Astros' penalties bring back memories for Braves fans

Bill Shanks

Two-plus years ago the Atlanta Braves cheated and got caught. They were severely punished, and their general manager paid the ultimate price, getting kicked out of baseball for good.

Monday the Houston Astros got punished for their violations, and the punishment was also severe. Their general manager and manager not only got suspended for a year, but they were also fired by Astros owner Jim Crane.

Jeff Luhnow and A.J. Hinch will probably work again in baseball. Luhnow rebuilt the Astros from cellar-dwellers to World Series champions, and Hinch was in the dugout to see it happen. But there were other things going on in that dugout that, whether it was their fault or not, will forever change their legacies in Houston.

You wonder, with today’s technology, if this is something a lot of teams do. It doesn’t excuse the behavior, but teams are always looking for ways to get ahead. “If you ain’t cheating, you ain’t trying” as the old saying goes.

The problem was the Astros got caught. Even if every team in baseball does this, the Astros got caught with their hands in the cookie jar.

If it sounds familiar, it should. The Braves also did things that other teams did, but they were blatant and dumb and flaunted it. They weren’t careful and everyone in the game knew things were going on that could have hurt an organization once-known as a gold standard.

The actions of general manager John Coppolella and others – particularly executive John Hart – caused the Braves to be looked at differently. The Braves are still reeling from the punishments, as their farm system has suffered and will for several more years.

Coppolella can no longer work in the sport. He didn’t cooperate with the investigation. Perhaps he shielded Hart, which was stupid, or perhaps he just didn’t want to admit how deep the Braves had violated the rules. If he had cooperated, however, Coppolella would have likely suffered the same fate as Luhnow and Hinch.

From what I’ve been told through the years, Hart knew everything. He knew about the plan to reach agreements with players way before they were 15 years old. He knew about and was there when the Braves worked out prospects who they had no right to work out – even in their home stadium. Hart shrugged his shoulders and acted like he knew nothing, and everyone in the sport knew he was lying.

And yet, there Hart still sits on MLB Network like he’s done nothing wrong. Something tells me Hart wasn’t on the air Monday when the analysts were going through Houston’s violations.

Yes, the Braves did some things that the other 29 clubs likely did and probably still do, but their punishments had to deter others from being stupid about it. You wonder if Monday’s ruling will have the same impact on teams that might devise plans to cheat with technology.

Coppolella should already be back in the game. He was brilliant, but reckless. And to take the fall for Hart and others was a shame, knowing the good Coppolella did for the Atlanta Braves to put them in position to have a great decade. It was Coppy’s work that got them there, and yet he sits somewhere else watching another executive take the credit.

The Astros evidently didn’t learn from Coppolella’s transgressions. They got caught, as well. And we’ll see if history treats the now-unemployed baseball men Luhnow and Hinch better than someone who has had to find a new profession.

Listen to The Bill Shanks Show weekdays at 3:00 p.m. ET on Middle Georgia’s ESPN. You can listen online at TheSuperStations.com. Follow Bill on Twitter at @billshanks and you can email him at thebillshanksshow@yahoo.com.

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