SPRINGFIELD — Hall of Famers Wade Boggs, Dennis Eckersley, Carlton Fisk, Pedro Martinez, and Jim Rice were at the Red Sox fan festival on Saturday as were Dwight Evans, Fred Lynn, David Ortiz, and Luis Tiant.
Xander Bogaerts, Rafael Devers, and J.D. Martinez represented the current generation.
But the individual who seemed to be on everybody’s mind was a utility infielder who hit .252 for the Sox.
Alex Cora lost his job as manager on Tuesday after being identified as a major player in the cheating scandal that has ensnared the sport and won’t be letting go of it any time soon.
Cora clearly crossed a line by arranging for a camera feed to make it easier to steal signs from opposing catchers while he was bench coach of the Houston Astros in 2017.
But he’s also a person many in the Red Sox organization, particularly the players, came to trust without reservation. Now, with spring training starting in less than four weeks, he’s gone.
“He’s like a father figure to me,” Devers said. “I’m really sad that he’s not with us.”
It’s only going to get worse. Major League Baseball is waiting to finish its investigation into the 2018 Red Sox before issuing punishment for Cora. It’s expected to be a long suspension that will ban him from every major league, minor league and spring training facility.
Outside of text messages and phone calls, Cora will soon be a ghost.
“He loves baseball, man. That’s the tough part for him,” catcher Christian Vazquez said. “He loves baseball, he likes to be around the players and talk to everybody.”
For Vazquez, that part will be toughest to take. He was looking forward to bringing his infant son, Diego, to spring training and getting some photos taken with Cora.
They’d have been family photos, really. That’s how close they are after what was a rocky start.
Cora was tough on Vazquez in 2018, giving more playing time to Sandy Leon for much of the season. He didn’t feel Vazquez was putting in enough effort.
Vazquez came back the following season in better condition and had the best season of his career. He’s now among the top players at his position in the game.
“Alex helped me those two years he was here. More in the mind-set, being prepared every day to play,” Vazquez said. “He knew what I could do. He saw me growing in Puerto Rico in winter ball.”
For Vazquez, the scandal hits home in the most literal sense.
Cora’s involvement is unsettling for people in Puerto Rico who viewed him as a hero for his charitable work after Hurricane Maria stuck in 2017.
A second Puerto Rican manager, Carlos Beltran of the Mets, also lost his job because of the scandal.
“It’s tough for our island,” said Vazquez, who pointed out Puerto Rico also is dealing with the effects of a recent earthquake. “It’s tough to hear what happened.”
As a catcher, Vazquez understands both sides of the issue. His first duty is to the pitcher and that job becomes exponentially harder if the other team is stealing and decoding his signs.
“It’s a tough question. The game is so hard to play right now,” he said. “You need to be careful on everything.”
Cora and the sign-stealing Astros beat the Sox in the 2017 Division Series. Vazquez said he couldn’t recall any specific instance of something unusual going on. But knowing what he does now — especially how hard Chris Sale was hit in Game 1 with Leon catching — it bothers him.
“A little bit,” Vazquez said. “I hate losing.”
When Martinez met with reporters, 19 of the 22 questions he took involved the scandal and the ramifications.
“One of my favorite, if not my favorite manager,” he said of Cora. “It’s going to be tough. . . . He did a really job of just relating to players and being in tune with what we want.”
Nathan Eovaldi also said Cora was one of the best managers he’s ever had. So did Matt Barnes, Jackie Bradley Jr., and most of the other players. The Sox hired Cora to build a bridge to the clubhouse and he did that.
What they didn’t know was that he had already committed enough unpardonable sins that would tear it down.