Moore doesn’t need to come back because he used to work with the Braves. He needs to be the choice because he checks all the boxes. Moore has built a winning franchise in a small market. He is a leader, something the Braves just don’t have right now. And Moore treats people the right way, which is what a leader does.

This scandal has killed the Braves Way. It’s time to start over. Moore would inherit a great group of talented prospects, and would put his stamp, in time, on this team as it moves into the next decade.

And then, maybe only then, the Braves can get back to what they used to be. But now, the Braves Way is dead. It’s over. Time to start anew and completely wash this team from the mediocrity and dysfunction that has ruled the last decade.

Listen to “The Bill Shanks Show” from 3-7 p.m. weekdays on “Middle Georgia’s ESPN” – 93.1 FM in Macon and 99.5 FM in Warner Robins. Follow Bill at twitter.com/BillShanks and email him at thebillshanksshow@yahoo.com.

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