Alex Cora could have owned this town. In fact, for a while he did.
Who can forget the excitement and trust inspired by the rookie manager whose every instinct seemed to pay off during the 2018 postseason? The trailblazer named one of the “Bostonians of the Year” by the Globe Magazine as the first person of color to lead the racially cursed Red Sox?
Those warm memories, so recent, felt remote after MLB commissioner Rob Manfred’s report on the cheating scandal that engulfed the Houston Astros, Cora’s old team, the one that made his dismissal Tuesday night inevitable.
Not only did an investigation find the Astros guilty of cheating, it clearly fingered Cora — then the Astros’ bench coach — as the architect of the scandal. Astros general manager Jeff Luhnow and manager A.J. Hinch were both suspended for one year by the commissioner, then quickly fired by the team. Cora’s punishment initially was put off, pending completion of a separate investigation into allegations of cheating by the Red Sox in 2018, after Cora’s hiring.
Clearly, this wasn’t going to end well for Cora. The notion of playing for a prolonged period under an interim, and then bringing him back was obviously untenable.
To call this scandal “sign-stealing’’ — a part of baseball forever — doesn’t really capture the disgusting behavior involved. According to the report, Cora had a video monitor installed just outside the dugout so players could receive intelligence from the center-field cameras and relay it — by banging on a trash can to alert hitters in the batter’s box. Aside from being corrupt, it was stupid. (The Astros eventually scrapped the scheme, following Cora’s departure, after several players concluded that it was more distracting than helpful.)
I understand why people were hoping there could be some way out of this. You like Alex Cora. I like Alex Cora. He’s smart, most of the time, and thoughtful. He is, by all accounts, a great communicator. He’s a person of color — the first to lead one of Boston’s most beloved and storied institutions. He raised money for his native Puerto Rico, and personally delivered supplies, in a time of tragedy. Even in last year’s lost season, almost no one wanted to blame Cora. In many ways, Cora was great. That’s worth remembering.
For a franchise that has been yearning to close the door on its problematic racial past, Cora had been a godsend. You know the history: the last team to integrate, in 1959. The team whose spring training policies sparked complaints to the Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination in the 1980s. The team that, as recently as 2017, played on a street named for Tom Yawkey, a man who mightily resisted signing black players.
Just by his presence, Cora has been a powerful antidote to so much of that.
But Major League Baseball faced a crisis, in the form of technologically enabled cheating. Whether it was the Red Sox using Apple watches to pass along illicit information in 2017, or the Astros monitoring signs from a TV screen mounted in the tunnel to the dugout, the integrity of the game is at stake. If you hear howls in the distance, they’re coming from Los Angeles; the Dodgers lost a World Series to a Houston team now proven to have been cheating.
Jim Crane, the owner of the Astros, fired both his general manager and his manager within an hour of the release of the commissioner’s report, even though both had been hugely successful. The Astros, he declared, needed “a clean slate.”
Ultimately, the same reckoning was unavoidable for the Red Sox. For all his great work, the investigation left Cora’s reputation in shards. I don’t think anyone is happy to see the sudden, shocking end of his time here.
Boston will miss him. But there was never really a choice to be made.