MLB reinstates ex-Braves GM John Coppolella from ‘lifetime’ ban

Five years after he was hit with a “lifetime” ban by Major League Baseball, former Braves general manager John Coppolella has been reinstated by the commissioner’s office from his “permanently ineligible” list.

Two major-league sources told The Athletic of Coppolella’s reinstatement in recent days. Then, late Sunday, both Coppolella and the commissioner’s office confirmed the decision, which was made by commissioner Rob Manfred.

It was Manfred who suspended Coppolella in November 2017, as a result of what the commissioner said then was an extended period in which the Braves “circumvented international signing rules from 2015 through 2017.”

Asked by The Athletic if the league could provide insight into why Coppolella’s actions and words over the last five years had caused MLB to reconsider and reinstate him, a spokesperson provided this statement from the league:

“We can confirm that Mr. Coppolella has been reinstated, given the more than five years he spent on the ineligible list, the contrition he expressed and the other steps he took in response to this matter.”

Coppolella, now 44, was suspended by MLB a little more than a month after he resigned as GM, on the day following the Braves’ final game of the 2017 season. His departure was described by the Braves at the time as being due to “a breach of Major League Baseball rules regarding the international player market.”

When contacted this weekend by The AthleticCoppolella chose to respond with an apologetic written statement, after declining an interview request:

“I want to thank Commissioner Manfred for granting my application for removal from the Ineligible List. I am deeply appreciative of so many people who have been involved in this process, including (executive vice president of legal and operations) Bryan Seeley and (senior vice president of investigations and deputy general counsel) Moira Weinberg at Major League Baseball.

“I deeply regret and accept accountability for my actions. I want to apologize again to the Atlanta Braves organization, Major League Baseball, its fans, and especially my family and friends. I am grateful for this decision and will strive each day to honor this opportunity.”

Despite the decision, it is not clear whether the reinstatement will serve as a springboard for Coppolella to return to baseball. As Pete Rose could attest, the majority of those who land on the permanently ineligible list never work in MLB again.

But others have was granted the opportunity for a second chance – none more famous than former Yankees owner George Steinbrenner, who was suspended for life in 1990 by then-commissioner Fay Vincent but allowed to return to the team just three years later.

More recently, two of baseball’s most high-profile managers, AJ Hinch and Alex Cora, found jobs immediately after returning from their suspensions for their role in the Astros’ sign-stealing scandal of 2017-18. Of course, those suspensions were for only one year. But they still serve as an example of baseball people who were considered employable following a controversial suspension.

It is not immediately clear how wary other teams may be of hiring Coppolella. And Coppolella did not specify in his statement if he is interested in resuming his front-office career, which began the week after he graduated from Notre Dame in 2000. He spent seven seasons working for the Yankees in scouting and baseball operations, then joined the Braves in 2006 and ascended to the GM job in October 2014.

He was succeeded in Atlanta by Alex Anthopoulos, who has led the Braves to five consecutive first-place finishes in the National League East and one World Series parade, in 2021. However, their championship 2021 roster was stocked with a number of star players who were drafted or acquired during Coppolella’s time in the front office in Atlanta: Ronald Acuña Jr., Ozzie Albies, Austin Riley, Max Fried, Dansby Swanson and others.

Nevertheless, that work has obviously been overshadowed by the way Coppolella’s Braves career ended. In the 2017 statement announcing Coppolella’s lifetime ban, Manfred said the club had reported signing bonuses for a number of international players that were far below the actual amounts agreed to. As a result, the Braves were forced to release 12 of those players and were hit with additional restrictions on international signings for the next two years.

Three weeks after his suspension, Coppolella told ESPN.com he was “embarrassed” by his actions and, in a lengthy email, issued an apology similar to the one he provided this weekend to The Athletic.

“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 in his 2017 statement. “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. To my family, who has stood by my side through this entire ordeal, I love you so much and I am sorry for the pain my actions have caused you.

“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. 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.”

Coppolella has not worked in sports in any capacity since his suspension. He is currently the head of talent acquisition for Capital Vacations, a time-share company based in South Carolina.

He’d previously spent several years as senior vice president for Diamond Resorts, a time-share company located in Orlando, Fla. In his time out of the game, he also earned an MBA in finance from the University of Florida and graduated in 2022 with the “highest honors,” according to his LinkedIn page.

But is he now about to “graduate” from his banishment and return to that “game I love”? That’s a mystery that will be played out in the weeks and months ahead.

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(Photo of John Coppolella in 2015: Alex Brandon / Associated Press)

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