There’s a good reason that Alex Cora is a pro at handling the media
Alex Cora has had the golden touch during the postseason, even with decisions that seemed curious before the outcome was revealed.
The Red Sox manager’s call to pinch-hit Eduardo Nunez for hot-hitting Rafael Devers in Game 1 of the World Series might have warranted a first guess, but any would-be second-guessers were muted after Nunez blasted a three-run home run en route to an 8-4 Red Sox win.
Not that Cora would have been bothered by second-guessers anyway. Not only does he understand where they’re coming from, but he once worked among them, having spent four years (2013-16) as an analyst on ESPN’s “Baseball Tonight.”
“It’s a game, man. I enjoy it,’’ said Cora in his postgame media session Tuesday. “I know that we’re in the spotlight here, managers. There are a lot of shows now at night and they’re going to dissect every move. I was part of that, so I learned.
“Those four years working for ESPN taught me a lot, being around Buster and Timmy and all those guys, you know. I learned a lot. I know it’s going to sound bad, but I really don’t care if they second-guess me.”
Buster and Timmy are not Cora’s old pals from some sentimental sandlot games of his childhood. They’re Buster Olney and Tim Kurkjian, two of his former colleagues on “Baseball Tonight” who also happen to be among the network’s most respected reporters.
Both told me that they had a good chuckle at Cora’s comments.
“We actually talked about it [on Wednesday morning’s podcast],’’ said Olney. “Alex realized he hung out with the idiots, and who cares what those guys think?”
Olney and Kurkjian were in wholehearted agreement that Cora’s success should not come as a surprise. He had a manager’s mind-set even when he worked in ESPN’s Bristol, Conn., studios.
“I always asked him a lot of questions, and whatever the question was, he was so far ahead of things,’’ said Kurkjian. “I knew how smart he was because I knew him as a player.
“But when he got to ESPN, he wasn’t just thinking as a player. He was thinking as a manager. There was no doubt in my mind at that time that if he wanted to manage in the big leagues, he could.
“There was one time in the four years I sat next to him that when I asked a question, he didn’t have a legitimate, well-thought-out answer for it. He’s a tremendously observant person.”
Kurkjian said he has little doubt that Cora’s time at ESPN helped prepare him for one ancillary aspect of managing: dealing with the media.
“We all know that managing today is mostly about dealing with people, dealing with the media, embracing sabermetrics,” said Kurkjian. “And I think his television experience helped him at all of that stuff.
“I think it helped him present things to the media because he was a member of the media. I think he watched how things were done from this side and I think he learned how managers handle the media.”
Olney, a Vanderbilt classmate of Cora’s brother Joey, said he used to talk to Alex about how Joe Torre navigated potential media maelstroms in New York. Torre also gained experience from the media side of things, having spent six seasons (1985-90) as a broadcaster for the Angels.
“Joe stayed out of corners, meaning that he was great about giving answers but never really played favorites,’’ said Olney, who covered the late-’90s Yankees dynasty for the New York Times. “He never had his guys in the media, his bobos he would leak to, and I told Alex I thought that was a really smart strategy in dealing with the media. He didn’t have the guys who liked Joe Torre and who didn’t like Joe Torre.
“He understood that a lot of the dissection, it’s not personal. It’s, ‘what would you do here?’ It’s discussion that’s part of the game’s appeal. He made reference to that in his answer [Tuesday]. It’s a fun game, and that’s part of the fun.
“Aaron Boone said the same thing during the Red Sox-Yankees series: ‘I have the information, I make decisions based on the information, and whatever is said is fine.’ ”
Cora’s candor, in comparison to his obfuscating predecessor John Farrell (now, coincidentally, at ESPN), has served him well in his dealings with the media. Kurkjian said he was the same way at ESPN, even when he was asked about the potentially sensitive subject of his managerial aspirations.
“We would be preparing for that 1 a.m. ‘Baseball Tonight,’ and I would ask him, ‘What happens if some team calls? What would you do in this situation? How did you do in your interview last week?’ ” said Kurkjian. “He was really open about that stuff, so we would discuss all the time, what’s it going to be like if you get this job or that job?”
Cora joined the Astros as a bench coach for the 2017 season. But Kurkjian said that should not suggest his résumé might have been thin compared with other managerial aspirants, because Cora had valuable experience in other ways.
“He managed in winter ball, he was the general manager of the Puerto Rican [World Baseball Classic] team, that was all part of him being ready to manage the Boston Red Sox,’’ Kurkjian said. “He prepared himself in so many different ways to do this. He was as prepared as you can be to take over a managerial job for the first time.
“It reminds me of a mistake I made to Felipe Alou a long time ago. I said, ‘Felipe, you’re a rookie manager . . .’ He kind of wagged his finger at me and said, ‘I am not a rookie manager.’
“He had managed in winter ball and in the minor leagues. Just not in the major leagues. In his mind, that did not make him a rookie manager.
“Now I know exactly what he was talking about. Alex is great example of that. He’s been preparing for this a long time. His time with us at ESPN was a piece of that.”