• Exclusives

    A ‘Dear John’ (Coppolella) Letter from Braves Country

    By Bud L. Ellis

    BravesWire.com

    AUSTIN, Texas and ATLANTA, Ga. – Given the events that have followed the end of the Atlanta Braves season on Sunday, I have tried to consolidate my thoughts during a business trip to Texas and the return to Georgia.

    The following combines those thoughts on the current crisis in the Atlanta Braves front office, from thoughts gathered in both locales, and directed toward former Atlanta general manager John Coppolella. Consider this an open letter to the man who many of us invested our hopes and dreams into as the point person of the Braves rebuild.

    In other words … a Dear John letter none of us wanted to write.

    Dear John:

    I hope this note finds you well, although I would imagine this week has turned your world upside down. I know you are married with children, and as in any situation where somebody with a family loses their job, I realize there are many personal issues you are mitigating this week.

    With that said, we need to talk.

    Here is why I want to communicate with you. I am 44 years old and, like you, I have a wife and kids. I also have a vested interest in seeing the Atlanta Braves succeed. Let’s go back to the early 1980s where, as a kid, I would arrive at my grandparents’ house after school and immediately spread the Atlanta Journal afternoon edition across the kitchen floor, hungry for every single typeset word on the Braves.

    Braves General Manager John Coppolella

    Former Braves General Manager John Coppolella

     

    My grandmother would yell at me and scrub the newspaper ink off my elbows, forever chastising me the ink would get into my blood. And she was right. From the moment I could think of pursuing a career, I wanted to write about the Atlanta Braves. Beyond that, I loved baseball and loved the Braves.

    The 1990s were incredible. A World Series championship, that I saw in person, five NL pennants won – I saw three of them in person – and the start of the run of 14 consecutive division titles. While the vast majority of the people I came across jumped on the bandwagon during the glorious Worst-to-First season in 1991, my investment came a decade earlier and never wavered.

    The 1990s ended with me as a sports writer, seated in the overflow press box in the left-field stands of Turner Field for the World Series. The new decade dawned a few months later with me in the same spot for the All-Star Game. There would be great interactions as a reporter for years to come, spring training and big games, and then after I left the newspaper business, passing down my love for this franchise and this game to my young sons.

    I understood the rebuild, I really did. I know baseball, and I saw the lack of talent in the minors. So when you took charge and began rebuilding our system, I was all in. I could see the path forward, I bought into it, I kept buying tickets and taking my kids to games and preaching that the pain they felt in 2010 and 2012 and 2013 would pay off.

    And yet, at this moment, I feel like a fool. I have had to sit with both of my sons since returning from a business trip this week to open up and discuss the things of which you are accused of doing as general manager of the Braves – of our franchise. Those accusations go against everything I have taught my children in dealing with others.

    As a result, I seriously am considering not renewing my season tickets for 2018. That solely rests on your shoulders.

    See John, this goes deeper than the allegations Major League Baseball is investigating. This goes to the core of my family. My grandfather, who introduced me to this incredible game, grew up in Philadelphia in the 1920s. He saw Ruth, Gehrig, Johnson, Foxx and the greats of that era. My grandmother worked in a downtown Atlanta restaurant in the 1960s. Joe Torre was her favorite guest; she cried when we hired him as manager in 1982, and she cried when he was let go three seasons later.

    My oldest son attended his first game in late summer 2006, as a 3-year-old. His brother went to his first game a season later, as a 3-year-old. My third date with my wife was a Braves game. I attended 61 games in 1993, where we won 104 games and captured the NL West by one game. Five years earlier I attended 21 games, a season where we started 0-10 and finished with 106 losses (for the record, we went 3-18 in games I attended that season). I spent far too many moments in high school in the late 1980s defending the Braves gear I wore to class.

    And still, I remained loyal, so much so that I got a Braves logo tattooed on my arm in September 2014, on the Sunday we were eliminated from playoff consideration. A testament of loyalty to a franchise that always has pursued championships the right way.

    The Braves – the baseball franchise that has operated since 1871 – entrusted you with its path forward. You had your dream job, one with unchecked paths forward and the latitude to pursue your beliefs of what would propel this team to the top again. And I bought into it. So did millions of fans who saw your aggressiveness, your outgoingness, as a blueprint to another dynasty.

    Then came this week.

    John, I know managing personnel is not easy. I did it for 20 years, and at times I had to conduct difficult discussions with people I really liked. Supervising is not easy, I get it. Nobody wants to be the butthole that deflates the work culture. But what is alleged toward you and your leadership of our baseball team is inexcusable on every level imaginable.

    You do not cheat. You do not act like your word is the gospel. You do not shun co-workers for their opinions.

    John, I hope you realize your actions have placed an unforgettable stain on a franchise that has represented the best in American professional sports across 145-plus years, across three cities. Your thirst for personal glory very well may have set this franchise back in the years to come. We don’t know the findings of the ongoing MLB investigation, but I can tell you the very fact MLB is investigating my franchise because of your actions is reprehensible and unforgivable.

    I only can pray you do the right thing and speak honestly to the investigators. Beyond that, I have no feelings or wishes for you. The scar you have left on our team, our franchise, our city, will not go away easily.

    I hope you realize that when your head hits the pillow each night, the black cloud that you have brought to Braves Country will linger over us far after you move on from what you have done.

    I hope it was worth it for you … we now know it sure as hell was not worth it for us.

    —30—

    Bud L. Ellis is a lifelong Braves fan who worked as a sports writer for daily newspapers throughout Georgia earlier in his writing career, with duties including covering the Atlanta Braves, the World Series and MLB’s All-Star Game. Ellis currently lives in the Atlanta suburbs and contributes his thoughts on Braves baseball and MLB for a variety of outlets. Reach him on Twitter at @bud006