Alex Cora conducted press conferences before and after every game he managed, and in Fenway Park, it was impossible to miss his entrance.
Cora appeared from the weight room through a door that stuck like July thighs. As the season progressed, budging it required increasingly aggressive force. But Cora is not easily denied, so he inevitably blasted it open while somehow managing not to stumble into the frame like Kramer.
A carpenter with a wood plane could’ve solved the problem in minutes, but Cora seemed to enjoy the challenge. He’d enter with a shake of his head and a look that said, «Vanquished again, door,» before taking his seat in true alpha fashion by stepping over the chair rather than pulling it out demurely.
The idea of Cora solving problems by lowering his shoulder might not be the first image that springs to mind in the wake of a cheating scandal involving videotape, codebreaking, and spycraft, but it feels apt as we digest the shocking news that he’s out as Red Sox manager after only two seasons.
Both sides agreed to a mutual parting of the ways on Tuesday that brings his tenure to a stunning conclusion. Hired as a wunderkind who had studied at the altar of the game’s most progressive franchise, Cora brought more than a knowledge of analytics from Houston, we now know.
He learned not to let regulations limit his ability to seek whatever edge he could manage. And while he may not have instructed Red Sox players to bang on any trash cans, his solution for stealing opposing signs was still about as subtle as a Fast and Furious sequel — use the replay room in real time, brute-force the code, relay it to a runner on second base, damn the consequences.
Considering the warning MLB had given each team in the wake of the Red Sox being caught using an Apple Watch in 2017, Cora’s flouting of the rules qualified as brazen, if not breathtaking. The Red Sox and Astros clearly calculated that violations involving this minor espionage would continue receiving slaps on the wrist. They never saw the sledgehammer swinging until it went splat.
And so Cora lowered his shoulder to see what kind of doors he could force open. We’ll never know exactly what impact the scheme had on the 2018 title, because that team was a killing machine, but that’s hardly the point. Not needing an edge doesn’t negate the fact that you tried to take one anyway, a point that’s continually lost on our friends in Foxboro.
Cora has now learned this painful lesson, possibly at the expense of his career. It’s truly a shame, because he signified so much that’s good about the game, from his enthusiasm for the job, to his willingness to be an ambassador both at home and abroad, to his outstanding tactical and communication skills. The Red Sox don’t win it all without him, and who knows if young stars Xander Bogaerts, Rafael Devers, and Christian Vazquez blossom, either.
Cora should’ve had a long career here and as recently as the winter meetings last month, he was still focused on atoning for the disappointment of 2019. It’s fair to say the events of the last 48 hours have blindsided him as much as anyone, even if they are entirely self-made.
Where this leaves his legacy is in tatters. If he never works again, he’ll be the man who brought Boston a title before succumbing to his own hubris. If he does manage again, he’s certainly capable of redemption, but for now, that decision is out of his hands.
When confronted with on-field challenges in his Red Sox tenure, Cora liked to say, «We’ll be fine,» with a cocky shrug, so great was his confidence that the team would find its way to the other side. And in 2018, anyway, he was consistently right.
But it turns out there are some problems you simply can’t will away, no matter how much you throw your weight into them.