The Red Sox may soon face significant pressure to fire manager Alex Cora after Major League Baseball issued a detailed report Monday that named him the ringleader of a cheating scandal that has rocked the sport.
The Houston Astros fired general manager Jeff Luhnow and manager A.J. Hinch shortly after they were suspended for a year by commissioner Rob Manfred for failing to stop a sign-stealing scheme Cora developed as Houston’s bench coach in 2017.
Cora’s name appears 11 times in the report issued Monday by Manfred, saying that he was an “active participant in the scheme” in Houston and that he “implicitly condoned the players’ conduct.”
Manfred did not issue any punishment to Cora on Monday, saying he would wait for baseball to finish its investigation into whether the Red Sox engaged in similar activities during their World Series championship season in 2018. Those findings are expected before the start of spring training.
Cora, who is facing a lengthy suspension, could be further sanctioned if MLB determines he encouraged Red Sox players to use video replays to steal signs.
Manfred also fined the Astros $5 million, the maximum allowed by MLB’s constitution, and took away the team’s first two picks of the 2020 and 2021 amateur drafts. The Red Sox, who were fined in 2017 for using electronic devices to relay information on signs to the dugout, are expected to face similar penalties if found guilty.
It’s the largest cheating scandal in US professional sports since the Patriots were embroiled in what came to be known as “Spygate” from 2007–08.
Red Sox principal owner John Henry, chairman Tom Werner, and president Sam Kennedy did not respond to requests for comment. But after Houston owner Jim Crane moved swiftly to fire Luhnow and Hinch, a precedent has been set.
“We need to move forward with a clean slate,” Crane said.
Henry and Werner are scheduled to meet with reporters Friday as part of the team’s annual Winter Weekend event. Cora, who declined comment via a text message, was in Boston for organizational meetings when Manfred’s decision was announced.
If Cora is suspended, banned from baseball, or fired, bench coach Ron Roenicke is a potential replacement. He managed the Milwaukee Brewers from 2011–15. Third base coach Carlos Febles and special assistant Jason Varitek also are possibilities.
Cora, 44, has managed the Red Sox for two seasons, winning the World Series as a first-time manager in 2018. The charismatic former infielder was interviewed by several teams for managerial openings after the 2017 season before being hired by the Red Sox.
The ’18 Red Sox were 108-54, winning the American League East by eight games before taking 11 of 14 postseason games.
Cora, a former Sox player, infused a young team with a sense of confidence that bordered on invulnerability. As the season progressed, Cora became a celebrity in his native Puerto Rico and helped raise funds for victims of Hurricane Maria.
Cora’s work with the World Series champion Astros in 2017 was part of what made him attractive to the Red Sox, particularly his ability to connect with players.
Not known at the time was that Cora had arranged for a video monitor immediately outside the dugout at Minute Maid Park so players could decode the signs given by the opposing catcher to the pitcher.
When it was determined what pitch had been called, Astros hitters were signaled by a teammate thumping a nearby garbage can whether to expect a fastball or an offspeed pitch.
One or two bangs indicated a changeup or breaking pitch. No banging meant a fastball was coming. The Astros also tried clapping, whistling, or yelling to signal their hitters before settling on the banging.
MLB had specifically instructed teams not to use video for that purpose.
“Cora was involved in developing both the banging scheme and utilizing the replay review room to decode and transmit signs,” Manfred wrote in the report. “Cora participated in both schemes.”
Earlier in the season, Manfred said, Cora called the replay review room on a dugout phone to obtain information on signs.
“The attempt by the Astros’ replay review room staff to decode signs using the center field camera was originated and executed by lower-level baseball operations employees working in conjunction with Astros players and Cora,” the report said.
No Astros players were punished, but the report named Carlos Beltran as one seeking a better way to steal signs. Beltran, hired in November as manager of the New York Mets, is one of Cora’s closest friends.
It has long been permissible to steal signs with the naked eye, a practice that goes back well over 100 years. It’s the use of technology that breaks baseball’s rules.
What edge is gained is debatable. The 2017 Astros scored 106 more runs on the road than they did at home. Some hitters prefer to trust their abilities rather than know what pitch is coming.
For Manfred, the integrity of the game is at stake. MLB investigators interviewed 68 witnesses, 23 of them current or former Astros players. Tens of thousands of text messages, e-mails, video clips, and photographs were reviewed.
Manfred used the report to harshly criticize Houston’s baseball operations department for its treatment of employees, other teams, and the media.
The Astros, Manfred wrote, “valued and rewarded results over other considerations, combined with a staff of individuals who often lacked direction or sufficient oversight.”