By Dan Roche

BOSTON (CBS) — Let me start by telling you that I consider Alex Cora a friend. If he called me today and said his family needed some help, I wouldn’t hesitate to help him.

But, Cora took something that’s been prevalent in the game of baseball forever – and took it way too far. Plain and simple.

Front offices, managers, coaches and players are always looking for an edge. Anything, even the tiniest of details, ANYTHING to help them win. That’s pro baseball. From a starter tipping his pitches to a hitter erasing the chalk line at the back of the batter’s box to get back further. Happens all the time. There’s dishonesty, too. A player telling the ump he got hit by pitch, or an infielder casually getting in the way of a base runner. You see it all the time.

But what happened with the Astros and Red Sox is simple. They took it too far.

The whistle blew in August of 2017 when the Red Sox and Yankees got fined for using electronic equipment to steal signs. Video, watches, phones. Something I’m sure most, if not all, teams have done. Doesn’t matter. The Sox and Yankees got caught.

MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred even acknowledged in a press release in September of 2017 that sign stealing was not that big of a deal. But that doesn’t mean it’s right:

“At the outset, it is important to understand that the attempt to decode signs being used by an opposing catcher is not a violation of any Major League Baseball Rule or Regulation,” Manfred’s statement read. “Major League Baseball Regulations do, however, prohibit the use of electronic equipment during games and state that no such equipment ‘may be used for the purpose of stealing signs or conveying information designed to give a Club an advantage.’”

OK, so the Red Sox and Yankees were caught taking things too far. They, and all of baseball, were warned at that point that any future use of electronics would result in harsh penalties. Fair enough.

But Cora and the Astros ignored the warning from Manfred and took sign stealing to a whole new level. And as we await the Red Sox 2018 investigation to be finalized, it appears Cora and the Sox also took things way too far.

Also, back in 2017, Commissioner Manfred warned that if teams got caught using electronics then the guilty team’s GM and manager would be held responsible.

Jeff Luhnow and A.J. Hinch felt the brunt of Monday’s punishment. Each received one year suspensions and both got fired.

Expect Alex Cora, who was mentioned 11 times in the report, to get at least a one-year suspension and to be fired by the Red Sox.

Like it or not, they are feeling the brunt of the commissioner’s wrath. Baseball has been losing fans for many reasons. This is an opportunity for Manfred to say enough is enough. The integrity and future of the game is at stake.

Yes I know, within the game this will seen as an over-the-top punishment for something that has gone on forever. However, baseball lost a lot of fans and respect when those in the game watched – and completely ignored a generation of steroid use. It stained the game. Home run numbers don’t mean much any more. The Hall of Fame debate is now about two things: Was the player one of the all-time greats when he played, and should they get in even if we know or strongly believe that player used steroids?

The commissioner is stopping this issue now. Are teams dumb enough to use this stuff now? There’s way too much risk outweighing the reward – and good.

The Red Sox will now pay because they will lose highly coveted draft picks and their manager. Cora, in my opinion, doesn’t deserve to be banned from the game for life. He’s adored by his players, who all love him and have played their behinds off for him.

But Cora took a century old practice and modernized it. Took it to a new level. He’s the guy at the epicenter and he’s going to pay for it.

To me, it’s pretty simple. It’s like a parent dealing with kids. When you get caught the first time for doing something you shouldn’t, you get a stern warning and a small punishment. When you get caught again, and you took it to a whole new level, you’re screwed. You’ve ticked off your parents and disappointed them. They’re angry.

Rob Manfred is that parent. I’m sure he admired and respected A.J. Hinch and Alex Cora. But he had to end it. And he did.

I’m upset today. I’ve loved Alex Cora as a player, a manager, and a person. I still will, but I understand why he’s being punished. I don’t like it personally and think the punishment is harsh. I also think he’s being hung out to dry by the Astros. If anyone thinks this was only Alex Cora, they’re dead wrong. I guarantee you players, coaches, etc. knew exactly what was going on and were all in. Not every player, as I’m sure there were some that were upset, but Cora didn’t — and couldn’t — do this alone. I’ll be interested in what players have to say about this matter when the dust settles.

But the bottom line in all of this? The game itself is and will always be the most important thing as everyone and everything else will come and go. The game needed to be repaired going forward. Those repairs have begun.

Comments (3)
  1. Gene says:

    Dan, the Yankees DID NOT get caught using electronic equipment to steal signs. The Apple Watch incident was on the Red Sox alone. After the Yankees protested about the use of the watch, the Red Sox then accused the Yankees of using the Yes Network to steal signs. MLB investigated both charges and found the Sox guilty but found no evidence of the Yankees using the Yes Network for purposes as charged. What the Yankees DID get a small fine for doing was using the dugout phone for communications that the Commissioner himself in his own report said did not violate rules. It was a technicality. Hopefully, your column today was an honest mistake and/or blurred memory but still, it made a large portion of your column invalid.

    If you want to read the Commissioner’s exact statement, NJ.com published it back in ’17:

    https://www.nj.com/yankees/2017/09/mlb_announces_punishment_for_red_sox_yankees_in_ap.html

  2. Garry Armstrong says:

    Dan, excellent piece. It’s, as Bob Costas and others have said, a sad day for baseball. It’s a sad day for all of us Adult/kids for whom baseball is a lifelong religion, no matter who you cheer on as your home town team. The fault lies with many, beginning with the corner office suits and owners who turned a blind eye to what was going on within their organization. As a retired, long time newsie, I know it’s not cut and dry or black and white with the guilty, innocent and oblivious.
    It hits home for US – in Red Sox nation, because OUR team is directly involved. It remains to be seen what the collateral impact will be as baseball moves ahead in the new season. Will this remain a central conversations as the games are played and the yakkers are lost with their mindless, numbing blabber which includes techno yak, part of the new school technology that baseball has adopted and is part of this ruinous moment.
    Baseball has always been my escape – from my youthful angst through the long years as a TV News Pilgrim and now into the lengthening years of retirement.
    From my days as a Brooklyn Dodger diehard, rooting for the Boys of Summer, through the whacko years with Casey’s Amazins and the transition in ’70, with green card, into Red Sox nation — baseball has always been a constant. The James Earl Jones speech in “Field of Dreams” sums up the love affair perfectly.

    The long running, always passionate love affair has hit a big bump but I’m a faithful devotee.
    It hurts so much.

    There’s no cryin’ in baseball.

    Say it ain’t so.

    Thanks, again, Dan. You’re a journalistic all star in my book.

    Let’s play two!

    Garry

  3. Dorothy MacKinnon says:

    What Garry says pretty much sums it all up for this Red Sox lifetime fan however, I am a Grandmother of a 17 year old young man who up until three years ago aspired to be “Dustin Pedroia” and play for the Sox forever in his young mind. He played tee ball , little league, high school and for a private semi-pro league on Cape Cod just to try and be good enough for the BOSTON RED SOX the best team ever! What does all this say to the little boys with their dreams like my Grandson to be “That player, their idol” shattered and shame on everyone anyone who shatters a child’s dreams to be a major leaguer and I don’t care who it is. I have to believe the favorite pastime will be restored, thank you Mr. Manfred.

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