Bill Shanks

Braves’ scandal creating more questions

Atlanta Braves president of baseball operations John Hart talks with reporters.
Atlanta Braves president of baseball operations John Hart talks with reporters. AP

The Atlanta Braves’ scandal continues to grow, as Major League Baseball investigators examine Atlanta’s scouting practices under former general manager John Coppolella and special assistant Gordon Blakeley.

Sources say Coppolella and Blakeley, who were both forced to resign, have been interviewed in New York by Major League Baseball investigators, as have Billy Ryan, Coppolella’s demoted director of baseball operations, Dave Trembley, the former farm director who was stripped of his duties two months ago, scout Chad McDonald and director of scouting Brian Bridges.

It is also believed several of the Braves’ international scouts either have or will be interviewed.

Coppolella was interviewed in New York during the final week of the regular season. He also was called back to Atlanta from Miami on Sept. 30 and faced more questions as investigators went to Coppolella’s house.

When the Braves learned of how bad the situation was at that point, it was obvious Coppolella would be forced to resign. That happened Oct. 2, the day after the regular season.

The allegations include tampering charges, inappropriate conduct with international prospects and the bundling of international signing bonuses. Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic reported this past week the Braves’ breach of rules violations are “unprecedented in scope.”

Sources have told The Telegraph that Major League Baseball continues to be surprised at how many potential violations are being discovered. Numerous calls, from agents, scouts and other teams, have been made to the Major League Baseball office with additional allegations since the news broke of the investigation.

Word is that Coppolella was offered a financial buyout of severance from the Braves and turned it down this past week and that he has hired an attorney with lawsuits possibly coming. I asked several scouts if they had ever heard of a fired executive being offered a severance, especially after being let go for these type allegations. All were amazed that Coppolella would be offered a financial package after being forced to resign.

For now, the Braves continue to try and conduct regular business. This past week near Orlando, the team held its organization meetings with around a dozen scouts and front office personnel. Some came in after being interviewed in New York.

John Hart, the president of baseball operations, led the meetings and many continue to wonder if Hart will face questions regarding his knowledge of what was happening.

Was Hart just an absentee executive or was he complicit in his department’s illegal actions? And will Major League Baseball formally question Hart as they have others in the organization? Why would Major League Baseball not want to know what Hart knew?

Eyebrows were raised when it was learned that Hart and Braves CEO and chairman Terry McGuirk played golf with Major League Baseball commissioner Rob Manfred when the Braves were in New York for the final week of the regular season, only days before Coppolella resigned.

Some members within the Braves’ organization have questioned why McGuirk has protected Hart by allowing him to act as the interim general manager. It’s unclear whether Hart has formally started the process of searching for a replacement for Coppolella, but early indications have been that Hart will make the selection.

Others have said Hart had knowledge of the activity that is being investigated and is being shielded to protect his legacy. Two scouts, who refused to be identified for potential retaliation, told The Telegraph that Hart “knew everything.”

One source said. “(Hart) is just as guilty as Coppy. He helped create this mess by letting Coppy do what he wanted to do.”

Several others around baseball have asked, “How could Hart have not known what was going on?”

The results of the investigation likely will not be announced until after the World Series, as Major League Baseball usually holds off major announcements. That would coincide with Hart’s contract expiring. So what do the Braves do if Hart is implicated in this? How can they then bring him back? And even if that possibility exists, how can they allow Hart to pick the next general manager?

Liberty Media, the owner of the Braves, had a lawyer in the Major League Baseball interviews with Braves personnel. So the absentee ownership will at least have direct knowledge about the information shared with investigators.

With the need to clean up a big dirty mess, would Liberty Media allow McGuirk and Hart to continue in their roles, even with evidence of a lack of leadership? Or could a complete purge of the front office, which has obviously spiraled out of control with the investigation, be coming?

We likely won’t know until the investigation is over. From every account, it will be the biggest stain in the history of this revered franchise.

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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