David J. Phillip/Associated Press
LOS ANGELES — Terry Francona managed Alex Cora for 3½ seasons in Boston. He knows that Cora can be a good major league manager in Boston. But he’s reluctant to talk about Cora while Major League Baseball asks the Red Sox, the Astros, and Cora to refrain from commenting during the World Series.
“I told guys on Sunday that I wouldn’t comment on this because of the Boston thing,’’ Francona said from Cleveland Monday. “Just because it’s Boston I don’t need to be sticking my nose in there.’’
OK, then. What about Dave Roberts, I wondered? The manager of the Dodgers has a lot in common with Cora, who is still employed as the Astros’ bench coach for this World Series.
Like Cora, Roberts played for Francona in Boston and won a World Series with the Red Sox. Like Cora, Roberts was one of those “glue” bench players that Francona liked having in his clubhouse. Like Cora, Roberts got his managing job at a young age without having experience in the majors or minors. Like Cora, Roberts was thrust into a major media market with a big payroll and great expectations. Like Cora, Roberts was his franchise’s first minority manager.
We understand that you won’t talk about Cora, Tito. So what about Roberts? Can you talk about the manager of the National League champion Dodgers?
“Sure,’’ said Francona. “What about him?’’
He was your player in 2004 (Cora was Francona’s player from mid 2005-08). Did you see anything that led you to believe he might be a major league manager someday?
“What I saw was a player that had gone from playing every day to coming over and playing part time and handling it above and beyond,” said Francona. “You tell someone, ‘Stay ready.’ He was the ultimate ‘stay ready.’ And it helped win us a World Series.
“That’s the side of a player you see. He’s a great teammate who handles himself well. You don’t even know if a guy is going to want to continue in the game after, but when I found out he was coaching, I was glad because you want guys like that to stay in the game.’’
Sounds exactly like Cora.
Francona wanted bench players who rounded out his team and did little things to make themselves “glue” guys in the clubhouse. Roberts was one of those guys.
“It was especially good when you had guys who could do that after coming to the team in the middle of the season,” said Francona (Roberts came to the Sox in mid 2004, Cora in mid 2005). “Dave was being asked to do less, to stay ready, but he was tremendous about it. He was a great kid at the time. Now he’s showing that he’s a great manager.
“Every manager has different challenges. Dave might have a payroll that’s $250 million, but I guarantee you that he’s got challenges in other areas that other managers don’t have.’’
Just like Cora will have in Boston.
What about the fact that Roberts didn’t have managerial experience in the big leagues? Was that a drawback for him?
“I can only answer personally,’’ said Francona, who managed four seasons in Philadelphia before taking over the Red Sox. “I could not have done it, but you see plenty of guys. You see Mike Matheny [in St. Louis].
“Managerial success to me is often ranked incorrectly. If you win, people say you’re successful. If you lose, you’re unsuccessful. It’s about whatever talent your team has. I see Kevin Cash [another bench player for Francona in Boston] and I’m biased, but I see him doing a great job. They [the Rays] haven’t won yet, but I think he’s a great manager and going to be better. The playing field is not even.’’
Roberts (like Cora) started his big league managing career in a giant, moneyed, pressure-packed market. What’s that like?
“Sure. Those challenges are different, but Dave was able to handle what was thrown at him,” said Francona. “From what I hear, he went into his interview and killed it. They just fell in love with him.
“And he’s handled all the things he’s had to handle. You don’t hear much squawking going on. Those are things that show me that he knows his job and he knows his team.’’
Doesn’t almost everything about the Dave Roberts experience in Los Angeles apply to Alex Cora?
“I’m not comfortable talking about Alex, because I said I wouldn’t,’’ said Francona. “It’s not my place to be commenting on the Red Sox manager. But you know how I feel about AC and you can say that.
“He was tremendous. He was a manager-in-waiting. I think everybody sees that. I don’t want people to think I don’t like him because I said I won’t talk about him right now. I love him. I just need to be consistent in staying away from this process.
“It seems kind of silly that we can’t talk about it, but he’s probably having the time of his life. Think about it. His team’s in the World Series. He knows that a week from now he’s going to go manage the Red Sox.’’
OK, Tito. Thanks for talking about World Series manager Dave Roberts . . . who has an awful lot in common with Alex Cora.