BOSTON -- As thrilled as he was to be formally reintroduced as manager of the Red Sox on Tuesday while sitting on a stage at Fenway Park, Alex Cora knew that he had to own up to his past before he could effectively move forward.
So before the question-and-answer format started in the virtual news conference, Cora spoke from his heart in a display of contrition and accountability.
“First of all, I want to thank my family back home [in Puerto Rico],” Cora said. “It’s been a tough year. To spend time with you guys, it was amazing this year. But like I’ve been saying all along, I was spending time at home for the wrong reasons. For that, I want to apologize. I deserved what happened this year. It’s something that, I’m not proud of it. But we went through the whole process with the Commissioner’s Office, the Department of Investigations. At the end, I got my penalty and I served it.”
Cora’s penalty was being exiled from the Red Sox team he managed in 2018-19 and the city he has viewed as his second home ever since he played in Boston from 2005-08.
“I knew I was going to miss the game,” Cora said. “It’s my passion. I’ve been around the game since I was 4 years old. I missed the game. At the same time, I made some bad decisions. You’ve got to take ownership. Just being able to be a dad, the kids, obviously they’re still 3, they don’t understand what’s going on right now, but some deep conversations with my daughter, with [my partner] Angelica, with my mom, with [my brother] Joey throughout the year about how wrong I was. The only thing I can do now is get better. I will be better. I’m going to be surrounded by a team that, they’ll help me out and we’ll continue moving forward.”
And though Cora can’t erase his involvement as bench coach in the sign-stealing scandal of the 2017 Astros, he is sure that he learned his lesson enough to never repeat anything like it.
“Honestly, I can only speak how I felt this year. I don’t want to get into details about what happened in ’17, but it’s a tough lesson,” Cora said. “Like I said, all I can do right now is apologize and get better and move forward. I’m not proud of what happened. One of the things that you do as a leader is to put these guys in situations to be successful. The way I did it, that we did it, with that group over there [in Houston], it wasn’t the right way. For that, I’m going to say it today. I’m going to say it tomorrow. I’m going to say it the rest of my life, I’m sorry.”
What Cora felt worst about wasn’t his personal loss during the 2020 season, but the rough spot he put the Red Sox in.
“I think as a leader, as a person that enjoys the game and loves to manage, I put this organization in a tough spot, and for that, I’m sorry,” Cora said. “I was humbled by this whole situation. I learned a lot throughout the year.”
By apologizing, Cora knew that he wasn’t distancing himself from an unsavory situation. He knows it will always be part of him. Yet he is confident he can move on from it and get back to doing effectively what he loves most -- managing the Red Sox.
“I want to make sure that everyone knows, this situation is part of who I am. For the rest of my career, as a man, I have to deal with it. I don’t want people to make it seem like it’s a great comeback story,” Cora said. “I don’t want that. I’m actually going to use this bad experience to make people better, starting at home with [my kids] Xander, Isander and Camilla. The process started early in the year, and we’re going to keep continuing it.
“I know there are a lot of people that I disappointed, and for that, I’m sorry. And also, I’m telling those people that, ‘Hey, I’m still Alex. I made a mistake. I still love the game. I love what I do.’ I promise you that from now on, I’m going to use this experience the right way. I’m not proud of it. I’m not happy about it. But we have to move on.”
Cora feels blessed that the process of moving on will take place with the Red Sox again -- something he never dreamed would happen as early as the 2021 season.
“Honestly, when the suspension happened, this is the last thing I was thinking,” Cora said. “I needed to take care of a lot of things on a personal level, take care of my family. Baseball was far away from my thoughts.”
But after the Red Sox went 24-36 in a shortened season and decided not to bring back Ron Roenicke as manager, chief baseball officer Chaim Bloom put together a list of nine candidates to write out the lineup cards in 2021 and beyond.
The Red Sox didn’t have any contact with the ninth candidate (Cora) until after the World Series -- when his suspension ended.
It took Bloom about 10 days to choose Cora from a talented yet inexperienced field that included Sam Fuld, James Rowson, Carlos Mendoza and Don Kelly, among others.
While there seemed to be an air of inevitability in Boston that the job could wind up back in Cora’s hands -- after all, he did lead them to World Series glory just two seasons ago -- Bloom went through an exhaustive process before coming to that conclusion. Keep in mind that Bloom had never worked with Cora during a baseball season before, having been hired to lead Boston’s front office in October 2019.
“When we started the process after the season, we spent a lot of time coming up with a really good list of candidates. We vetted them very thoroughly, we talked to a number of people,” Bloom said. “I knew at that time that I wanted to have some kind of conversation with Alex when it was OK to do so, which wouldn’t be until after the World Series.
“I really didn’t know then if he was in my mind a real consideration for the job. I just thought it would be good for me, good for him, good for the organization since we really hadn’t spoken since everything happened in January, and things happened very quickly in January. I think there were a lot of things to work through even before we got to the question of whether he could be a fit for this job.
“I knew obviously a lot of the wonderful things he brought to the table, and in the abstract, those are a lot of the qualities you look for in a manager, especially a manager for the Boston Red Sox. When the time came to speak to him, we had a lot of different things to work through, we were able to have some really intense conversations, obviously everything happened quickly within the week-plus after the World Series.
“But we got to work through a lot of things, and it was really just a question of trying to get as much information as I could to see Alex in full, the whole person, everything that he had done, good and bad. And everything that he might do if he were our manager again, and then to line that up along with the other candidates we were considering. And at the end of the day, I felt he was the right choice to lead us forward.”
And unlike the team Cora took over in November 2017 -- one that was positioned to win a championship and ultimately did -- the current Red Sox team needs a lot of work under the hood to get back to contender status.
It will start with Bloom having a productive offseason. It will continue with Cora molding his roster back and changing what he needs to schematically.
“I'm excited to be back with them,” Cora said. “It's a great group. It's a different group than 2018, but we still have some guys who were part of what we accomplished. I really appreciate how they feel about it, but like I've been telling them, we have a lot of work to do. We're ready to hit the offseason the right way and get ready for next season.”
And after not being a part of the 2020 season, nothing is more gratifying for Cora than having one to get ready for.