Joey Cora Becomes Front-Runner for Seattle Mariners' Manager

Casey MichelCorrespondent INovember 11, 2008

Could it really be? With more struggles than Dubya and more fans jumping ship than the Lusitania, have the Mariners finally begun atoning for their wrongs? And, in the process, has a distant inkling of an M’s fanboy finally come to fruition?

Maybe, perhaps, and, well, quite possibly.

As you may have been reading, former Mariners spark plug Joey Cora is a front-runner for becoming the 16th manager of the Seattle Mariners.

That’s right. The same Cora who broke into stardom as the Mariners All-Star second-baseman of the late ’90s. The same Cora whose bunt, sprint, and Matrix-like dodge of Don Mattingly allowed Ken Griffey Jr. and Edgar Martinez to oust the New York Yankees in the 1995 playoffs. The same Cora whose encumbered tears following the ’95 ALCS still resonate with Mariners fans across the globe.

Yeah, that Joey Cora.

Cora was always overshadowed by his larger-than-life compadres. Griffey had the swing, A-Rod had the youth, Edgar had the heart, and Buhner had the dome. But somehow, Cora carved a spot in the hearts of M’s fans, eliminating Harold Reynolds from the second-base podium and bringing some vim to the position.

When Cora’s ’95 tears soaked a clubhouse towel, Alex Rodriguez wrapped a throwing arm around his diminutive teammate, confidently assuring him that the Mariners would be back next season.

But a year later, we weren’t back. Nor were we back a decade later. That season, that shot-in-the-dark moment, was a blast into the memorable that the organization has yet to recreate.

Seeing as I’m a typical M’s fan, I have an unhealthy obsession with the 1995-2001 clubs, with a childish preference for the first couple campaigns during that heyday. The Joey Cora poster still lining my room—at three-feet tall, it could well be life-sized—has always reminded me of the team’s scrappiness, its bygone grit, infused by Lou Piniella and implemented by Cora and his fellow foot-soldiers.

When Cora left, the headlines didn’t break hearts, nor did the rabid fans demand Woody Woodward’s head. Granted, a few female M’s fans were saddened—no “Marry me, Joey!” signs have since graced the Kingdome—but his 1998 swap for David Bell went largely unnoticed.

And now, a decade later, with a World Series ring and a two-fold education, stemming from a first-rate Vanderbilt schooling and the tutelage of the crazy-as-Hugo-Chavez Ozzie Guillen, Cora could get a final shot at fulfilling A-Rod’s promise.

Cora’s competition is deep, but it’s fair to say that he is toward the front of Jack Zduriencik’s pack of seven finalists. With Jim Riggleman now sitting comfortably aside Manny Acta, Cora comes in as one of the most weathered coaches on the list, despite his youth.

Red Sox bench coach Brad Mills may have a leg-up with Boston’s recent successes, but word on his interview is yet to leak. Randy Ready, manager of San Diego’s AAA affiliate, the Portland Beavers manager, left a great impression the few times I spoke with him last year, and yet his ascension probably won’t come with the Mariners.

A few others, such as A’s bench coach Don Wakamatsu, Diamondbacks third base coach Chip Hale, Cardinals third base coach Jose Oquendo, and Red Sox third base coach DeMarlo Hale are all relative unknowns, and may not own the experience necessary to helm this young squad.

Thus, Cora floats to the top.

Aside from Cora’s experience, the former Mariners will bring a sense of ease to the clubhouse. Long knows for his good-naturedness, Cora is still relatively young, allowing him to associate with the green crew stacking the team’s lineup.

His demeanor is fluid and his M.O. is reserved, not exactly harking to the firebrand he has worked under. As he told the Seattle PI’s John Hickey, “I'm not Ozzie. He is maybe the other side of the coin. We made decisions based on that, and so far we have been very successful, winning the World Series (in 2005) and making the playoffs this year.”

Cora was there to balance Ozzie’s belligerence, and it is his coolness that has brought him respect among both his peers and, apparently, Zduriencik.

The decision on the new manager is looming, much as the choices about Raul Ibanez’s future or Jose Lopez’s position. Unfortunately, the fans won’t know the minutiae of the interview process: what Zduriencik asks, how the candidates respond, or whether or not Howard Lincoln and Chuck Armstrong are somehow bugging the room. (My guess: probably.)

If history is any indicator, however, there’s no reason to avoid hiring Joey Cora. With his history, his experience, and his demeanor, the guy would be a return to gravity for a team lost in space.

Let’s just hope he won’t cry after every loss.