Red Sox

As Red Sox manager, Cora must keep conviction, honesty that got him job

As Red Sox manager, Cora must keep conviction, honesty that got him job

BOSTON -- Just as a batter can subconsciously play to avoid losing, rather than to win, a manager can operate with a fear of failure. Such an unwitting approach may have contributed to John Farrell’s downfall, and is an area where Alex Cora can set himself apart.

A lot has been written about the value of authenticity in leadership. It’s one thing to have the charisma and conviction needed to land a position of power. It’s another to take over a pressure-cooker job, like manager of the Red Sox, and carry the fortitude to stay true to yourself, continue to let those qualities shine.

Cora did not appear to pull any punches in his days with ESPN. The 42-year-old engaged in Twitter debates with media members and fans. And throughout his baseball life, he showed his colors.

Via Newsday’s Dave Lennon, here’s a scene from 2010 when Cora was with the Mets: 

Last year, Cora spoke out against the league office's rule requiring minorities always be interviewed.

Perhaps most interesting of all, when Chris Sale cut up White Sox jerseys, Cora was Dennis Eckersley-like in his assessment:

“What he did is not acceptable,” Cora said of Sale. “If I’m a veteran guy, I’m going to take exception. if I’m a young guy, I’m going to take exception. Because as a young guy on a team that is actually struggling right now, somebody has to show me the ropes of how to act as a big leaguer. And this is not the way you act as a big leaguer. Forget the trades, forget who you are.

“What you do in that clubhouse, you got to act like a professional. And that’s one thing my agent, Scott Boras, used to tell me when I got to the big leagues: act like a professional. Chris Sale didn’t do it. He’s not showing the veterans that you respect the game. He’s not showing the rookies how to be a big leaguer, and that’s what I take exception to.”

Take out Chris Sale’s name from the above quotation and insert David Price’s. Describes Price's incident with Eckersley perfectly, doesn't it? 

Now, no manager can say what they’re really thinking all the time. Cora’s not in the media anymore. His new job description is different. 

But when you consider the great success of Terry Francona -- and why he succeeded in this market beyond simply winning -- what stands out is how comfortable Francona appears in his own skin. How genuine he seems. 

There is a way to acknowledge, as a manager, when something is off. A way to do so gently but genuinely. A way to say what you feel -- and a way to say what you feel must be said -- while operating without fear of the players you manage. 

Ultimately, most every comment Francona makes is intended to shield his players. But Francona shows his personality as he goes (or if you want to be a bit cynical, he sells his personality marvelously). Those little self-deprecating jokes -- he charms the hell out of everyone. The media, the fans. The Cult of Tito has a real following, because he feels real. Because he is real. 

Farrell was not fake. But he did have a hard time letting his personality come across consistently, to his detriment. He was reserved, in part because that just appeared to be his nature. But the job must have, with time, forced him to withdraw even further. As everything Farrell said (and did) was picked apart in the market, it likely became easiest just to play it safe in every facet -- speaking to the media, speaking to players.

The Sox’ biggest undertaking in 2017 seemed to be a nothing-to-see-here campaign. It was all fine. No David Ortiz, no home runs, no problem. Manny Machado was loved. The media was the problem, not any attitude or attitudes inside the clubhouse. Base running was a net positive -- you name it, none of it was ever tabbed as a problem publicly by the manager, or anyone else.

A perpetually defensive stance was the public image. Issues were never addressed or poorly defused, so questions always lingered.

Maybe Cora cannot admonish Sale as he did a year ago now that he’s managing Sale. Not publicly, anyway. But even as a quote-unquote player's manager, the job still requires authority, which should be doled out just as it was earned: through authentic comments and actions.

"My job as the manager is to set the culture, the expectations, the standards, the baseball," Cora’s present boss, Astros manager A.J. Hinch, said the night the Astros clinched the pennant. "It's the players' job to develop the chemistry.

“And obviously good teams always say that, we want chemistry, and what comes first, the chemistry or the winning. But when you have it, you want to hold on to it as much as possible . . . We've got a good thing going because we have one common goal, we have one common standard, and that's to be your best every day."

Cora has to remain true to his best, too -- not what he thinks, and hears, and reads, people want his best to be.

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How a quick-thinking Dustin Pedroia made sure Michael Chavis wouldn't lose out on memento of a lifetime

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How a quick-thinking Dustin Pedroia made sure Michael Chavis wouldn't lose out on memento of a lifetime

BOSTON - As Michael Chavis approached a small group of cameras awaiting his thoughts on the first home run of his career, a reporter accidentally stepped in his way.

Chavis sidestepped, spun, and tossed a Kobe-esque finger roll at an imaginary rim. We can only assume it swished.

On an otherwise lost night for the Red Sox, who swept in a doubleheader at the hands of the Tigers, Chavis provided one of the few highlights -- a mammoth 441-foot home run over everything in left field that allowed him to fulfill a childhood dream and circle the bases as a big leaguer.

"I felt like I was floating, honestly," Chavis said after a 4-2 defeat in the nightcap. "Just kind of tried not to sprint. I've seen a couple of other guys hitting their first home runs and they sprint because they're so excited. I kind of tried to act like I had hit a home run before and stayed calm in that kind of moment. It was special for sure."

Even more special was the way he retrieved the ball. Whoever corralled it on Lansdowne Street -- a father and son leaving the park, per NESN's Guerin Austin -- gladly turned it over when injured Red Sox second baseman Dustin Pedroia signed a ball and offered it in exchange.

"I need to thank Dustin," Chavis said. "Apparently, he signed a ball so whoever found it would give me the ball and they were very gracious so if they see this, thank you very much. I really appreciate it. It's not going to happen again, so it's really special."

Chavis had the ball in a sock to keep it from being damaged and planned to hand it over to his mom, Dorothy, who led an emotional, enthusiastic cheering section of three or four in the family seats at Fenway.

"Without a doubt," he said. "She earned that ball."

Added Chavis: "Oh, man, I'm sure she was going crazy. After the game, I gave her a big hug and it's always, just, any time she can come out to a game, it's special. Obviously, we travel a lot and she doesn't get to come out as often as she likes but her being here might have been the biggest part, honestly."

Four games into his career, Chavis owns a crucial double vs. the Rays for his first hit, and now a homer. He's floating all right, like Kobe soaring to the rim.

"I'm starting to get more comfortable, more settled in, not to downplay it at all, it was, without a doubt, a special, unbelievable moment I'll remember for the rest of my life, but that first hit was next level," Chavis said. "The moment in the game and me not really being aware, it was just wild. It was a notch below that one, but it's still a life-long memory for sure."

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Remember the Rays series that saved the Red Sox season? It was a mirage

Remember the Rays series that saved the Red Sox season? It was a mirage

BOSTON - You know what they say about momentum -- it's only good until the Tigers come to town for a doubleheader.

So much for Tampa Bay. The Red Sox swept the Rays over the weekend in a taut series that featured solid starting pitching, timely offense, and just enough relief to make the Red Sox finally feel like defending champions after three rocky weeks.

We viewed that result with appropriate restraint, however. The lethargy afflicting the Red Sox wouldn't just disappear over a weekend in St. Pete. Come back to Fenway and keep it rolling. Then we could talk.

One doubleheader sweep later, we mourn the loss of their momentum, which slightly outlived the common housefly.

Serious question: Can someone explain what the hell's going on? The Red Sox returned the core of the greatest team in franchise history, virtually everyone's in their prime and healthy, and yet they're still somehow on pace to follow last year's 108-win machine with a 61-win shipwreck.

No one expects them to finish that poorly, of course, but 15 percent of the season is over and the Red Sox have dug themselves a nice little hole.

They visited Tampa last week trailing in the AL East by eight games, left on Sunday trailing by five with renewed life, and two days later find themselves seven back again. That's called two steps forward, one step into traffic.

"It's disappointing," manager Alex Cora admitted. "Obviously you don't want to lose two."

Problems abound. Ace Chris Sale may have struck out 10 in the opener Tuesday, but still struggled to put people away. The Tigers fouled off a staggering 26 pitches, extending at-bats and limiting Sale to five innings as the Red Sox dropped to 0-5 when he starts.

He didn't take the loss because the bullpen took that responsibility off his hands with four horrible innings of five-run ball, the pivotal blow a go-ahead homer off of right-hander Heath Hembree.

The nightcap told a different story, this one featuring offensive futility. The Red Sox went 1-for-12 with runners in scoring position, and 3-4 hitters Mitch Moreland and J.D. Martinez combined to leave 12 runners on base by themselves (Martinez hit into a double play for good measure).

Rookie Michael Chavis at least provided some life in the eighth with the first home run of his career, a 441-foot shot over everything in left, but rookie reliever Travis Lakins gave it right back in the bottom of the frame and the Red Sox went quietly in the ninth.

Such diversity of despair has been the story of their season. As many different ways as the Red Sox won last season, that's how varied their modes of defeat are now. Each night brings a new spin on the wheel of misfortune.

The postgame clubhouse offered a truly jarring juxtaposition, with veterans who perhaps already feel their season slipping away quietly packing up and getting the bleep out while rookies Chavis, Lakins, and Darwinzon Hernandez held press conferences in varying degrees of exuberance -- Chavis over his first homer, and the other two celebrating their major-league debuts.

Maybe an infusion of youthful enthusiasm is exactly what the team needs. The Red Sox clubhouse is an understandably grim place right now. Shortstop Xander Bogaerts, one of the only all-around standouts at the moment, admitted between games that the team would need to play the nightcap with urgency.

The Red Sox played hard, but it didn't matter. That's what happens when you think you have momentum, at least until the Tigers show up for two.

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