Braves GM John Coppolella’s tone deafness is something to behold


Braves general manager John Coppolella gave an interview to USA Today’s Bob Nightengale. It was due given all of the moves the Braves have made lately. And, insofar as Coppolella definitively shot down the notion that the Braves will trade Freddie Freeman, it was was useful and newsworthy. Really: he is so adamant that Freeman isn’t going anyplace that, if they do end up trading him somehow, the only real option for Coppolella is seppuku.

But the most notable aspect of the interview was not the information conveyed. Rather, it was Coppolella’s defensiveness and tone deafness. He bristles at criticism from Braves fans and accusations that the Braves are somehow “tanking.” Listen to him roar:

“I’m getting so tired of this. If guys want to take shots, or (degrade) us, fine. But let’s let it play out for a few years before we start branding our pitchforks and torches. I feel in my heart this is the best for the Braves . . . “Trust me. We are not tanking . . . There is a method to this madness. Judge our trades in two to three years. Not now . . . If we truly were going to tank, we wouldn’t have had Aybar come back in the trade. If we were trying to tank, we wouldn’t have signed (catcher) A.J. Pierzynski. If we were trying to tank, we would have traded Maybin at the deadline last year, and we had plenty of offers . . . We’re not afraid of the criticism and taking the risk,” Coppolella said, “but we’re tired of it.”

At the outset, let’s deal with the notion of “tanking” in baseball. It’s become popular to accuse teams of it, but there is not a ton new going on here. Since the last CBA there are draft pool money concerns that make losing more attractive than it used to be and that’s a problem, but teams have, for decades, unloaded veterans, cut payroll and rebuilt. Unless you’re a super high revenue team with very indulgent owners, it’s simply part of the game. Simply because agents like Scott Boras have taken fresh aim at the practice in recent years and put a sexier, imported-from-the-NBA name on the phenomenon does not make it any more offensive than fire sales and rebuilds from years past. Turning a thing all teams have done at one time or another into some ethical dilemma or accusation of malfeasance by front offices is disingenuous and unfair.

But that’s the only bone I’m going to throw Coppolella here, because the rest of his tirade is ridiculous.

The shots I and others are taking at the Braves are not because we don’t think they’re doing the best they can with the trades they’ve been making. They’re not because we think Coppolella and John Hart are lying when they say that the team will be better in several years. Indeed, if we set aside the motivation for the moves — I and many are on record thinking a total rebuild wasn’t necessary but we get that, in a lot of ways, ownership forced Hart and Coppolella’s hands — it’s hard to take issue with any of the moves they’ve made. They’ve gotten good talent back. They’ve shed bad contracts. There is always uncertainty when it comes to prospects, especially pitchers, but no one can deny that the Braves have begun to stockpile a lot of talent and, if things break right, it’s not hard to see them being competitive again in a few years.

No, the shots I and others are taking are because in the meantime we’re forced to deal with a profoundly miserable baseball team, Braves ownership and management does not seem to care that this bothers us, and now, with this interview, they have even begun to insult our intelligence and feelings about it in as dismissive a manner imaginable.

Perhaps, Mr. Coppolella, you might acknowledge that most of us don’t watch baseball in order to get sporadic updates about prospects who are several years away. Rather, we watch it for entertainment and, if possible, to see our team win sometimes. That’s clearly not happening now, that sucks and that’s on you. Is that the end of it? Of course not because, as I just said, rebuilds are part of the game. But you have a choice here: (a) acknowledge that the team sucks, own it and appreciate that fans have and will continue to put up with garbage for several hundred nights in a row; or (b) lash out at fans in the most condescending manner possible for allegedly not getting it. You’ve chosen (b). Not the choice I would’ve made, but maybe I just don’t understand all of the complicated things your sports team is really supposed to be doing.

Moreover, if you’re going to condescend to us, at least do so in a somewhat plausible manner. Maybe acknowledge that A.J. Pierzynski and Erik Aybar are not the sorts of players which excite a fan base, let alone provide any guarantee — as you make in the interview — that the 2016 Braves will win more games than the 2015 Braves. Indeed, that’s not a smart bet at all based on where the team stands at the moment.

Here’s another suggestion: don’t think we’re idiots who don’t understand the current union-league-club politics surrounding rebuilds. We fully know that the MLBPA and the league will not tolerate a team cutting completely to the bone and will, as they did in Miami a couple of years ago, force ownership to the negotiating table and require them to add some payroll for the purposes of good optics and labor relations. Especially when they just asked taxpayers for half a billion dollars for an unnecessary new ballpark. I’m not saying the Braves are actually doing that here — I have no idea — but I will observe that employing A.J. Pierzynksi, Erik Aybar, Nick Markakis and Nick Swisher on a roster in 2016 better serves the ends of making payroll look more respectable than it serves the ends of winning a ton of baseball games.

I’m sorry you’re tired of taking criticism, John. Really I am. But Braves fans are tired of seeing our favorite players — most still in their prime — leave town. We’re tired of watching profoundly bad baseball. We’re tired of ownership treating a team we have loved our whole lives no differently than any other subsidiary in any other faceless corporate conglomerate. We’re tired of decisions by both current and past ownership which have made it harder to see the Braves both on television and in person. Put simply: the decisions you and your bosses have made have turned being a Braves fan into a pretty miserable friggin’ slog over the past few years, and y’all don’t seem to care.

Yet we are here. And we will still watch. And we will still buy merchandise and tickets and everything else. Why? Because that’s how sports work. Because, objectively speaking, the relationship between sports team and fan is an irrational and possibly unhealthy one in which we tacitly accept that we have no real say in what you do because the payoff — entertainment and, if things break just right, a championship — is ultimately worth our investment.

Perhaps, John, when you’re done being hurt and angry, you might acknowledge that. Perhaps you might  muster an ounce of humility about and responsibility for the undeniably ugly product you and your bosses have created and muster some awareness that even if your long term plan is a good one, your short term product is substandard. Appreciate that the people who support your product have some feelings about that and, when we voice our displeasure about it, that something other than insulting our intelligence would be a more decent response.

Or don’t. What do we know? Word on the street is that we’re just cynical, unappreciative dummies who don’t understand the complicated business of team building, so maybe we’re not worth the effort.

Rutschman has five hits in opener, Orioles outlast Red Sox 10-9

Eric Canha-USA TODAY Sports

BOSTON – The last time Adley Rutschman recalls feeling this level of emotion on a baseball field was playing in front of intimate, 5,000-seat crowds in college at Oregon State.

He trumped that experience at Fenway Park on Thursday in his first career opening day start.

“This blows that out of the water,” Rutschman said.

Rutschman became the first catcher in major league history with five hits in an opener, and the Baltimore Orioles survived a wild ninth inning to beat the Boston Red Sox 10-9.

“To have that close game in the ninth inning and the crowd get so loud. You kind of sit there and say, ‘This is pretty cool,’” said Rutschman, the top overall pick in the 2019 draft.

Rutschman – who debuted for the Orioles last May and quickly became indispensable to the young, resurgent club – homered in his first at-bat and finished 5-for-5 with a career-best four RBIs and a walk on a chilly day at Fenway Park, with a temperature of 38 degrees at first pitch.

Ramon Urias hit a two-run homer for Baltimore, which finished with 15 hits, nine walks and five stolen bases.

Kyle Gibson (1-0) allowed four runs and six hits over five-plus innings to earn his first opening-day victory since his 2021 All-Star season with Texas. Gibson gave up an RBI groundout in the first inning before retiring nine straight Red Sox hitters.

The Orioles nearly gave the game away in the ninth.

With Baltimore leading 10-7, closer Félix Bautista walked pinch-hitter Raimel Tapia. Alex Verdugo followed with a single and advanced to second on an error by center fielder Cedric Mullins.

Rafael Devers struck out. Justin Turner then reached on an infield single to third when Urias’ throw was wide, scoring Tapia. Masataka Yoshida grounded to shortstop Jorge Mateo, who stepped on second for the force but threw wildly to first, allowing Verdugo to score.

Bautista struck out Adam Duvall on three pitches to end it and earn the save.

The Orioles scored four runs in the fourth and three in the fifth to take an 8-2 lead. Baltimore led 10-4 before Bryan Baker allowed three runs in the eighth to give the Red Sox some hope.

The eighth could have been even better for the Red Sox had Devers, who led off the inning, not become the first player in major league history to strike out on a pitch clock violation. Devers was looking down and kicking debris off his cleats when umpire Lance Barksdale signaled a violation that resulted in strike three.

“There’s no excuse,” said Alex Cora, who dropped to 0-5 in opening-day games as Boston’s manager. “They know the rules.”

Boston offseason addition and two-time Cy Young Award winner Corey Kluber (0-1) struggled in his Fenway debut, surrendering five runs on six hits and four walks in 3 1/3 innings.

“Less than ideal,” Kluber said. “Didn’t turn out the way I would have hoped for.”


Red Sox: Christian Arroyo stayed in the game after taking an inadvertent cleat to the side of his head in the second inning. Arroyo was applying a tag to Rutschman at second base as he attempted to stretch out a single. Rutschman’s leg flipped over as he slid awkwardly. … LHP James Paxton was placed on the 15-day inured list (retroactive to March 27) with a strained right hamstring.


Rutschman, one of six Baltimore players making his first opening-day appearance, became the youngest Oriole to homer in his first opening-day at-bat since Cal Ripken Jr. in 1984.


The Orioles took advantage of MLB’s bigger bases – going from 15- to 18-inch squares – that are being used for the first time this season. Baltimore hadn’t stolen five bases in a game since last June 24 against the White Sox. Mullins and Jorge Mateo swiped two bags apiece, and Adam Frazier got a huge jump on his steal against reliever Ryan Brasier. There was nothing Boston catcher Reese McGuire could do to stop them and on the majority of Baltimore’s steals, he didn’t bother to throw.


Right-hander Kaleb Ort and Tapia earned Boston’s final two roster spots to open the season. Tapia got the nod over Jarren Duran, who was sent down to Triple-A Worcester. Ort pitched a scoreless sixth with one strikeout Thursday.


Orioles: RHP Dean Kremer will make is sixth career start against Boston when the three-game series resumes on Saturday. In 11 road starts last season, he went 5-3 with a 3.63 ERA.

Red Sox: LHP Chris Sale, who has pitched in only 11 games over the past three years due to injuries, is set to begin his seventh season in Boston.