For an insight into John Coppolella, man in the news, I highly recommend Jonah Keri’s podcast on Nerdist. Keri worked at the shuttered Grantland and now writes for CBSsports and SI.com. The podcast was recorded at the Embassy Suites near Hartsfield-Jackson around the first week in May.
Granted, one major thing has changed since the recording date. Coppolella and John Hart fired manager Fredi Gonzalez this week. (Fredi G. is mentioned in passing, Coppolella again offering nothing in the way of a vote confidence.) But the fascinating part is hearing the 37-year-old GM talk about himself at GL (great length).
Confession: I’d heard a lot of this stuff before. But not nearly all.
1. While working as $18,000-a-year intern for the Yankees in Tampa, he ate out of trash cans. (Upon hearing this, I messaged him to ask if this was, you know, true. His response: “Yes. Pulled food out of it that wasn’t eaten but had been thrown away.”) It took him eight years with the Yankees to reach $40,000.
2. He drove his mother’s Dodge Caravan from Notre Dame (his college) to the Bronx to Tampa. He did interviews with the team via pay phone — he had no cell phone — en route to Yankee Stadium. He got the job “somewhere in Jersey.”
3. While a Notre Dame freshman, he’d written 150 baseball teams seeking a job. Only eight answered, all via form letters. (He says he spent more in college on postage than food.) His first job in baseball was working as an unpaid intern for the Lake Elsinore Storm in Riverside County, Calif. He commuted from his parents’ Orange County home by driving 90 minutes one-way in the Caravan.
4. George Steinbrenner liked him.
5. He describes a lunch at the now-defunct Dogwater Cafe in Tampa as a life-changer. Damon Oppenheimer, then as now Yankees’ vice president of scouting, said to him: “I don’t know much about analytics. I don’t think you know much about scouting. You help me and I’ll help you.”
6. Coppolella believes the Braves had the best draft of any team last year. (Their No. 1 pick was Kolby Allard.)
7. Coppolella believes the Braves “lost their way a little bit” under Frank Wren by “going with the safe college guy” in the draft. Their first four picks last June were high school guys.
8. Coppolella came to the Braves from the Yankees in 2006. He says he has never gone to spring training with the Braves and thought, “We’re a World Series team.”
9. “I don’t like windows: ‘You’re going to be good for two years and bad for eight years.’ I like waves of prospects coming through to constantly supplement your big-league team.”
10. “We won a lot of games from 2010 through 2013, but if you ask people who work with the Braves or have been with the Braves, it (was) kind of like the iceberg principle. It looks good above the water. If you go down under the water, where 90 percent of the iceberg is, there were a lot of problems.”
11. “I don’t care about winning seasons. I care about championships. We haven’t won a playoff series in 15 years.”
12. There’s no doubt we’re closer to the World Series now than we were a year ago, two years ago, five years ago, 10 years ago. We are loaded in the minor leagues. It’s going to be fun to watch these guys come up and change the culture and make an impact.”
13. “We didn’t think we were going to print World Series tickets this year, but we thought we’d be better. If you look at it in terms of a time continuum, the more drastic the changes, the more aggressive the pursuit of young talent, the quicker you get to where you want to go. We could have kept everybody and just do drafting and win 83 or 85 games, but I’d rather lose for a year or two and get back faster.”
14. He doesn’t sleep much.
15. “I wish I could fast-forward. I think we all do.”
16. The first person who called to offer congratulations after the Braves finally won this season was Arizona general manager Dave Stewart, the foil of the Touki Toussaint and Shelby Miller trades.
17. SunTrust Park is “going to be great for us and our fans … We draw from eight or nine states. People can come down on a Friday and spend a whole weekend there.”
18. A possible Braves lineup for next season: Freddie Freeman, 1B; Ozzie Albies/Dansby Swanson, 2B; Albies/Swanson, SS; Rio Ruiz, 3B; Ender Inciarte, LF; Mallex Smith, CF; Nick Markakis, RF. “We’re probably going to need to trade for a catcher.”
19. As for this year: “You have a chance to see some young players make their big-league debuts … If you’re a Braves fan and you’re there and you’re watching Glavine and Smoltz and all these guys in 1989 and 1990 — that’d be pretty cool, knowing what they turned into. We don’t know if these guys are going to turn into Glavine or Smoltz, both Hall of Famers. That’s a really high bar to set. But have a lot of young kids with a lot of talent.”
20. “All this pain we’re going through now, it’s going to make success even sweeter.”