RED SOX INSIDER

Tomase: Why Red Sox should take new MLB crackdown very seriously

RED SOX INSIDER

Most Red Sox players weren't even born when Nancy Reagan made the saying famous, but if they value their manager and want to keep him employed, they should heed the former First Lady's words.

Just say no.

Major League Baseball announced a crackdown on pitchers doctoring baseballs Tuesday, with punishments starting at 10-game suspensions with pay. The use of sticky substances has crossed a line from simply aiding grip to wildly increasing spin rate, thus depressing offense to its lowest levels in decades.

There's no reason to think Red Sox pitchers are more or less likely than anyone else to abuse the current system, because baseball's problems are considered widespread. But their situation remains unique because of their manager, and they'd best be hyper-vigilant if they want to ensure he remains in the dugout.

Tomase: Red Sox' rotation woes extend beyond sticky substances

The impact Alex Cora has had on the 2021 season cannot be overstated. The Red Sox aren't a wildly talented team -- most GMs would probably trade their roster for that of the Yankees or Blue Jays in a heartbeat -- but they're thriving with Cora operating the various levers and pulleys that separate mediocre managers from great ones.

It's an inspiring second act, considering that only a year ago Cora wondered if his career was over after MLB concluded that he illegally helped the Astros steal signs in 2017. The league very conveniently made Cora a scapegoat for the actions of an entire organization, but that didn't change his role as the architect of their trash can banging system or diminish the hit his reputation took following a year-long suspension.

 

To his credit, Cora owned it. He has remained on message from the moment the Red Sox rehired him after a lengthy process that required him to overcome the misgivings of chief baseball officer Chaim Bloom, and that message is simple: I will need to live with this mistake for the rest of my life, I take full responsibility for the shame it brought to my family, and I will move forward as a better person.

The results speak for themselves. A year after finishing with the fourth-worst record in baseball, the Red Sox own the fourth-best record in the American League. Picked by no one to make the playoffs, they'd be the first wild card if the season ended today.

The magic touch?

Cora's winning % as Red Sox manager (2018, 2019, 2021)
59.3%
Red Sox' winning % without Cora in 2020
40.0%

They wouldn't be here without Cora, but he's not a manager for life, and that's where his pitchers must do their part.

MLB is expected to start checking baseballs and dispensing punishment next week. Cora's pitchers cannot be among those snagged in the dragnet. He already has two strikes against him for Houston, as well as a minor incident during the 2018 season that cost a Red Sox staffer a year suspension, too.

Three strikes -- even if pitchers from a dozen other teams are also ensnared -- could knock him out. The Red Sox have made it clear they will follow the rules, and it's Cora's job to enforce them. Even if the use of illegal substances has traditionally been the choice of individual pitchers and not the result of an organizational edict, if it happens on Cora's watch, he's responsible. And he knows it.

There's no longer a gray area, and I suspect there wouldn't be for Red Sox ownership, either. If the Red Sox break the rules, that's on Cora, even if it was done without his knowledge. There would be immense pressure on John Henry to fire him, and the Red Sox have already declined to stand by him once in the wake of the original Astros report. They wouldn't hesitate to set him adrift again.

So let the message to Red Sox pitchers be unequivocal: If you like the manager who has led you back to contention while playing some of the most entertaining baseball we've seen in years and you'd prefer that he not be fired, DO NOT do anything to the baseball. That means no caramelized Coca Cola, no Bullfrog, no Spider Tack, no sandpaper, no Vaseline, no saliva, no nothing. Just say no to all of it.

You'll lose 10 games. Alex Cora could lose his job.