After the Houston Astros fired manager A.J. Hinch and general manager Jeff Luhnow on Monday for their part in the sign-stealing scheme that’s hobbled Major League Baseball, the focus of attention immediately turned to Alex Cora, the manager of the Boston Red Sox.
In its powerful report detailing the scope and methodology the Astros used in 2017 to gain a competitive advantage, MLB identified Cora, then Hinch’s bench coach, of being the brains behind the operation.
Along with Carlos Beltran, who was then an Astros player, Cora devised and implemented a system whereby cameras, television monitors and eventually garbage cans were used to steal signs and communicate them to hitters in violation of explicit policies prohibiting the use of technology in such an egregious way.
Faced with this evidence, the Astros obviously felt they had no choice but to fire Hinch and Luhnow after MLB imposed year-long suspensions. Astros owner Jim Crane talked about getting a new start for his organization.
That made you wonder what the Red Sox would do, especially after it became clear Cora’s punishment might be even greater than that imposed on Hinch and Luhnow.
On Tuesday, the Red Sox played their hand by announcing the team and Cora had come to a mutual agreement to part ways.
“We collectively decided that it would not be possible for Alex to effectively lead the club going forward,” the Red Sox said in a statement.
Like with the Astros, the move was as necessary as it was heart-breaking. Cora was beloved in Boston, especially after winning World Series in his first season as manager in 2018. He was instinctive and affable, popular with the players, generous with the media and clearly an asset to ownership.
But what could the Red Sox have done? To keep Cora would have meant exposing the organization to scrutiny from those wondering how it could justify having an accused cheater running its club. Keep in mind, MLB is currently investigating similar complaints about the 2018 Red Sox team.
Three unnamed sources who were with the Red Sox that season, told The Athletic some players used the video replay room to decode signs. MLB said it had interviewed at least 68 sources and looked at videos and documents implicating Cora.
MLB’s findings were clear: Cora is was “involved in developing both the banging scheme and utilizing the replay review room to decode and transmit signs. Cora participated in both schemes, and through his active participation, implicitly condoned the players’ conduct.”
In a statement released Tuesday, the Red Sox said that given the investigation’s findings, “we collectively decided that it would not be possible for Alex to effectively lead the club going forward.”
Cora accepted the decision.
“We agreed today that parting ways was the best thing for the organization,” Cora said in Tuesday’s statement. “I do not want to be a distraction to the Red Sox as they move forward. 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.”
Cora replaced John Farrell as Boston’s manager. The Red Sox were nearly unbeatable in 2018. They finished the season 108-54, led the majors with a .268 team batting average and scored 876 runs. So happy were the Red Sox, they announced they’d extended his contract through the 2021 season, with a club option for 2022.
“This is a sad day for us,” owner John Henry, chairman Tom Werner and CEO Sam Kennedy said in a shared statement. “Alex is a special person and a beloved member of the Red Sox. We are grateful for his impact on our franchise. We will miss his passion, his energy and his significant contributions to the communities of New England and Puerto Rico.”
What will the Red Sox do now? Perhaps they will turn to a former player, Jason Varitek or Brad Ausmus, to manage them. Whatever they do, they need to move forward as quickly as possible.
Meanwhile, Beltran is currently preparing for his first season as manager of the New York Mets. The team has been silent about the situation and Beltran has issued no statement about MLB’s contention he was involved. MLB punished no players for collaborating.
Still, its reasonable to conclude the Mets might come to the same decision as the Astros and Red Sox and fire Beltran to spare their club of the public relations nightmare those teams feared.
The scandal threatens MLB’s credibility with its fans. Every rock the investigation flips may reveal evidence more teams were involved in covert activity. It puts into question the competitive integrity of its games. It casts a nefarious shadow on its managers, coaches and players.
It’s hard to say whether Cora or Hinch will ever manage again. That will depend on a lot of things and likely require the passage of time.
But both needed to be fired, as does Beltran. Let their fates serve as a much-needed deterrent to future acts of espionage.
There’s really nothing else baseball can do right now.