The fall of Alex Cora, one of the most popular managers/head coaches in recent Boston sports history, was swift and stunning.
Just after noon on Monday, Cora was still manager of the Red Sox and the ball club was promoting “Winter Weekend,” where Cora was slated to participate in a “town meeting” with Red Sox owners at an exhibition hall in Springfield.
Just under 32 hours later, Cora was finished in Boston.
The avalanche was triggered Monday afternoon when baseball commissioner Rob Manfred released findings from an investigation into the Houston Astros’ 2017 cheating scandal. Cora’s name was all over the report, but Manfred said he would withhold punishment on Cora until Major League Baseball completed its investigation into a Red Sox cheating scandal from 2018.
In that moment, Cora was done. The Sox stalled for a full day, floated trial balloons, tested the waters, and came to the only reasonable conclusion. Despite owner John Henry’s love for Cora, the manager had to be dismissed. It was obvious that MLB was going to suspend Cora for a year, probably longer, and the Red Sox had to get on with their lives. This was simply not survivable for Alex Cora.
And so, at 7:25 Tuesday night we got the inevitable news dump in which Henry (who also owns the Globe), team chairman Tom Werner, CEO Sam Kennedy, and Cora announced, “We collectively decided that it would not be possible for Alex to effectively lead the club going forward and we mutually agreed to part ways.’’
Mutually agreed to part ways?
Technically, Cora may have “resigned” to avoid the stigma of being fired, but his separation from the Red Sox is hardly mutual. The beloved manager was fired because he disgraced the Sox with his role in two cheating scandals, one of which played out at Fenway and has yet to be adjudicated by MLB. Penalties from the Red Sox 2018 shenanigans are likely to tarnish that World Series championship and will almost certainly harm the club’s future. The Astros lost their top two picks in each of the next two drafts, largely because of Cora’s systemic cheating. The Sox could get the same punishments, or worse. And their reputation has taken a huge hit.
“I do not want to be a distraction to the Red Sox as they move forward,’’ Cora said in the Tuesday statement. “My two years as manager were the best years of my life. It was an honor to manage these teams and help bring a World Series championship back to Boston . . . This is a special place. There is nothing like it in all of baseball, and I will miss it dearly.’’
He’s right. The Red Sox are special. They are one of our great local institutions. They could not possibly play the 2020 season while waiting for the sword of MLB to fall on the head of their manager.
The upcoming Red Sox season is going to be a challenge. They have a new baseball boss, Chaim Bloom, imported from the Tampa Bay Rays. Henry has declared, “We need to be under the CBT [competitive balance tax],” which possibly means paring $35 million from the payroll. The Sox finished 19 games behind the stampeding Yankees last season, and Mookie Betts — Boston’s best player — is going into the final year of his contract (this week’s events are unlikely to persuade Betts to stay). Given all of these factors, the Sox could ill afford to proceed with an interim skipper while Cora served a lengthy suspension.
The first workout for Sox pitchers and catchers is Feb. 12 in Fort Myers, Fla. And the Red Sox have no leader. They are suddenly looking for the 48th manager in franchise history.
A news conference is scheduled for Wednesday at Fenway. The annual Boston Baseball Writers dinner is Thursday night at the Seaport Hotel. The Red Sox “town hall” will go on Friday night at the MassMutual Center in Springfield.
All without Alex Cora.