For five utterly exhausting hours, in a most unusual setting, Alex Cora’s past and future hung in the balance.
A private jet had whisked Red Sox chief baseball officer Chaim Bloom and general manager Brian O’Halloran from the early-season snow of Boston to the 90-degree swelter of Puerto Rico on the morning of Oct. 30 — three days after the conclusion of the World Series marked the completion of Cora’s season-long suspension for cheating. Yet once on the ground, their first chance to see their former manager in more than nine months was in an empty hangar on the airport tarmac.
“It’s hopefully the first and last interview I will ever conduct in an airplane hangar,” said Bloom.
Three chairs and a table had been set up in the hangar, but the table was an unnecessary accoutrement. This was to be neither a preordained celebration nor a recruiting trip with a fancy spread of food — or any food for that matter. What was ahead was uncomfortable, unsentimental, and utterly necessary.
It was an opportunity to rip at painful scabs for both Cora and the Red Sox: the trash can-banging sign-stealing scandal in which Cora played a central role with the Astros as bench coach in 2017; the use of a live video replay feed to decipher catchers’ sign sequences by the Red Sox in 2018; how Cora’s managerial missteps contributed to a disappointing performance by the Red Sox in 2019; how his abrupt departure in mid-January had upended the organization in 2020.
Despite all of that, many in the organization — the team’s owners as well as front-office members, coaches, and players who’d worked closely with Cora in 2018 and 2019 — still wanted to see him back.
Bloom had been more circumspect. At the start of the search, he hadn’t dismissed the idea of Cora’s return, but he also had a clear lean. Given all that had transpired, might it make sense, he wondered to colleagues, to rip off the Band-Aid and start fresh?
“I think at [the start of the manager search], if I had to say yes or no, I think I would have said no,” Bloom said of whether he expected the process to end with Cora’s rehiring. “I knew at that time that I wanted to have a conversation with him. In thinking about that conversation, I hadn’t ruled it out, but it wasn’t where my thoughts were going.”
Cora understood the misgivings. He’d expected the conversation to be pointed and at times painful. His agent, Melvin Roman, told him “to prepare to start from zero, from scratch, like you’ve never managed the Red Sox before.”
O’Halloran — who worked closely with Cora in his prior role as assistant GM in 2018-19 — contributed some questions. Cora had his own inquiries for the Red Sox. Still, it was largely Bloom guiding the conversation and trying to make sense of what had happened before he’d joined the Red Sox in October 2019 — and any risks the organization might be taking in rehiring Cora.
“It was intense. It was genuine,” said Cora. “There were some tough questions.”
“Nobody left anything on the table,” O’Halloran said.
As O’Halloran and Bloom returned to the plane for the flight back, they recognized that they were in no state to draw any conclusions about whether Cora should be considered alongside the four remaining candidates. Famished and fatigued, they decided to “eat a meal and digest both the meal and what just happened,” said O’Halloran.
“Honestly, I needed more time to process it,” he continued. “We were both exhausted. I know I was, and judging by the fact that Chaim fell asleep [on the flight] before I did, I’m guessing he was, too.”
Cora, too, emerged without a clear sense of where things stood.
“It wasn’t like he left the meeting saying, ‘I got the job.’ He . . . was exhausted. He said, ‘I’m glad we got it over with,’ ” recalled Roman. “It was hard but I think he was kind of relieved, like, ‘I did my best and now the ball is in their court. If they select me, I’ll be very, very happy, and if not, prepare for the next adventure.’ ”
Eight plus one
On a Zoom conference just before the end of a dismal 24-36 season, Bloom and O’Halloran informed Red Sox principal owner John Henry (who also owns the Globe), chairman Tom Werner, and president/CEO Sam Kennedy that they’d decided to move on from Ron Roenicke as manager. The conversation opened discussion about the search that would follow.
The owners were clear in their views. They were happy to provide feedback on the search, offer input, and meet with one or more finalists, but the process was entirely in the hands of the baseball operations department, with Bloom as the ultimate decision-maker.
“In this case, it was very clear that this should be a baseball operations decision and should ultimately rest with Chaim,” said Kennedy.
‘It was very clear that this should be a baseball operations decision and should ultimately rest with Chaim.’
Sam Kennedy, Red Sox president/CEO, on the search for a new manager
Still, the group (including Mike Gordon, the third-largest stakeholder in Fenway Sports Group) offered its views on Cora: He remained a dazzling talent and beloved figure. If the baseball operations department wanted to bring him back after his connection to the scandals, the owners supported that. If baseball ops believed the Red Sox should move in another direction, the owners would likewise support the decision.
In a meeting shortly after the end of the season, Red Sox officials — Bloom, O’Halloran, assistant GMs Raquel Ferreira, Eddie Romero, and Zack Scott, and some of the team’s vice presidents and directors — discussed the search. Bloom expressed doubts — even skepticism —about bringing back Cora, but wanted to talk to the former manager before making a decision.
Moreover, the team needed to find out if Cora wanted to return to manage for the 2021 campaign or if he planned to take more time off. The necessary conversation couldn’t happen until after the World Series.
The Sox wanted to conduct a thorough managerial search so they’d be near the end of the process once they could engage with Cora. The team sought someone who fit their broader organizational goals — long-term, sustainable contention.
Eight candidates, none with prior big league managerial experience, took part in first-round Zoom conversations that averaged slightly less than three hours: Twins bench coach Mike Bell, Phillies integrative baseball performance director Sam Fuld, Pirates bench coach Don Kelly, Yankees bench coach Carlos Mendoza, Marlins bench coach/offensive coordinator James Rowson, Padres associate manager Skip Schumaker, Diamondbacks bench coach Luis Urueta, and Cubs third base coach Will Venable.
Bloom believed it was important to be candid with candidates about Cora’s uncertain position in the search — while also making clear that his return was in no way preordained. The discussions about the managerial role also necessarily touched on Cora’s tenure and departure.
“[Cora’s status] was something I wanted to talk about very openly with folks that we interviewed for a number of reasons,” said Bloom.
Four candidates — Rowson, Mendoza, Kelly, and Fuld — advanced to a second round of day-long, in-person interviews at Fenway. Their conversations were complicated by the demands of safety during a pandemic.
The candidates arrived in Boston the day before their interviews and had to receive COVID-19 tests. Once cleared, their conversations — a series of one-on-one interviews with senior leaders as well as small group conversations — had to take place outdoors during the raw latter half of October.
Initially, the Red Sox set up candidates on the right-field roof deck. Bad idea.
“We froze our asses off. I felt so bad [for the candidates],” said Scott. “I’d pop in and do an hour, but they’re there all day.”
Eventually, the candidates were relocated to a better-shielded concourse and some group meetings were moved into a suite with enough windows to create proper ventilation, but the dynamic — the outdoor setting, the masks, the need to maintain a safe distance — remained unusual.
“I felt like we had gotten as good a picture as we can have of who each person was,” said Bloom.
During his suspension, in conversations with his family and agent, Cora initially viewed a return to managing as unlikely — perhaps something to consider after 2021 or 2022. And there was no way he could think about managing in the abstract. He yearned to return to Boston, a city where — as both a player and manager — he’d seen his own passion for the game reflected.
Once the team made the decision not to bring back Roenicke — Cora’s friend, former bench coach, and mentor — his feelings became clear.
“We ended up always thinking that the Boston Red Sox would be the No. 1 priority if that came open at some time,” said Roman. “If the Boston job went away then he was open to managing, not anyone, but a club with a good chance to win … [But] it became available.”
‘We ended up always thinking that the Boston Red Sox would be the No. 1 priority if that came open at some time.’
Melvin Roman, Cora's agent, on his client's return to baseball
Bloom reached out on Wednesday, Oct. 28 — the day after the World Series — first via text and then with a call. The two exchanged pleasantries, discussed their families, shared thoughts on the World Series. They agreed that the appropriate next step was the in-person meeting in Puerto Rico for a more direct and challenging conversation.
At that point, Bloom — who throughout the process sought regular feedback from his colleagues in both group and individual fashion — solicited feedback from members of the Red Sox front office about Cora’s strengths as well as the questions to explore in advance of the Friday meeting. He and O’Halloran spent much of the flight to Puerto Rico going over that list, leading to the long and telling hangar summit.
The Red Sox front office reconvened on the Monday after the trip to Puerto Rico for a final set of second-round interviews. Over the following days, the team assessed the candidates and whittled the field while discussing the strengths and weaknesses of those who remained under consideration.
“It was a very thoughtful process,” said Ferreira. “Everyone felt good about the people we brought in, including myself.”
It was at that point that Bloom made it clear that, while Cora’s hiring wasn’t a foregone conclusion, there had been nothing disqualifying about the meeting in Puerto Rico. To the contrary, he was ready to consider Cora on his merits side-by-side against other possibilities.
“It definitely was not game/set/match,” said O’Halloran. “It was an assessment of Alex as a candidate in comparison to the other candidates.”
Through Election Night silence fell over the search, leading some in the industry and the Red Sox organization to wonder if the team had moved on from Cora. But by the middle of the week, Bloom and O’Halloran placed follow-up calls to Cora.
The tone was less prosecutorial now. It was now clear that he was in the mix.
“You’re like, ‘Hey, there’s a chance,’ ” said Cora.
By Thursday morning, the Sox had informed Kelly and Mendoza that they were no longer in consideration. In a Zoom session with O’Halloran and the assistant GMs, Bloom outlined his thoughts on the final three candidates: Rowson — a standout personality and leader whose development from minor league hitting coach to bench coach over nearly two decades had been fueled by intelligence and excellent communication skills; Fuld — tremendously intelligent, understated, and familiar to Bloom from his playing days; and Cora. Ultimately, the conversation narrowed to Cora and Fuld.
In that Zoom session and in one-on-one feedback, members of the baseball operations department made clear to the chief baseball officer that they felt great about all three finalists. They’d support Bloom’s call.
“That was not only clear from ownership but also a lot of my teammates, that they would get fully behind any decision that I made,” said Bloom.
To Bloom, the long process had arrived at its conclusion. The concerns about Cora’s past couldn’t simply be ignored and there were aspects of his job where he’d need to improve from 2019, particularly in managing communication between the front office, coaching staff, and players.
But his abilities, experiences, and connections in the organization made him the right choice. Plenty of colleagues and members in the organization had contributed to the decision, but ultimately, Bloom felt secure in his own assessment of Cora’s merits.
“It was really just a question of trying to get as much information as I could to see Alex in full, the whole person, everything that he had done, good and bad, and everything that he might do if he were our manager again, and then to line that up along with the other candidates we were considering. And at the end of the day, I felt he was the right choice to lead us forward," Bloom said.
On Thursday afternoon, Bloom called O’Halloran to inform him of his choice and then reached out to his assistant GMs. He then called Henry, Werner, Gordon, and Kennedy to seek their blessing before the proposal, finally reaching out to Cora late on Thursday afternoon. All that was left was the contract, a matter that the sides addressed on Friday.
By Friday morning, Cora’s return became public but unofficial knowledge — almost at the exact time that the Pennsylvania ballot tally flipped the Keystone State from red to blue in the presidential election. (Cora’s return was announced officially late Friday afternoon, once his two-year deal with a two-year option was finalized.) Some wondered if the Red Sox were trying to bury the controversy of Cora’s selection.
“The notion that there is such a thing as a news dump in 2020 is patently ridiculous given the 24-hour nature of the news cycle,” said Kennedy. “We announced [Cora’s return] right at the conclusion of the process when we were done. It happened to be late afternoon on Friday. I recognize that there were more important issues going on in our country, but there was no consideration of the timing of the news being announced.”
Cora flew from Puerto Rico to Boston over the weekend, quarantined in a hotel while awaiting results of a COVID-19 test, and was reintroduced as Red Sox manager on the infield at Fenway Park on Tuesday afternoon, 300 days after he’d left the Red Sox organization in January.
“I’m just happy that I’m the guy he decided to go with,” said Cora. “I’m not going to disappoint him.”