Hart says ‘yes’ to Braves, will head baseball operations

John Hart decided he was ready to go all-in with the Braves, and was named Thursday to run their baseball operations.

The 66-year-old former Indians and Rangers general manager thought about it for a month while serving as interim GM, and decided to take team president John Schuerholz up on an offer to run the realigned baseball operations department. Hart will do it with a newly created position as president of baseball operations rather than GM.

The Braves don’t plan to hire another person to serve as GM, Schuerholz said, but will instead have highly regarded assistant GM John Coppolella, 36, serve as Hart’s top aide and ostensibly be groomed to take over as GM in a few years.

“It is president of baseball operations,” Schuerholz said of the title, a first for the Braves. “It will have elements of general managing in it, it will have other elements in it. And with his right-hand man John Coppolella, who will assume some duties of a normal general manager and many of an assistant general manager (and) grow under John Hart’s direction, it would be a wonderful combination. And that’s what we have.”

Hart signed a three-year contract, one month after saying that he was more comfortable helping lead the search for a new GM rather than get back into the full-time grind himself.

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“I think this decision was made certainly because of my relationship with John. It was made because of the Atlanta Braves, who they are, where we want to go,” Hart said. “(Braves CEO) Terry McGuirk. Quality people are going to be an attraction, and I think this is a gold-standard franchise and that was certainly a big part of it.

“The other part is that the interim position that I had allowed me not just to get a toe in the water, but get a feel for the really wonderful people that are here.”

He served as interim GM for one month, during which he made a flurry of front-office hirings and promotions, took part in countless meetings with Braves executives and manager Fredi Gonzalez, and realized he still had the desire and energy to do the job again.

“The decision ultimately comes down to, do you want to get back in the game, do you want to compete?” Hart said. “And I can honestly say, people that know me (know) I love to compete, no matter what it is. I care greatly about doing it the right way. I love team building. I love players. I’m anxious to get to know our players better, the staff.

“Did I mention that I like to compete? Because that is something that you do miss when you’re not in this arena.”

Hart talked it over with his wife of 44 years, Sandi, and said she and their children urged him to take the job if that’s what he wanted. The Harts live in the Orlando area, about 20 minutes from the Braves’ spring-training site, and he said being able to work some from there was a bonus.

Hart signed a three-year contract, and it’s no coincidence that runs through the 2017 season, the Braves’ planned first season in a new ballpark under construction in Cobb County.

“We’re entrusting in a man to lead our organization back to the top, and what better reward would he want than to move into this beautiful new ballpark we’re going to open?” Schuerholz said. “He deserves that opportunity. And we’re hopeful at that time that we’ll all still be together, the Sunshine Boys….”

Schuerholz smiled at his use of that tag, Sunshine Boys, which some in the media gave the three-man transition team of Schuerholz, Hart and Hall of Fame former Braves manager Bobby Cox. Hart is easily the youngest of the trio, who all sat at the dais at Turner Field on Sept. 22, the day general manager Frank Wren and assistant GM Bruce Manno were fired, and talked about reviewing the entire organization and making changes to get back to “The Braves Way.”

Part of that was seeking to create a harmonious, all-on-the-same-page atmosphere the Braves had when Schuerholz was GM before 2007. There had been fissures and friction between Wren and/or Manno and various coaches, scouts and other team officials, and the Braves saw some valued officials and scouts jump ship in recent years.

Schuerholz said when Hart walked in unexpectedly during a Thursday morning meeting Schuerholz had with the baseball staff, Hart received a standing ovation from every one of them.

“He’s president of baseball operations, and he’s going to rule with a velvet glove and an iron hand,” Schuerholz said, smiling. “And that’s how he is. And be very persuasive. He’s got great leadership, personality, people respond to him very well. I’ve seen it already, I’ve seen it in the past. He’s the best guy to be in this job. It was my best negotiations of my entire baseball career, was three days ago.”

Hart was hired by the Braves as a senior advisor in November 2013. He’s long been close friends with Schuerholz, who made it clear that day and several times since that he hoped Hart would take the full-time job.

Schuerholz had worked on Hart for weeks, trying to persuade him, and finally succeeded this week. Schuerholz attended the first game of the World Series in Kansas City this week — Schuerholz was Royals GM when they last went to the World Series in 1985 — and said he was even more motivated to get Hart to take the job after multiple people in the industry told him how perfect Hart would be for the Braves at this time.

Schuerholz had also said on Sept. 22 that the team might realign the top of the baseball operations hierarchy and have a title other than GM at the top. In the end, that’s what they did, hiring a successful former GM to a job with a bigger title and additional authority, like teams such as the Dodgers and Cubs have done in recent years.

There had been speculation that the Braves were waiting to woo Royals GM Dayton Moore after his team finished playing in the World Series. But Moore, who got his start as a Braves scout and served as Braves assistant GM when Schuerholz was GM, never indicated he was considering a move.

Schuerholz spent time chatting with Moore before the World Series opener on Tuesday, but said Thursday that he never approached Moore about the Braves’ position and insisted that he wouldn’t have even if Hart had turned it down. He said it wouldn’t have been right to do it because Moore had two years left on his Royals contract.

In the end, Schuerholz got his stated top choice for the job, and didn’t have to go far to get him.

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