NEW YORK — It’s been a different year in the managerial life of Alex Cora.
On the field, with the Red Sox mired in last place, he’s experiencing disappointment that he hasn’t encountered in his managerial and coaching career. Along with that, what Cora frequently refers to as “the noise” has been louder than in past seasons at the helm.
The team has waded through uncomfortable conversations about the departures of highly regarded teammates Christian Vázquez and Kevin Plawecki while confronting the unknown futures of cornerstones Xander Bogaerts and Rafael Devers. Cora’s own future and his relationship with chief baseball officer Chaim Bloom have also been subjects of speculation.
Start there. Cora said earlier this season that he has no intention of being a managerial lifer, and he’s expressed interest in the future possibility of building a team — something he enjoyed doing in the Puerto Rican Winter League and for Team Puerto Rico in the World Baseball Classic.
He also candidly notes that this has been a challenging time off the field. His partner, Angelica, and 5-year-old twin sons, Xander and Isander, are in Puerto Rico for the start of the school year, leaving Cora to return from the ballpark to an empty house. The ache of distance has been amplified considerably in recent days following Hurricane Fiona.
“This week has been tough. [The family] is [in Puerto Rico] and we’re here. It’s a big sacrifice,” said Cora. “I enjoy coming to the ballpark and grinding and being with the guys, but I think the family aspect with time is going to dictate what I do in the game.”
Given those sentiments, is it certain that Cora will be back with the Red Sox next year?
“No question. Yes, I’m back next year,” said Cora. “Right now, my sights are on managing. I like what I do. I believe that I do a pretty good job in a market that is really challenging. I’ve gone through everything in this market from raising that trophy [in 2018] in LA to getting suspended for [2020 because of a sign-stealing scandal], getting back with the team, to what we did last year, and now we’re in last place.
“I enjoy this place. People have their ideas about ‘Alex managing in other places’ or doing other stuff in other places. This place is special. I love it. For all the negatives, there’s a lot of positives. We enjoy it as a family. We don’t get caught up in the whole drama or the noise, like I call it. As of now, this is what I want to do and this is the place I want to do it.”
What Cora wants to do is find a path for the Red Sox to avoid a repeat of this season. As a player and manager, he believes in the profound impact of the game’s details, that awareness and execution represent the difference between a magical season such as 2018 and this year’s failure.
With the season lost, he’s pored over the games where lapses meant the difference between wins and losses. He reflects back on Opening Day in New York, when the Red Sox jumped Gerrit Cole for three runs without an out in the first inning before the offense sputtered in a 6-5, 11-inning loss. On April 23 in Tampa Bay, Bobby Dalbec didn’t handle Trevor Story’s throw on a potential game-ending out in the 10th, turning a 2-0 win into a 3-2 loss. More recently, there were defensive misplays and two-out walks that led to agonizing defeats.
The Red Sox are a putrid 20-45 within the division — the worst mark in franchise history — but 19 of those losses are by one run, with the Sox having led in the sixth inning or later in 11.
“I hate losing. It’s not a good feeling. I’m leading this team and there’s certain aspects of this team and the way we play that are a reflection of leadership,” said Cora. “When we don’t run the bases, when we don’t play defense, I take it very personally. When you forget the outs, stuff like that, I hate that [expletive].
“It feels that we got demolished [in the division]. Record-wise, we did. But if you look back at the games, we just didn’t do enough … I can go through the [gut] punches. Yeah, we’re that far [back in the standings]. But in reality, if you break it down the way I do or the way we do, I don’t think the gap is that big.”
That view is one Cora has shared frequently with the front office, including Bloom. Independent of the offseason moves the team makes, there is room for ample growth and improvement with greater precision.
“I think I have a different view of the season compared to [the media] or other people outside this office,” said Cora. “And I think [Bloom] values that, he sees it, and we’re going to team up and do a good job in the offseason and be ready for next year.”
Along those lines, Cora said that suggestions of a misalignment between his and Bloom’s views are inaccurate. When he interviewed with Bloom and general manager Brian O’Halloran in Puerto Rico about being rehired after the 2020 season, he made clear that he wanted Bloom to see him as a partner, someone who could help him. He reinforced that in a follow-up conversation before being hired. Cora believes that was welcomed not only then but in the working relationship that he and Bloom have forged.
“This is an organization that values the way I see stuff,” said Cora. “And he has taught me a lot on the other side of the ball. I’ve learned a lot about evaluating players and seeing the game a little bit different than probably I saw it before.
“I think it’s a really good dynamic. I think little by little, we keep growing. I told him, ‘Man, you’ve been in a tough spot. You come here, they suspend your manager, then COVID, the pandemic, and then last year was so fast. Everything happened so fast.’ And now, I think finally we’re able to slow down — not in a good way; we hate this. But I think finally he’s able to say, ‘OK, here’s what I want to do, this is what we’re going to do,’ and go from there. [The relationship] has been really good.”
How about the clubhouse? Cora acknowledges that there have been discordant notes at times this year, with players chagrined about the Vázquez trade and the decision to designate Plawecki for assignment. But Cora says those topics were addressed.
“The difference between good chemistry and bad chemistry is winning ballgames,” said Cora. “I think overall, as an organization, with all the obstacles and the way things went, we did a good job. You can see it at the end. We’re fighting until the end. Nobody can say that this team quit. We keep playing. The results? Whatever, they go up and down. But the effort and the way we’re playing has been solid.”
That doesn’t mean that Cora or anyone else with the Sox is enjoying the team’s plight. But Cora sees a commitment to improve.
“It’s the same preparation. The meetings haven’t changed. Obviously, the mood has changed. It happens. But I think this taste is going to make me better and make us better,” said Cora. “We have to get better. We know it.”
Cora will spend a few days in Boston after the season before returning home, eager to reunite with his family and help Puerto Rico’s hurricane recovery efforts. It will be, he said, time to roll up his sleeves, a notion that rings true personally and professionally.
“We’ve got work to do,” said Cora. “That’s the bottom line.”