Man, isn’t it always something with Major League Baseball at this time of century? The baseball world was rocked to its foundation on Monday with the news that Astros manager A.J. Hinch and general manager Jeff Luhnow were being suspended for the 2020 season after an MLB investigation confirmed the worst fears of a rumored 2017 electronic sign-stealing scandal. It looks like Alex Cora might be in a bit of bother too.
Hinch and Luhnow Gone
Before that initial shock had time to digest on Monday afternoon, the Astros took matters to perhaps their logical conclusion by firing Hinch and Luhnow.
It was, for the Astros, a swift and stunning conclusion to a story that bubbled to the surface this past November, when former Astros pitcher Mike Fiers, now with the Oakland A’s, told The Athletic of the sign-stealing scheme, which utilized a center-field camera to steal and decode catchers’ signs and trash cans used as drums to alert hitters of what type of pitch would be coming next.
The scheme took place in the 2017 season, and continued into the postseason — including Houston’s World Series triumph over the Dodgers – even after the league caught wind of the shenanigans and issued a league-wide memo in September of that season calling for the end of the practice.
That the Astros continued the practice led to the severity of Monday’s punishment. But the worst appears yet to come, and it is the Boston Red Sox that are about to feel severe pain.
Alex Cora Next, But What’s The Punishment?
Alex Cora was bench coach on the 2017 Astros, and MLB Commissioner made clear in his nine-page report on the league’s investigation into the Astros that Cora was the initiator and curator of the scheme, using players as information conduits and restoring the TV surveillance even after Hinch and Luhnow took steps to shut the practice down by literally damaging the equipment.
Lo and behold, in 2018, Cora became manager of the Red Sox, and accusations of electronic sign stealing dogged that team, even as it steamrolled to its own World Series title, beating the Dodgers once again.
The 2018 allegations are currently under investigation, but Manfred made pretty clear in his report that once it is concluded, Cora will face a punishment dwarfing that of Hinch and Luhnow – perhaps even the kind of lifetime ban received by Chicago White Sox players literally a century ago in the wake of the 1919 Black Sox World Series betting scandal.
It is virtually certain that within seconds of the 2018 investigation’s findings being released, and Cora being suspended by Manfred, that the Red Sox will fire Cora, just as Astros owner Jim Crane did with Hinch and Luhnow.
It will be a stunning fall from grace for Alex Cora, the first Latin American manager to win a World Series and champion of his stricken native country of Puerto Rico after the devastating hurricane of 2017.
As Red Sox beat writer for the Hartford Courant in 2007-08, I got to know Alex Cora personally – he was a utility player on those Red Sox teams that reached the ALCS twice and won the 2007 World Series. The man exuded class and integrity, was a true clubhouse leader, and you could tell even then that managing was likely in his future.
Some of my fondest memories of covering those teams featured Cora – his love of fantasy football and one gloomy late Sunday night in Minneapolis, after a pounding at the hands of the Twins on Sunday Night Baseball, when another reporter and I encountered Cora and that night’s losing pitcher, Tim Wakefield, in the hotel bar where the team was staying.
It was considered a journalistic no-no to drink with the players, but Wakefield’s logic – “I just got my ass handed to me, at least let my buy a round.” – was too compelling too argue.
My professional respect for Alex Cora was forged on nights like those, and it is still hard to wrap my mind around the reality that Cora would cheat the game so brazenly and with such disregard for the integrity he always showed as a player.
Say it ain’t so, Alex. Say it ain’t so.