Is it really doing the right thing when you don’t have a choice?
The Red Sox want everyone to believe that ownership, upper management, and Alex Cora all did the right thing out of the goodness of their hearts in unanimously agreeing to end Cora’s stint as manager in the wake of him being identified by Major League Baseball as a central figure in the trash-can-banging, center-field-camera-commandeering, sign-stealing shenanigans of the Houston Astros in 2017.
No one deserves a pat on the back or an attaboy. There was no way Cora could return as Sox manager after being singled out as the bad news bench coach in the commissioner’s report on the cheatin’ Astros that led to the season-long suspensions and subsequent firings of his former bosses, manager A.J. Hinch and general manager Jeff Luhnow.
That reality was compounded by the Sox facing allegations of sign stealing on Cora’s watch during the 2018 World Series-winning season. Those allegations of illicit use of the replay review equipment mirror one of the sign-stealing measures MLB uncovered Cora supervising in Houston.
He was a dead manager walking. Boston was backed into a corner with Cora with no way out and no way to keep a scofflaw as their manager. The decision was made for them.
The Sox parting gift to Cora on Wednesday at Fenway Park was a serious reputation polishing on the way out the door. Principal owner John Henry (you know what else he owns), team chairman Tom Werner, and president and CEO Sam Kennedy all took great pains to paint Cora as a managerial martyr, a selfless leader who fell on his sword and sacrificed himself for the good of the Red Sox. Please.
We all like the charismatic Cora, but he brought dishonor to the Sox. He did damage to the ’18 World Series team’s reputation and possibly the organization’s future, pending MLB’s discipline. He has left the Sox in the unenviable position of conducting a managerial search less than a month before pitchers and catchers report to Fort Myers, Fla. He’s not a hero.
“We met with Alex yesterday, and everyone went into that meeting trying to answer the question of what was in the best interest of the Boston Red Sox?” said Werner. “Alex was professional, understanding that he had made a mistake. So after a couple of conversations we all mutually agreed that we needed to part ways. But . . . it was a sad day because we all have such respect for Alex. He admitted that what he did was wrong, but that doesn’t mitigate in our opinion the extraordinary talent that he has. We continue to be very fond of Alex.”
Kennedy called Cora an “extreme talent.” Henry added, “He was a tremendous manager for us on all levels. We’re going to miss him.”
Cora was well-liked. His charitable efforts in his native Puerto Rico were heroic. You don’t have to bury the guy, but we shouldn’t be building statues of him on Yawkey Way, either.
He blatantly and brazenly violated rules on electronically aided sign stealing, ignoring MLB directives. He also ignored the safeguards the Sox had put in place, according to Henry, following the smart watch sign-stealing caper in 2017 under Cora’s predecessor, John Farrell, that resulted in an undisclosed fine by MLB. That’s arrogant, selfish, and reckless. Cora left a major mess for Chaim Bloom and baseball operations to clean up. No matter his win-loss record, he failed this franchise resoundingly.
Henry was dead on when he commented in February 2018 that his biggest concern about hiring Cora was that he thought he might be overconfident.
Less than two years after that comment, Cora is gone. In front of a phalanx of cameras and the watchful eyes of Red Sox Nation, Henry, Werner, Kennedy, and Bloom addressed the decision, taking great pains to emphasize Cora wasn’t fired.
“Alex came to the conclusion that he could not effectively lead the organization going forward in light of the commissioner’s findings and the ruling. We came to that conclusion, as well,” said Kennedy.
No one ever gets fired at Fenway, not officially, not even for impermissible sign stealing. Jeez. The Sox “mutually agreed to part ways” with Cora Tuesday night, just before 7:30. When the Sox dumped president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski in September, the release announcing his removal said the club had “parted ways” with him.
Fired is a four-letter word on Jersey Street.
There were a lot of words, plaudits, and platitudes, but little else offered up by Sox leadership. There was nothing revelatory. It was approximately 45 minutes of reflection and deflection without a lot of precise details on what went wrong or the course correction for the franchise moving forward.
It was the Red Sox brass’s rhetoric root canal. They knew they had to submit themselves to the required procedure, but they just wanted it to end as quickly and painlessly as possible.
The Sox principals were cordial. But anything that could remotely be parried away or dismissed with a reference to MLB’s ongoing investigation of Red Sox’ wrongdoing under Cora was.
“We are here to answer your questions, but it would be inappropriate for any of us to comment on the ruling against another club,” said Henry in his opening statement. “Regarding the ongoing investigation here in Boston, MLB is doing a thorough investigation, as thorough as the Houston investigation, and we believe that all pertinent facts will be ascertained. We would ask that everyone reserve judgment until MLB completes its investigation, and determines whether rules were violated.”
Kennedy took pains to say the decision to consciously uncouple from Cora was “related exclusively to the incidents that took place in Houston.” Nothing to see here in the Hub.
The Red Sox are one of the few franchises in sports that believes it can walk through the rain and never get wet. They repeatedly asked for folks to reserve judgment on the Sox’ sign-stealing accusations, especially regarding the 2018 World Series title team. Kennedy said, “Absolutely, yes,” when asked if the Sox won that series over the Los Angeles Dodgers fair and square.
This was the Sox Appeal edition of “The Wells Report in Context.” In the court of public opinion that 2018 title is hereby tainted until further notice and unless MLB provides them complete exoneration. Sorry.
If the Sox are found guilty by MLB, perhaps they’ll go easy on them as a reward for cutting Cora loose. But if their punishment is anything like the $5 million fine and loss of first- and second-round picks in 2020 and 2021 that MLB dealt the Astros, it will exacerbate the upheaval and uncertainty facing the potentially payroll-resetting Sox.
When the Sox have pitchers and catchers report for spring training on Feb. 11, the team could be unrecognizable from the one that won the World Series 15½ months earlier, stripped of its GM (Dombrowski), manager (Cora), and its MVP winner (Mookie Betts).
Bloom stated his expectation is that Betts will be part of the team on Opening Day. “That’s really been my expectation all along,” he said.
In an offseason of inactivity and incertitude, Bloom’s marquee move will be hiring a new manager. Fantastic. He’s complete collateral damage of Cora’s transgressions.
The Sox are going to have to do the right thing consistently moving forward to rectify the mess that Cora has left.
Christopher L. Gasper can be reached at email@example.com.