It might seem as if the Atlanta Braves are, as has been suggested, interested more in getting the band back together and playing the old hits than in moving forward. I think it’s more accurate to say the Braves are determined to go back to The Braves’ Way of doing things, which we now know to mean the way the Braves did things before Frank Wren took over and ticked everybody off. We call the roll:
John Schuerholz: Off the golf course, back in the game.
Bobby Cox: No longer a man of leisure, again a man with a plan.
Fredi Gonzalez: Still in place, still safely under Cox’s wing.
Roy Clark: Picking up the ol’ gee-tar to strum, “Yesterday, When I Was Young.”
I’m kidding about the last one. The singing Roy Clark was a staple of “Hee Haw,” which remains a high point in Western culture. The baseball man Roy Clark is regarded as the second-best scouting mind (trailing only the sainted Paul Snyder) the Braves have ever had, and he has been lured away from the Dodgers — after being lured there from the Nationals; Stan Kasten poached him twice — to do something-or-other with The New Braves, who we assume will look an awful lot like The Old Braves.
Technically, John Hart never worked for the Braves in their heyday — his Cleveland Indians did serve as foil in the one World Series those Braves won — but he has played enough back nines with Schuerholz to have earned honorary Old Boy status. It’s becoming clearer by the hour that the Braves fully expect Hart, currently the interim general manager, to take the job on a full-time basis for a little while. (Would a decision have been made on Gonzalez if the Braves expected to hire a new GM? Would Clark have agreed to work for someone without having an idea who the someone would be?)
Some will delight in this reunion-as-rebirth strategy. (Winning 14 consecutive division titles was a pretty big deal, after all.) Others will wonder if, in their apparent desire to repeat the past, the Braves are branding themselves yesterday’s men. Before you exult/agonize over the path this team looks to be taking, I’d note this:
If Hart is going to be the GM, John Coppolella is apt to be the GM after Hart. Coppolella has been a part of the Braves’ organization for eight years — he was hired by Schuerholz, not Wren — and cannot be described as hoary or hidebound. He understands what Schuerholz means when he speaks of The Braves’ Way, but he’s too smart and progressive — as noted, he’s a darling of the sabermetric set — to turn himself, at age 36, into a nostalgia act.
This look-inward-and-backward course would be off-putting if I didn’t believe its ultimate goal was to position Coppolella as GM-in-waiting. The Braves could wrong-foot us and pluck Dayton Moore, another Old Boy, away from Kansas City, and that wouldn’t be nearly as appealing.
(I know, I know. At the moment, the Royals are the cat’s pajamas. But four inspired games — or even one title-winning October — do not a master plan make. Remember: KC’s breakthrough season came in Moore’s ninth year on the job and resulted in 89 regular-season wins. The Braves won 91, 89, 94 and 96 games in Years 3-6 under Wren.)
I’ve said it before: I see Coppolella as the Braves’ future. If all this maneuvering doesn’t leave him next to the throne, I don’t know that we could deem it progress. There were indeed yesterdays when the Braves were the best in the business, but the issue now is tomorrow.