Alex Cora admitted that his heart was racing Tuesday afternoon at Fenway Park.
It was the first time in nearly a year that Cora was in the public eye. His seasonlong suspension as a result of his involvement in the Houston Astros' 2017 sign-stealing scandal stripped him of his managerial position with the Red Sox for the ’20 season.
Yet Tuesday marked his reintroduction as the Sox' manager and his reintroduction to baseball, something Cora didn’t expect to happen so soon. And for good reason. The scandal left a damaging mark on baseball, the Sox organization, and, most importantly, Cora’s family.
“I want to apologize,” said Cora on bringing negative attention to his family. “I deserved what happened this year. It was something that I’m not proud of, but at the end I got my penalty and I served it. I want to apologize to the organization, putting them in such a tough spot coming into the season. I never thought I would be in that situation but I was. As a leader, as a person who enjoys the game and loves to manage, I put this organization in a tough spot, and for that I’m sorry.”
Cora said he’s not treating this as a “comeback story.” Instead, the Sox manager intimated that he will use this as a situation to make people better.
Chief baseball officer Chaim Bloom reached out to Cora a few days after the World Series. First with a text, then a phone call. The conversations got deeper and ultimately Bloom made the decision to bring Cora back onboard.
“I knew the strengths that he had,” Bloom said. “Also, over the course of the year in observing the organization I got to learn about things that would have been areas of improvement for him had he stayed with us. When we started the process after the season, we spent a lot of time coming up with a list of candidates. We vetted them very thoroughly. I knew that I wanted to have some type of conversation with Alex when it was OK to do so. At the end of the day, I thought he was the right choice to lead us forward.”
For Bloom, the vetting process was meticulous. Bloom went into his meeting with Cora telling himself that it was paramount that he ask all the questions on his mind, considering the seriousness of the scandal.
“We all went through something,” Bloom said. “And it was a lot to process. I told myself that I needed to address everything that I needed to address. I tried to stay in the moment with that and then process it after the fact.”
Cora is aware of the backlash that’s ahead, but said he’s ready for it.
“I know it’s going to be tough in certain places, but I understand,” Cora added.
The 2018 Red Sox underwent their own sign-stealing investigation. The findings weren’t as abhorrent as the Astros' cheating scandal, but the Sox were still punished. The team lost its second-round pick and J.T. Watkins, the Sox' video replay operator, was suspended for a season. Cora, on the other hand, was exonerated. What did Cora learn from that process?
“If you read the report,” Cora explained, “as a leader, as a person who is running the clubhouse and the dugout, we need to avoid the gray areas. I think that’s the most important thing.”
Cora stated that he didn’t bring the operation from Houston over to the Sox because he didn’t feel like the team needed to do something like that. Additionally, Cora said he and the organization had conversations surrounding sign-stealing in baseball in the spring of ’18. At the time, MLB started to get word that these type of cheating schemes were taking place in the game. Cora ultimately thought it wouldn’t be worth the risk.
Cora is inheriting a completely different roster than the one he left behind. Mookie Betts is in Los Angeles, as is David Price. Chris Sale is recovering from Tommy John surgery. The team still has some of its core players left — Rafael Devers, J.D. Martinez, and Xander Bogaerts, to name a few — but the overall talent isn’t as strong as it once was.
Furthermore, Dave Dombrowski is no longer running the show. It’s Bloom, who takes more of an analytical approach than the old-school Dombrowski. But Cora doesn’t see the use of a team that relies heavily on data as an impediment to his managerial approach.
“I love the information,” Cora said. “I love to go into a game prepared the best I can. I don’t think there’s a script. I feel managers now have more information given to you. You prepare your game based on that information and, obviously, with the scouting reports and what you feel makes sense.”
More on Cora and the Red Sox:
- Dan Shaughnessy: Alex Cora is getting his second chance, but what about baseball’s other cheaters?
- A look at the top free agents, and how they could fit with the Red Sox