John Coppolella approached each day of his job as Atlanta Braves general manager with the non-stop frenzy of a transaction addict. It wasn't enough for him to pull off a perceived heist of the Arizona Diamondbacks with the Dansby Swanson-Shelby Miller trade in December 2015. The deal was barely complete when Coppolella began spinning scenarios to trade new center fielder Ender Inciarte to another team for yet another upgrade.
The problem was that with each attempt to improve Atlanta's roster, Coppolella lost a little piece of his core. And as the line between yellow caution signals and red lights began to blur, he set the stage for the ruination of his career.
If Coppolella's apology Tuesday showed anything, two months in baseball exile and a lack of professional stimulation give a man ample opportunity to reflect upon his sins. Nothing fosters introspection like losing the only job you ever wanted and experiencing life as a pariah alongside Pete Rose and Shoeless Joe Jackson.
Anyone looking for details of the transgressions that led to Coppollella's lifetime ban by MLB two weeks ago wouldn't find it in his statement of apology. Commissioner Rob Manfred laid out all the specifics when he punished the Braves for a series of international rules violations and excesses in the first-year player draft. Coppolella received a financial settlement in conjunction with his decision to step down, according to sources, and he has no desire to rehash the specifics.
So it's all about the tone, and Coppolella appears to speak from the heart. His 294-word statement includes the words "humbled," "devastated," "embarrassed" and "heartbroken."
Some fans in Atlanta might never find their way to forgive him. Braves diehards had put their faith in Coppolella because of his energy and new-age thinking, and they looked on enthusiastically as he made one move after another to inject fresh talent into the system.
Within the industry, Coppolella alienated some agents and wore out some peers with his approach. Even those who liked him personally grew weary of his relentlessness.
"I recall some of the conversations I had with him, and his mind was always going," said a front-office contemporary. "It was nonstop trades and waiver claims and minor-league deals. I think we're all obsessed with this to a degree. But there's a difference between a healthy and an unhealthy obsession. And with John, it was on the unhealthy side. I think it got to a point where it consumed and controlled his life."
But Coppolella had an awkward and unpolished side that was endearing, and his passion for the game was infectious. He's on a short list with Jim Bowden, Jerry Dipoto and a select few other executives I've met through the years who loved talking baseball strictly for baseball's sake.
On Opening Day in New York this season, I sat in the Citi Field media dining room with Coppolella and a veteran scout as they exchanged thoughts on the available talent in the June 2017 draft. It was 40 minutes of pure hardball talk between a young executive and an older evaluator, and they exchanged their takes on Hunter Greene, Brendan McKay and numerous other prospects in the draft. The dialogue made for some riveting baseball theater.
As the conversation broke up for the first pitch, I told Coppolella, "You two guys should get a reality show. I know I would watch."
The pictures that emerged behind the scenes weren't as lighthearted or entertaining. People familiar with Coppolella's tenure in Atlanta say he became short-tempered and less tolerant of dissenting viewpoints and put some underlings into potentially compromising positions. While his singular goal was improving the Braves, he lost all perspective on the right way to go about it.
And when Manfred and MLB dropped the hammer Nov. 21 and placed him on the permanently ineligible list, Coppolella became part of an eclectic group of outcasts that includes Rose, the 1919 Black Sox, computer hacker Chris Correa, three-time PED offender Jenrry Mejia and numerous other rogues and scoundrels dating back to the Kenesaw Mountain Landis case.
Coppolella's inclusion was particularly shocking because of the lines he didn't cross. He's never been accused of taking kickbacks, betting on the game or taking part in financial malfeasance for personal gain. It appears to be more a case of chronic rules violations -- a pattern of misbehavior that sent up alarm bells and prompted complaints from industry competitors. John Hart, Coppolella's immediate supervisor in Atlanta, quietly resigned in mid-November to "pursue other opportunities." It's only natural to wonder if he was aware of or oblivious to the excesses. Neither scenario looks good in hindsight.
When MLB investigators began their probe, Coppolella compounded his sins by clamming up or denying the accusations. Manfred made his personal displeasure clear when he told Mike Golic, "While the Braves were completely cooperative in the investigative process, I can't say the same for John."
Coppolella's days as a general manager are history, and it's a stretch to think he's employable by a front office even if MLB one day reinstates him. But he does have an opportunity to move on and be a positive example for his three children. Until he finds his niche, he can serve as a cautionary tale for young executives. It's always tempting to test the boundaries in a world where wins and losses are the measure of success. Coppolella's banishment reinforces the lesson that a shortcut here and a minor rules violation there only make the next one easier, and they all add up in the end.
Coppolella closes his apology with the observation that he doesn't want his banishment to be his "defining moment."
"Whatever the next phase is for John, I think everybody is hoping that he moves on to it, gets re-established and can support his family," said an MLB executive. "He can learn from his mistakes and have a productive life."
Or as another front office peer observed, "John needs to find some peace."
Coppolella has spent the past two months living a nightmare of his own making. If the only byproducts of his apology are a clearer conscience and a good night's sleep, it was a positive start.