Alex Cora

Chris Sale has strong opinions about Alex Cora's exit, Astros' sign-stealing

Chris Sale has strong opinions about Alex Cora's exit, Astros' sign-stealing

Ron Roenicke has some big shoes to fill in Boston, apparently.

The Red Sox recently named Roenicke their manager to replace Alex Cora, who left the team in January due to his involvement with the 2017 Houston Astros' sign-stealing scandal.

According to Red Sox ace Chris Sale, Cora's departure hit the team hard, as the young manager had developed a rare level of trust with his players that paid off in a 2018 World Series title.

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"AC came in and put players in positions to succeed and took care of all of us. That's why we love and respect him so much," Sale told ESPN's Marly Rivera in a recent interview.

"That was a blow. It was a big blow and it sucked. We didn't want to see him go because of the love and respect that we had for him, and he earned that. You don't just come into a big league clubhouse and get that kind of respect. AC earned it."

Major League Baseball found that Cora played a central role in the 2017 Astros' cheating operation, and he was also the manager of the 2018 Boston team that was (lightly) punished for its own sign-stealing system.

Sale doesn't view Cora any differently after those scandals, though.

"I lost zero respect for AC," Sale said. "And look at what I did in 2017, in the (American League Division Series). ... I lost two of those three games to the Astros that were cheating, right? The very next year, AC comes over to us and we won the World Series, and I learned who he is."

In fact, Sale believes even the Astros' wrongdoings -- which had some calling for their World Series title to be revoked -- weren't that big of a deal.

"Maybe I'm different, but I believe everyone blew this thing out of proportion," Sale told Rivera.

"Let me be clear: I believe what the Astros did was wrong. That is first and foremost. But it doesn't matter. What am I going to do? Am I going to go back and change it? Am I going to go steal the Astros' rings and put a 'B' (for Boston) on them instead of an 'H'? ... There's no point in sitting around complaining about losing."

Sale has always been bluntly honest and averse to blaming others for his shortcomings, so in that context, his comments aren't that surprising.

It also sounds like the 31-year-old left-hander -- who's currently recovering from Tommy John surgery -- would welcome Cora back as Boston's manager. Whether Cora wants to return is a different story, though.

Ex-Red Sox skipper Alex Cora on managing again: 'Maybe I want to do something else'

Ex-Red Sox skipper Alex Cora on managing again: 'Maybe I want to do something else'

When Alex Cora's one-year suspension was officially announced last month, it sparked speculation about the Boston Red Sox potentially bringing him back as their manager in 2021.

It wouldn't be the biggest surprise. After all, Cora was suspended due to his involvement in the 2017 Houston Astros sign-stealing scandal, not for anything he did in 2018 with Boston.

But Cora raised a good point on Twitter Friday night in response to a user who told him his “managing days are over."

"Maybe I want to do something else," Cora replied.

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Besides his statements responding to MLB's findings in both the Astros and Red Sox investigations, Cora has kept quiet about his situation. But that tweet may indicate the 2018 World Series champion has other ideas for his future and is putting his managing days behind him -- at least for now.

Cora spent his Friday night live-tweeting his re-watch of Game 3 of the 2018 World Series, so it's clear he still has love for his former team. Though even if he is interested in returning next year, chief baseball officer Chaim Bloom has already downplayed the possibility of a reunion.

Ron Roenicke was named Cora's replacement for the 2020 campaign.

Why Red Sox should re-hire Alex Cora to be manager for 2021 season

Why Red Sox should re-hire Alex Cora to be manager for 2021 season

I knew it when I was 10 years old: I wanted to be a sportswriter.

I didn’t have the skills to play for a pro sports team nor the desire to be employed by one. Nope. I wanted to explore and interview and debate and write. In my entire career, it’s never crossed my mind to do work for a sports franchise.

Well, until now.

The only thing I’m wrestling with is whether I should bill the Red Sox for this.

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The Sox have such an easy opportunity for good PR that somebody has to say it: no matter what happens in 2020, Alex Cora should be their manager in 2021.

The 2017 decision to hire Cora, who had no managerial experience at the time, didn’t qualify as a no-brainer. But bringing him back next year does.

Why? Because Rob Manfred and Major League Baseball quietly opened a door for that possibility two weeks ago.

Don’t be too hard on yourself for missing all the details of it. Commissioner Manfred and MLB slid away from your DMs on April 22nd.  They sandwiched their breaking news between a Rob Gronkowski trade and the first day of what turned out to be a record-setting TV audience for the NFL Draft. In the publicity matchup of NFL vs. Anything, Anything usually loses.

So let’s do a speed review of baseball’s investigative findings of the Sox and their 2018 sign-stealing: Cora, his staff, and most of his players had no idea that there was, as Jimy Williams used to say, a problem in Boston. According to MLB, the major issue was in the video replay room with an operator named J.T. Watkins — but only in the regular season.

Investigators reported that Watkins used illegal video feeds to pick up signs and then relayed that information to players. There was no evidence of ownership awareness or the utilization of the feed during the run to the World Series.

Manfred took a second-round draft pick from the Sox, banished Watkins from the replay room, and emphasized that Cora’s 2020 suspension is for his actions with the ’17 Houston Astros, not the ’18 Sox. 

That was it.

There were no multimillion-dollar fines. No scorching words for ownership. No special note from the commissioner about baseball operations being a “very problematic’’ department, possessing an “insular culture” and having a “staff of individuals who often lacked direction’’ (all quotes from Manfred’s Astros report). No anger from the L.A. Dodgers about having their rings stolen by cheaters. No righteous rage from the baseball media.

Roger Goodell, conducting the virtual draft from his basement, probably heard about the punishment and its muted reaction and wondered, “Haven’t I taught Manfred anything about how to really make a New England team suffer? I should introduce him to Ted Wells…”

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But seriously. If an actual Sox employee had told John Henry in January that the team’s penalties would play out so lightly, the owner might have considered it wishful thinking. At the very least, he would have paused before firing the manager.

Now that all the damage has been assessed and we all have distance — from the scandal, the sport, and each other — the Sox’ statement on Cora sounds overly dramatic. At the time, the Sox said that they couldn’t move forward with Cora given the commissioner’s Astros findings. That all sounded fine in the moment. Then speculation was crushed by a pandemic and facts.

Baseball was expected to start in March and it didn’t. The Red Sox, according to the baseball insiders, were going to get Manfred’s hammer, just like the Astros did; they didn’t. And Cora was supposedly facing the biggest penalty of all, for his cheating involvement in two cities. That didn’t happen, either.

What did happen is a season-long punishment for Cora, based on his actions three years ago in Houston.

To be fair, urgency was required when the Sox made their decision to move on from the manager. If this were a normal season, Manfred’s April 22nd announcement would have happened before a Sox-Blue Jays game at Fenway, the 26th game of the season. Can you imagine the circus of all that, and spring training, with Cora still sitting in the dugout?

Now that there’s actually time to think, the Sox should look inward and answer a few questions.

Do they believe that Cora is permanently toxic due to his dirty work with the Astros? Or is it less personal than that and they don’t want to be associated with anyone who oversaw, created, concealed or performed the elaborate stealing scheme? If the latter is true, that not only would eliminate Cora from returning, but it would mean the Sox wouldn’t be interested in upcoming free agents like George Springer and Carlos Correa.

It obviously shouldn’t come to that. Cora was a great manager here. His passion, knowledge and likability energized the entire organization. He struck the perfect tone in trivial situations, like the time he admitted that a game sped up on him and he screwed it up. He was also eloquent when things got serious, like when he described why it was important for him to bring smiles and resources to Puerto Rico following its devastation from Hurricane Maria.

Manfred said Cora cheated in Houston and didn’t do it in Boston. After Cora emerges from his exile, which version of him do you think we’ll see, the one from Houston or Boston? He has to know that even the appearance of getting too close to the line will keep him out of baseball forever.

The biggest question for the Sox, though, is one they struggled with in January. At their “Cora Dismissal” press conference, they were asked if Cora deserves to manage again. They went corporate limp in a hurry, staring, hemming, and word circling into a non-answer.

What they could have said then is that we all have to deal with the consequences of our mistakes, but that we are also redeemable. They could have said that Cora guided an old franchise to new heights, and that his ability to thrive in Boston is an indication that he can handle any market in the majors. They could have said, and should say this:

Yes, Alex Cora deserves to manage again. He’d be a great fit with the Red Sox.