This one will sting in Boston for a bit.
The Red Sox and manager Alex Cora parted ways Tuesday evening in the wake of a sign-stealing investigation by Major League Baseball that has resulted in two suspensions, two firings, and one mutual agreement to part ways.
Commissioner Rob Manfred suspended Houston general manager Jeff Luhnow and manager A.J. Hinch on Monday. When Astros owner Jim Crane then fired Luhnow and Hinch, it all but sealed the fate of Cora, who was linked to the Astros’ sign-stealing scandal in 2017. Cora was the team’s bench coach.
“This is a sad day for us,” Red Sox principal owner John Henry, chairman Tom Werner, and president Sam Kennedy said in a joint statement Tuesday. “Alex is a special person and a beloved member of the Red Sox. We are grateful for his impact on our franchise.”
Cora’s impact will be missed most in the clubhouse.
Cora had a way of connecting with the younger players. He portrayed vibrant energy. He was bilingual and smart. He instilled a level of confidence in his players that played out on the field. Cora never questioned himself, but considering the impact he had the past two seasons on the Red Sox, he probably will question his role in this scandal and if it was worth it. In the long run, he left a lot behind.
Cora was instrumental in the development of shortstop Xander Bogaerts. Bogaerts was a slap hitter at the beginning of the 2018 season, but Cora urged him to do more. Cora knew that to be considered one of the best shortstops in the league, Bogaerts had to display the power of a Francisco Lindor or Carlos Correa.
Bogaerts hit a career-high 23 homers in 2018. He followed with 33 in 2019, finishing fifth in American League MVP voting.
“Coming into the season I tried to improve on what I did [in 2018],” Bogaerts said during the team’s final road trip of the season. “Last year, everything was coming together.”
Said Cora: “For him to buy into the concept of driving the ball, it’s been great. I still believe he’s going to be better because he’s going to understand when to attack. He will do that with time.”
Time Cora won’t be a part of.
At the beginning of the 2018 season, Cora told Mookie Betts he could dominate the game even more. Betts bought in and became an MVP. Betts has a tendency to underestimate his own talent. Just ask teammate David Price.
“He’s still Mookie Betts,” Price said last season. “Everybody in here knows how special Mookie Betts is. At times he can get down on himself, but he’s still Mookie Betts.”
Then, when Betts was hitting .272 at the All-Star break, Cora reminded everyone of the other ways he was impacting the game.
“If you look, he’s leading the league in runs scored,” Cora said. “I had a conversation with Carlos Beltran two years ago. There were some guys in Houston talking OPS and all that stuff. Yeah, it’s where we’re at. I said, ‘What was your goal every season?’ And Carlos said, ‘To score 100 runs.’ To score 100 runs you have to get on base. You have to drive the ball. You have to do everything right for that to happen.”
Betts finished the season leading the league in runs (135) and hit .314 in the second half.
Cora called catcher Christian Vazquez a little brother and helped spark him to a career season. When Vazquez pressed in early September to hit 20 homers and entered a slight slump, Cora and Carlos Delgado chatted with the catcher over lunch while the team was in Toronto to play the Blue Jays.
“We were talking about trying to reach milestones and all that,” Cora said. “Carlos talked to him and said, ‘Dude, the less you try, the better it’s going to be.’ Hit the ball the other way like you do it. Don’t put pressure on yourself.”
“That’s a big name in Puerto Rico, Carlos Delgado,” Vazquez said. “He’s an idol. I wanted to hear what he had to say.”
Vazquez would hit his 20th and 21st homers against the Philadelphia Phillies the following series.
Cora knew what buttons to push at the right time. He knew what he could get out of each player. He never settled on what he thought his players could do. Sure, Bogaerts was great offensively, but there was something else lacking in his game.
“I think the next step for Xander is to become a better defensive player,” Cora said. “For how surehanded he is, I think his first step can be better. He’s that good of an athlete, and that’s the next challenge.”
Cora will have to watch from afar to see if that next step comes to fruition.