After a Suspension, Alex Cora Nears a Return to the Red Sox

Even as the Boston Red Sox announced Alex Cora’s departure for his role in the Houston Astros’ cheating scandal that marred the 2017 season, the manager’s former bosses spoke glowingly about him. In 2018, after all, Cora had guided the team to a World Series title.

“He was a tremendous manager for us on all levels, so we’re going to miss him,” Red Sox owner John Henry said in January. Sam Kennedy, the team’s president, called Cora “an extreme talent,” and when asked about the possibility of a second chance, said, “He’s apologized to us for the embarrassment that this caused. He’ll go through a process of rehabilitation, so we’ll see what happens.”

Ten months after Cora was ousted in January and with a Major League Baseball-imposed 2020 suspension complete, Cora, 45, was expected to return to his old job, said a person familiar with the situation who spoke on the condition of anonymity because the hiring had not been announced. The move was first reported by MLB Network.

Cora, formerly Houston’s bench coach, is the latest principal figure from the Astros’ tainted 2017 World Series championship season to return to baseball. Last week, the Detroit Tigers hired A.J. Hinch — Cora’s former boss and Houston’s manager during the 2017 and 2018 seasons in question — for their managerial vacancy.

Two other central characters who lost their jobs during the fallout of the scandal have yet to return to baseball: Jeff Luhnow — the former Astros general manager who, once again, proclaimed his innocence in a television interview last month — and Carlos Beltran, who stepped down as the Mets’ manager after he was the only Astros player named in M.L.B. Commissioner Rob Manfred’s report. Like Cora and Hinch, Luhnow was suspended by M.L.B. for the 2020 season; Beltran was not disciplined. Luhnow and Hinch were fired by the Astros after M.L.B. announced their penalties.

Because Cora and Hinch were previously well-liked figures, successful as managers and contrite about their roles in the Astros’ sign-stealing scandal, they were given another shot to lead teams.

Cora was heavily implicated in the report issued by Manfred in January, which came after the sign-stealing schemes were detailed by The Athletic in November 2019. An M.L.B. investigation granted players immunity in exchange for testimony.

According to Manfred’s report, Cora arranged for a monitor displaying the center-field camera footage to be installed next to the Astros’ dugout. At least one player would decode the opposing team’s signs, and when the catcher issued a sign, the upcoming pitch would be relayed to the batter with a sound — most often the slamming of a baseball bat on a nearby trash can.

“Cora was involved in developing both the banging scheme and utilizing the replay review room to decode and transmit signs,” Manfred wrote in January. “Cora participated in both schemes, and through his active participation, implicitly condoned the players’ conduct.”

Soon afterward, the Red Sox and Cora “mutually agreed to part ways.” While Red Sox officials then said that Cora had expressed remorse to them, Cora’s team-issued statement didn’t have an apology or admission of wrongdoing. Cora thanked the team’s executives and called his two seasons with the Red Sox “the best years of my life.”

It wasn’t until April, when M.L.B. announced its investigation into allegations of the Red Sox stealing signs during the 2018 season, that Cora publicly apologized. He said then, in part, in a statement released through his agent: “I also take full responsibility for the role I played, along with others, in the Astros’ violations of MLB rules in 2017. The collective conduct of the Astros’ organization in 2017 was unacceptable, and I respect and accept the Commissioner’s discipline for my past actions.”

Cora was not disciplined by M.L.B. relating to Boston’s sign-stealing scandal, which Manfred called “far more limited in scope and impact” than Houston’s. J.T. Watkins, the Red Sox video replay operator, was the only person formally disciplined as a result of that report. At the time, though, Manfred announced Cora’s suspension for the 2020 season for his role with the Astros’ sign stealing.

During the 2019 season, the Red Sox fired Dave Dombrowski, their president of baseball operations who had hired Cora and helped build the team that won the 2018 title. Chaim Bloom replaced Dombrowski and promoted Cora’s bench coach, Ron Roenicke, to manager for the 2020 season.

The Red Sox, who are rebuilding under Bloom, were one of the worst teams in the major leagues this year, going 24-36 during the truncated season. Before the final game of the season, the Red Sox told Roenicke he would not return as manager in 2021, once again fueling speculation that Cora would return.

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