Red Sox

Alex Cora's stunning fall a tale of a good man who couldn't see that he had pushed it too far

Alex Cora's stunning fall a tale of a good man who couldn't see that he had pushed it too far

Alex Cora conducted press conferences before and after every game he managed, and in Fenway Park, it was impossible to miss his entrance.

Cora appeared from the weight room through a door that stuck like July thighs. As the season progressed, budging it required increasingly aggressive force. But Cora is not easily denied, so he inevitably blasted it open while somehow managing not to stumble into the frame like Kramer.

A carpenter with a wood plane could've solved the problem in minutes, but Cora seemed to enjoy the challenge. He'd enter with a shake of his head and a look that said, "Vanquished again, door," before taking his seat in true alpha fashion by stepping over the chair rather than pulling it out demurely.

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The idea of Cora solving problems by lowering his shoulder might not be the first image that springs to mind in the wake of a cheating scandal involving videotape, codebreaking, and spycraft, but it feels apt as we digest the shocking news that he's out as Red Sox manager after only two seasons.

Both sides agreed to a mutual parting of the ways on Tuesday that brings his tenure to a stunning conclusion. Hired as a wunderkind who had studied at the altar of the game's most progressive franchise, Cora brought more than a knowledge of analytics from Houston, we now know.

He learned not to let regulations limit his ability to seek whatever edge he could manage. And while he may not have instructed Red Sox players to bang on any trash cans, his solution for stealing opposing signs was still about as subtle as a Fast and Furious sequel -- use the replay room in real time, brute-force the code, relay it to a runner on second base, damn the consequences.

Considering the warning MLB had given each team in the wake of the Red Sox being caught using an Apple Watch in 2017, Cora's flouting of the rules qualified as brazen, if not breathtaking. The Red Sox and Astros clearly calculated that violations involving this minor espionage would continue receiving slaps on the wrist. They never saw the sledgehammer swinging until it went splat.

And so Cora lowered his shoulder to see what kind of doors he could force open. We'll never know exactly what impact the scheme had on the 2018 title, because that team was a killing machine, but that's hardly the point. Not needing an edge doesn't negate the fact that you tried to take one anyway, a point that's continually lost on our friends in Foxboro.

Cora has now learned this painful lesson, possibly at the expense of his career. It's truly a shame, because he signified so much that's good about the game, from his enthusiasm for the job, to his willingness to be an ambassador both at home and abroad, to his outstanding tactical and communication skills. The Red Sox don't win it all without him, and who knows if young stars Xander Bogaerts, Rafael Devers, and Christian Vazquez blossom, either.

Cora should've had a long career here and as recently as the winter meetings last month, he was still focused on atoning for the disappointment of 2019. It's fair to say the events of the last 48 hours have blindsided him as much as anyone, even if they are entirely self-made.

Where this leaves his legacy is in tatters. If he never works again, he'll be the man who brought Boston a title before succumbing to his own hubris. If he does manage again, he's certainly capable of redemption, but for now, that decision is out of his hands.

When confronted with on-field challenges in his Red Sox tenure, Cora liked to say, "We'll be fine," with a cocky shrug, so great was his confidence that the team would find its way to the other side. And in 2018, anyway, he was consistently right.

But it turns out there are some problems you simply can't will away, no matter how much you throw your weight into them.

Judge tosses suit against MLB for sign-stealing scheme, but rips Red Sox and Astros

Judge tosses suit against MLB for sign-stealing scheme, but rips Red Sox and Astros

The lawsuit against Major League Baseball filed by daily fantasy game players, who claimed to be defrauded by the Boston Red Sox and Houston Astros sign-stealing scandal, has been dismissed, but not without harsh criticism of the teams by a federal judge.

U.S. District Judge Jed Rakoff in his ruling blasted the Red Sox and Astros for "shamelessly" breaking both baseball's rules and "the hearts of all true baseball fans."

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In throwing out the suit brought by five daily fantasy players, Rakoff invoked the New England Patriots "Spygate" scandal from 2007, agreeing with MLB lawyers' contention that rulings in similar suits brought by fans against the NFL after the Patriots were caught illegally taping opponents' defensive signals had set a legal precedent for this suit to be dismissed. 

While the suit charged that the Red Sox and Astros had engaged in consumer fraud that created "corrupt" and "dishonest" fantasy contest for companies such as Draft Kings, Rakoff agreed with previous decisions in the NFL cases that ruled fans should know teams will look for any advantage - even "foul deeds" - to try and win.

From Rakoff's ruling: 

[D]id the initial efforts of those teams, and supposedly of Major League Baseball itself, to conceal these foul deeds from the simple sports bettors who wagered on fantasy baseball create a cognizable legal claim? On the allegations here made, the answer is no.

The Astros' sign-stealing scheme led MLB to fine the team $5 million and the one-year suspensions and subsequent firings of manager A.J. Hinch and general manager Jeff Luhnow. The Red Sox then parted ways with manager Alex Cora, who, according to MLB's findings, was the mastermind of the scheme as Houston's bench coach in 2017. 

That team won the World Series, as did the 2018 Red Sox, who are accused of using a similar system to steal signs under Cora.

MLB has yet to release a report on the Red Sox allegations. Commissioner Rob Manfred said it has been delayed by the coronavirus pandemic but will be released before MLB begins its 2020 season. In comments last month in court an MLB lawyer seem to imply the Red Sox are aware of Manfred's findings and that they disagree with them.



Say hello to Arizona Red Sox? How MLB's Cactus League could save 2020 season

Say hello to Arizona Red Sox? How MLB's Cactus League could save 2020 season

Nothing says Red Sox home game like iguanas, scorpions, and cacti, but these are desperate times.

Barring millions of instant tests or a miracle cure, COVID-19 will just be a fact of our pent-up, penned-in lives for the foreseeable future.

This makes embarking on the baseball season problematic, since one infection would theoretically sideline an entire team for two weeks, and good luck staying virus-free while flying all over the country. Visiting hot spots would not only increase a player's risk of illness, it would also up the odds of one becoming a vector himself, which is bad for the brand, not to mention public health.

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But what if baseball could maintain some control over its players' whereabouts while limiting travel to a fleet of buses? Could a season happen under these tightly managed circumstances? And if so, where?

It may be a long shot, but the more one considers the alternatives, the more it sounds like the best hope we've got is for MLB to hold its entire season in Arizona.

The logistics are nightmarish regardless, but in a situation this unprecedented, the fewer variables the better. And MLB won't find a higher concentration of acceptable facilities than in the 48th state.

The Cactus League features 10 ballparks that host 15 teams in two months of spring training. Unlike the far-flung Grapefruit League, with teams scattered across Florida's east and west coasts, the Arizona sites are compact.

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Parks stretch from Mesa in the southeast to Surprise in the northwest, a drive of only 45 minutes. Everything else lies in between, a constellation of moons tightly orbiting Phoenix.

Decamping to the desert for the duration would eliminate air travel and give the league a chance to closely monitor its players. The challenge is Herculean: hosting roughly 800 players, plus at least that many coaches, staff, families, umpires, and broadcasters without anyone contracting the world's most contagious virus, against which we possess zero natural immunity.

Players would need to be quarantined in league-controlled hotels, tested constantly, and shuttled to and from the park. For such a plan to work, they'd have to sacrifice their most basic freedoms of movement, because a single failed test would grind the season to a halt while at least one team spends two weeks in isolation, potentially triggering a cascade of shutdowns, too (the mere possibility of which prompted the NBA to suspend its season, after all).

Convincing the union to sign off on such draconian restrictions won't be easy, but the alternative may very well be no baseball.

The games would be made-for-TV events without fans. If each ballpark hosted one or two games a day, a regular schedule could be played.

The challenges would be enormous. Do three teams share one clubhouse? Could ballpark and hotel staff be expected to live in isolation as well to avoid infection? How long could players live like prisoners? Will testing capacity ramp up enough to accommodate an entire league? Are the results even reliable? And how would teams keep their facilities germ-free if they're in use all day?

Politics matter, too. Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey only belatedly ordered a stay-at-home order on Monday, and it has drawn criticism from the state's mayors as one of America's weakest, with exceptions for "essential" services like golf courses, nail salons, and hotels. If Arizona experiences an outbreak, then this little thought experiment dies on the vine. The same goes for extending the order past its current April 30 expiration and into the summer.

But we're here to ponder best-case scenarios, not fill your heads with more unrelenting negativity. And though the task would be monumental, if there's to be a baseball season, our best bet might be to play it in the desert.