BOSTON (CBS) — Think about it: What’s the worst thing you’ve heard about new Red Sox manager Alex Cora since his three-year contract through 2020 was announced Sunday?
He’s never managed in the majors!
That’s the beginning, middle, and end of any argument against the former Boston infielder taking the reins from John Farrell and, you know, that’s probably a good thing. The preconceived notions with any level of negativity simply don’t exist.
There were concerns surrounding once failed former Phillies manager Terry Francona, Bobby Valentine’s ego never stood a chance of leading a successful Fenway clubhouse (that was right), and Farrell lacked the leadership to run a clubhouse in Toronto.
On that last one, yes, there were signs of the inevitable even before Boston fans and media tried to run Farrell out of town within a year of winning a World Series. Becoming the first Sox skipper to claim three division titles ever, let alone in a span of five seasons, didn’t help his case; not with two last-place finishes mixed in and two abrupt first-round losses on the heels of being the East’s elite.
Aside from Cora, Dave Dombrowski interviewed two candidates for his managerial vacancy, both with the previous experience the Red Sox president of baseball operations’ ultimate choice lacks: Brad Ausmus and Ron Gardenhire.
Ausmus was four years removed from his final stop in the majors when he took over his old team’s dugout in Detroit in 2014. As a first-time manager who replaced the legendary Jim Leyland, he guided a veteran-led Tigers group that had just been eliminated by the Sox in the ALCS the year prior to 90 wins, a Central title, and a division series playoff sweep at the hands of the Orioles. Dombrowski, who hired Ausmus, didn’t get his money’s worth. Over the next three seasons, the Tigers went 224-260, finished last twice, and never once made the postseason. Ausmus was fired.
After meeting with the Sox, Gardenhire ultimately replaced Ausmus in Detroit. He hasn’t managed since 2014, when he completed a 13-year run in Minnesota. The Twins barely played .500 baseball under Gardenhire overall (1,068-1,039), but they did win the Central six times – the last coming in 2010, followed by seasons with 63, 66, 66, and 70 wins. The manager’s last playoff victory came in 2004. He’s since presided over nine straight losses.
Do Ausmus and Gardenhire have experience? Of course. Know what else they have? Stained records. Had Dombrowski chosen either to replace a manager coming off of back-to-back East titles, the first question from talking heads would be: Why’s he any better? Look what he did at his last stop! He’s a retread and that’s it!
With Cora, 42, still finishing a one-year tenure as bench coach of the pennant winning, 101-win Astros, there’s hope. But, more than that, there’s reputation.
Cora was highly sought after this fall by the Nationals, Mets, Tigers, and Phillies, right along with the Red Sox. He’s viewed as a rising star in the managerial ranks. As a player for 14 MLB years – including a 2005-08 stay in Boston – the infielder earned the respect and admiration of teammates, young and old. Manny Ramirez, Pedro Martinez, David Ortiz, Mike Lowell, Dave Roberts (during their time with the Dodgers) and on and on. His leadership abilities garnered Cora the “glue guy” label, but his comfortable, easygoing demeanor made him relatable and communicative. Cora later parlayed those skills into a four-year run as an ESPN broadcaster, where he excelled before following his passion back to the field.
Astros manager A.J. Hinch is among the many to applaud Cora’s analytical mind, adaptability, and clubhouse presence. He’s lauded for his leadership, intelligence, and understanding of the game, and knack for mentoring young players, whether in his coaching role or dating back to his playing days when he befriended a struggling rookie named Dustin Pedroia – now a staunch Cora supporter.
And, as we know, Cora’s bilingual, a coup for an organization laden with Latin American talent throughout the system.
Unlike Ausmus, Gardenhire, or a great number of other potential Farrell replacements, Cora knows what it takes to succeed in an intense, passionate, hypercritical Boston market. He won a World Series in this city and he’s accustomed to dealing with the media, regardless of which side of the microphone he’s found himself on.
However, Cora’s never done it at this level. He’s never had to field questions on a losing streak in May, a roster filled with holes that go beyond the manager’s office, David Price’s ego, Pedroia’s attitude, bombarded broadcasters, or any other issue that will inevitably arise.
Sure, Cora’s spent five winters as a Winter League general manager, and he even doubled to manage one of those Caguas teams to Puerto Rico’s first Caribbean Series title in nearly two decades. He served as GM of the Puerto Rican club that finished second in the 2017 World Baseball Classic, too.
Still, who cares, you might say. Those are nice achievements, but don’t come close to matching what’s required in an environment where even division titles aren’t enough to retain employment.
Is Alex Cora the right man for the job? Time will tell for sure, but he has all the characteristics of a man who’s the right fit, and the only box he’s yet to check is the role he hasn’t had the chance to tackle. That was once true of Roberts, who’s gone on to lead the Dodgers to 91 wins in Year One and 104 and possibly a ring in Year Two.
Once the World Series is over, Cora’s new job begins. In the months to follow, we’ll stop discussing what Cora can’t do or hasn’t done and we’ll get to finally watch what he will.