The Boston Red Sox Rehire World Series-Winning, Yet Scandal-Plagued Manager

Will Talbot, Scarlet Staff

Alex Cora is coming back to Boston! Yes, he is the manager who brought the Red Sox their most recent World Series title in 2018. On the other hand, he is also the manager who was fired in January for his role in the 2017 World Series-winning Houston Astros’ infamous sign-stealing scandal this January, for whom he was a bench coach (he was also implicated in a similar, but slightly less serious scandal, for Boston in 2018). What should we think of this move?

Well, first off, it is not a surprise that the Red Sox fired their manager for the 2020 season. Ron Roneike was named interim manager in February and was confirmed as the new manager in April. Roneike had a tough task ahead of him before the shortened season began in late July. Both star outfielder Mookie Betts (who won the regular season AL MVP during the Red Sox’s World Series-winning 2018 campaign) and starting pitcher David Price, were traded to the Dodgers for three young prospects; the Dodgers, including Betts and Price, won the World Series this year. The Red Sox also had to play the 60-game season without starting pitchers Chris Sale, Tommy John, and Eduardo Rodriguez (who missed the season due to complications from COVID-19). Starting outfielder Andrew Benintendi also had an injury-ridden season as well. 

Still, the team had some solid players from their title winning team still playing, including 3rd baseman Rafeal Devers, shortstop Xander Boegarts, center fielder Jackie Bradley Jr., first baseman JD Martinez, and (for much of the season) starting pitcher Nathan Eovaldi. Newcomer (from the Dodgers trade) Alex Verdugo also made contributions, but the Red Sox still disappointed with a 24-36 record. This was their second straight season missing the playoffs and their first losing season since 2015. Their pitchers also posted the highest team ERA for a Red Sox season ever.

Cora was reportedly not considering returning to the Red Sox (or any other team) as manager, until after next season, as of this past summer. But when Roenicke was fired on September 27th, Cora began to change his stance by expressing interest in returning to the Red Sox. On October 30th, three days after his season-long suspension for his involvement in the Astros scandal ended, Chief Baseball Officer Chaim Bloom and General Manager Brian O’Halloran travelled to Puerto Rico, where Cora lives, and interviewed the former Red Sox manager. Cora was picked out of a field of nine interviewed candidates and was officially hired on November 6th.

The Red Sox leadership expressed confidence in their decision.

Chief Baseball Officer Bloom stated this at Cora’s introductory press conference: “Alex needs no introduction here, We all know him as a brilliant baseball mind who can lead, and who can inspire, as well as anyone in the game. He’s shown he can get the best out of players and we’re looking forward to a really bright future with him at the helm.”

President and CEO Sam Kennedy stated: “I think you saw today how remorseful he is about what happened and how appreciative he is of the opportunity to come back. I am personally a big believer in second chances and I’m very excited Alex is going to have a second chance with us.”

Cora also issued his own statement on his return, previous suspension, as well as the scandal he was ultimately caught in: “I disappointed a lot of people. We’ll be talking about this in a month, four months, in years to come. I’ve got to deal with it. But as a manager, it feels close to it. “A lot of people were saying, ‘OK, you spent time with your family — that’s good,’” Cora said. “It was great for them. It was great for me. But I was there for the wrong reasons. I’m not proud of that…I want to make sure everybody knows this situation is part of who I am for the rest of my career. As a man, I have to deal with it. I don’t want people to make it seem like it’s a great comeback story. I don’t want that…As a leader, as a person who enjoys the game and loves to manage, I put this organization in a tough spot. For that, I’m sorry….To baseball, the baseball fans, I’m here. I was humbled by this whole situation.” 

The scandals that Cora was involved in include: electronic sign stealing, a process by which electronic video recording equipment is used to record catchers’ signals of what pitches are coming. Following this, players in the dugout signal the batters of which pitch is coming. It is important to note that anual sign stealing by base runners is not against the MLB’s rules. The 2017 Astros infamously banged trash cans to inform the batters of the catchers’ signs once they were related to them through the electronic equipment.

Cora, who was a coach on the very benches from which the trash cans were banged, states both that he was not a mastermind of the Astros scandal. He alleges that he decided against bringing the scandal to Boston when he became manager in 2018. However, an MLB investigation concluded that there were sign stealing infractions (albeit less serious than the Astros 2017 activity), during the Red Sox’s 2018 regular season. Cora was suspended by the MLB specifically because of the 2017 Astros scandal, not because of the Red Sox’s 2018 misconduct. 

JT Watkins, the former Red Sox replay operator who was suspended for the entire 2020 season for his role in the 2018 misconduct, is also returning to the team. Like Cora, he has denied any wrongdoing during 2018. He is returning to the team as part of the pro scouting staff, as he has been prohibited from being in the replay room for the 2021 season as well.

I asked one of my fellow Clark students, Joseph Sziabowski ‘22, about what he thought about the rehiring. He said: “I have mixed feelings about the rehiring. That said, when it comes down to it, professional sports are about results and many others have received second chances for doing far worse outside of their respective sports.”

What do you think? Should involvement in electronic sign stealing scandals be a career-ending action by the personnel who perpetuate them? Or are the Red Sox free from blame in bringing back a winning coach after he rightfully served his punishment?   

No matter what, Cora will face questions both on and off the field in his first year back as Red Sox manager.