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

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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.

Marlins clinch 1st playoff berth since 2003, beat Yanks 4-3

Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports
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NEW YORK — Forced from the field by COVID-19, the Miami Marlins returned with enough force to reach the playoffs for the first time since their 2003 championship.

An NL-worst 57-105 a year ago, they sealed the improbable berth on the field of the team that Miami CEO Derek Jeter and manager Don Mattingly once captained.

“I think this is a good lesson for everyone. It really goes back to the players believing,” Mattingly said Friday night after a 4-3, 10-inning win over the New York Yankees.

Miami will start the playoffs on the road Wednesday, its first postseason game since winning the 2003 World Series as the Florida Marlins, capped by a Game 6 victory in the Bronx over Jeter and his New York teammates at the previous version of Yankee Stadium.

“We play loose. We got nothing to lose. We’re playing with house money.,” said Brandon Kintzler, who got DJ LeMahieu to ground into a game-ending double play with the bases loaded after Jesus Aguilar hit a sacrifice fly in the top of the 10th. “We are a dangerous team. And we really don’t care if anyone says we’re overachievers.”

Miami (30-28), second behind Atlanta in the NL East, became the first team to make the playoffs in the year following a 100-loss season. The Marlins achieved the feat despite being beset by a virus outbreak early this season that prevented them from playing for more than a week.

After the final out, Marlins players ran onto the field, formed a line and exchanged non socially-distant hugs, then posed for photos across the mound.

“I can’t contain the tears, because it’s a lot of grind, a lot of passion,” shortstop Miguel Rojas said. “It wasn’t just the virus. Last year we lost 100 games. But we came out this year with the hope everything was going to be better. When we had the outbreak, the guys who got an opportunity to help the organization, thank you for everything you did.”

Miami was one of baseball’s great doubts at the start of the most shortened season since 1878, forced off the field when 18 players tested positive for COVID-19 following the opening series in Philadelphia.

“Yeah, we’ve been through a lot. Other teams have been through a lot, too,” Mattingly said “This just not a been a great situation. It’s just good to be able to put the game back on the map.”

New York (32-26) had already wrapped up a playoff spot but has lost five of six following a 10-game winning streak and is assured of starting the playoffs on the road. Toronto clinched a berth by beating the Yankees on Thursday.

“I don’t like any time somebody celebrates on our field or if we’re at somebody else’s place and they celebrate on their field,” Yankees star Aaron Judge said. “I’m seeing that too much.”

Mattingly captained the Yankees from 1991-95 and is in his fifth season managing the Marlins, Jeter captained the Yankees from 2003-14 as part of a career that included five World Series titles in 20 seasons and is part of the group headed by Bruce Sherman that bought the Marlins in October 2017.

Garrett Cooper, traded to the Marlins by the Yankees after the 2017 season, hit a three-run homer in the first inning off J.A. Happ.

After the Yankees tied it on Aaron Hicks‘ two-run double off Sandy Alcantara in the third and Judge’s RBI single off Yimi Garcia in the eighth following an error by the pitcher on a pickoff throw, the Marlins regained the lead with an unearned run in the 10th against Chad Green (3-3).

Jon Berti sacrificed pinch-runner Monte Harrison to third and, with the infield in, Starling Marte grounded to shortstop. Gleyber Torres ran at Harrison and threw to the plate, and catcher Kyle Higashioka‘s throw to third hit Harrison in the back, giving the Yankees a four-error night for the second time in three games.

With runners at second and third, Aguilar hit a sacrifice fly.

Brad Boxberger (1-0) walked his leadoff batter in the ninth but got Luke Voit to ground into a double play, and Kintzler held on for his 12th save in 14 chances.

Miami ended the second-longest postseason drought in the majors – the Seattle Mariners have been absent since 2001.

Miami returned Aug. 4 following an eight-day layoff with reinforcements from its alternate training site, the trade market and the waiver wire to replace the 18 players on the injured list and won its first five games.

“We’re just starting,” said Alcantara, who handed a 3-2 lead to his bullpen in the eighth. “We’ve got to keep doing what we’re doing.”

TOSSED

Yankees manager Aaron Boone was ejected for arguing from the dugout in the first inning. Plate umpire John Tumpane called out Judge on a full-count slider that appeared to drop well below the knees and Boone argued during the next pitch, to Hicks, then was ejected. Television microphones caught several of Boone’s profane shouts.

“Reacting to a terrible call and then following it up,” Boone said. “Obviously, we see Aaron get called a lot on some bad ones down.”

ODD

Pinch-runner Michael Tauchman stole second base in the eighth following a leadoff single by Gary Sanchez but was sent back to first because Tumpane interfered with the throw by catcher Chad Wallach. Clint Frazier struck out on the next pitch and snapped his bat over a leg.

SLOPPY

New York took the major league lead with 47 errors. Sanchez was called for catcher’s interference for the third time in five days and fourth time this month.

REMEMBERING

Mattingly thought of Jose Fernandez, the former Marlins All-Star pitcher who died four years earlier to the night at age 24 while piloting a boat that crashed. An investigation found he was legally drunk and had cocaine in his system. The night also marked the sixth anniversary of Jeter’s final game at Yankee Stadium.

UP NEXT

RHP Deivi Garcia (2-2, 4.88) starts Saturday for the Yankees and LHP Trevor Rogers (1-2, 6.84) for the Marlins. Garcia will be making the sixth start of his rookie season.