When José Massó arrived to Boston in 1973, one of the first places he visited was Fenway Park. He wasn’t a diehard Red Sox fan, but he wanted to see the team’s impressive roster of Latino players, some of whom would eventually be inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame: Orlando Cepeda, Luis Aparicio, Luis Tiant, Mario Guerrero.
“Later it was Juan Marichal, and then Tony Peña and Luis Rivera in the ’80s and ’90s,” said Massó, a prominent civic leader and activist in the Boston Latino community who’s originally from Puerto Rico. “They were reasons for me, and for a growing number of Hispanic fans, to go to Fenway Park.”
This group of iconic Latino Red Sox players — mostly from Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic, and later including the mighty Pedro Martinez and David Ortiz — solidified a growing presence of Hispanics at Fenway.
And now, the appointment of Alex Cora, the 42-year-old former Red Sox player from Puerto Rico, caps the team’s embrace of Latino talent on and off the field. Considering the team’s tarnished racial past — the Sox were the last major league baseball team to hire a black player — naming the first manager of color is historic.
Roughly 32 percent of players in the Major League of Baseball are of Hispanic descent. A quarter of the Red Sox 40-man roster is Latino, including Rafael Devers, Sandy Leon, and Hanley Ramirez. Cora now joins Rick Renteria of the White Sox and Dave Martinez of the Washington Nationals as the only Latino managers in the league.
“It’s beyond memorable. It says so much about where we are today in this city,” said Massó. For Puerto Ricans in the diaspora and on the island, it’s also a much-needed ray of light amid weeks of tragic news in the wake of Hurricane Maria’s devastation. “Any satisfaction that we can bring to our homeland, it’s an amazing feeling,” said Cora. In Monday’s press conference where he was presented as the new manager, Cora gave Dave Dombrowski, president of baseball operations, a Puerto Rican flag. As part of his contract, Cora also asked that the Red Sox provide a private plane to bring supplies and medicines to the island.
Beyond Latino pride, Cora’s appointment brings real promise for a team that exited the playoffs early this year. He’s been called “one of the brightest baseball intellects” around. He’s bilingual and very much a believer in a data-driven approach to the game. “Being bilingual helps me connect to some of the players, but at the end of the day I’ll be evaluated by wins and losses,” said Cora. He has managerial experience, coming from winning the World Series championship with the Houston Astros as bench coach, and as a manager in the baseball winter league in Puerto Rico.
His experience, baseball smarts, and bicultural background make him a strong addition for the team — and provide a shot of optimism to tide fans through Hot Stove season until pitchers and catchers report for spring training.