BY PAUL NEWBERRY
ATLANTA (AP) — Banned from baseball for life, former Atlanta Braves general manager John Coppolella apologized Tuesday for rules violations that led to major sanctions against the team and “cost me my dream job and my future in the game that I love.”
In his first public comments since losing his job in the midst of Major League Baseball’s investigation, Coppolella sent out a five-paragraph statement to ESPN and other media outlets.
“I have been hesitant to speak publicly as my family and I have been devastated and embarrassed by the repercussions of my actions,” he said. “I realize now that I need to address what happened and speak to those affected.”
Coppolella was forced to resign the day after the regular season ended. MLB found the Braves circumvented international signing rules from 2015-17, which led to the team forfeiting the rights to 13 prospects and facing major restrictions on signing players outside the United States until 2021.
Commissioner Rob Manfred said the Braves’ organization fully cooperated in the investigation, but he also indicated the Coppolella received the harshest penalty the game can dole out because he wouldn’t come clean.
“To everyone who supports the Atlanta Braves and to everyone who loves the game of baseball, I am deeply sorry,” Coppolella said in his statement. “Throughout my 20-year baseball career my singular focus has been to help make my team more successful. I am heartbroken that in this case my conduct has done the opposite for the Atlanta Braves organization. I accept full responsibility for my actions.”
He addressed those who felt like he tried to block the investigation.
“To those in the baseball industry, including employees of the Braves and other organizations who feel I was in any way disrespectful or dishonest, I apologize,” Coppolella said. “To the commissioner’s office, who spent many extra hours dealing with such an unfortunate situation, please accept my apology. To the Braves fans and to those in the front office who supported me throughout my time as a general manager, please know that I understand and accept your anger and frustration.”
Coppolella joined a notorious list of those permanently banned from baseball, a group that includes career hits leader Pete Rose and former St. Louis Cardinals scouting director Chris Correa.
Rose was declared ineligible in 1989 for his ties to gamblers and illegal bookmaking, which also prevented him from being elected to the Hall of Fame. Correa was banished in January for his role in hacking into the Houston Astros’ scouting database.
The 38-year-old Coppolella moved up quickly through the Braves organization, becoming general manager at the end of the 2015 season. He was heavily involved in a major overhaul that led to the team trading several prominent players, including Craig Kimbrel and Jason Heyward, while restocking a farm system that is now rated among the best in baseball.
But in his zeal to rebuild the once-prominent franchise, which hasn’t had a winning season since 2013, Coppolella and his associates were found to have covertly funneled extra money to international prospects, as well as violated rules in the domestic draft. Former Braves special assistant Gordon Blakeley, who was the team’s international scouting chief, was suspended from baseball for one year.
“I have learned the lesson of a lifetime, as my mistakes have cost me my dream job and my future in the game that I love,” Coppolella said. “I hope that other people, regardless of their profession, use this as a cautionary tale when making their own business decisions. I have been disgraced and humbled, and I will strive for the rest of my life to live honorably so that this is not my defining moment.”
When reached by The Associated Press, he declined further comment.
Coppolella hasn’t discussed his future plans beyond baseball, but he does have a business management degree from Notre Dame.
The Braves, meanwhile, hired former Toronto Blue Jays GM Alex Anthopoulos to fully run their baseball operations.
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