Red Sox Left Reeling as Alex Cora Goes Down as One of MLB's Greatest Cheaters

Scott Miller@@ScottMillerBblNational MLB ColumnistJanuary 15, 2020

Boston Red Sox manager Alex Cora during the first inning of a baseball game against the Tampa Bay Rays Saturday, Sept. 21, 2019, in St. Petersburg, Fla. (AP Photo/Chris O'Meara)
Chris O'Meara/Associated Press

Baseball's newest scandal now has burned through the Boston Red Sox managerial office. Alex Cora is out. The Red Sox are singed.

On it goes.

If you're scoring at home, it's scorching. That's two of the game's last three World Series winners that now suddenly are without a manager one month before pitchers and catchers report to spring training. One day after Houston was shamed, the Astros taint splattered Fenway Park.

Next, basking in their own silent bubble, the New York Mets have some hard questions to answer. Carlos Beltran has yet to manage his first game in Queens, and he's already caught up in the big lie: He told the New York media that he had nothing to do with stealing signsat least, not digitally by incorporating Houston's now infamous center field camera. MLB's investigation says otherwise: The report specifically names Beltran as chief among a group of players brainstorming the video camera/computer/trash-can-banging plot roughly two months into the 2017 season.

NEW YORK, NY - NOVEMBER 04: Carlos Beltran talks to the media after being introduced the manager of the New York Mets during a press conference at Citi Field on November 4, 2019 in New York City. (Photo by Rich Schultz/Getty Images)
Rich Schultz/Getty Images

Right now, the Mets have an enormous credibility problem on their hands with Beltran. But back to Cora.

One key difference between him and Cora is that Commissioner Rob Manfred specifically said he is not looking to punish players, that in this scandal, those in positions of responsibility would pay because it came on their watch. But while Beltran's crimes were committed during his final season as a player in 2017, now that he's crossed the divide onto the leadership side...where and how, exactly, has he earned the right to lead? Why should he have the privilege that was seized from Cora and AJ Hinch?

Cora's exit from Boston, while extraordinary in its timing on the heels of the Astros' implosion, was not a shock. Baseball's investigation essentially called him the mastermind behind Houston's scheme, identified him as a figure on the dugout phone connection to the clubhouse replay room and fingered him as the brains behind installing the computer monitor in the tunnel behind the dugout. From Manfred's report:

"Cora arranged for a video room technician to install a monitor displaying the center field camera feed immediately outside of the Astros' dugout. (The center field camera was primarily used for player development purposes and was allowed under MLB rules at the time when used for that purpose.) Witnesses have provided largely consistent accounts of how the monitor was utilized. One or more players watched the live feed of the center field camera on the monitor, and after decoding the sign, a player would bang a nearby trash can with a bat to communicate the upcoming pitch type to the batter."

Once that became public Monday, Cora had zero chance to manage the Red Sox again. He will go down as one of the most egregious cheaters in baseball history, and remember this: What happened Tuesday was only that he and the Red Sox "mutually agreed to part ways," as the press release read. MLB still hasn't announced his punishment. Anything up to and including a lifetime ban from the game would not be surprising at this point.

In some ways, as is the case with Hinch, you feel for Cora, who quickly became a beloved figure in Boston and treated everyone from his players to fans and ballpark vendors with kindness and respect.

"I do not want to be a distraction to the Red Sox as they move forward," Cora said in a statement released by the club. "My two years as manager were the best years of my life."

But before feeling too badly, stop and consider how many lives were affected by the cheating.

How about Joe Girardi, who was fired as manager by the New York Yankees after losing Game 7 at Minute Maid Park in the 2017 ALCS? Had the Yankees won that game and advanced to the World Series instead of the Astros, maybe Girardi would still be managing in the Bronx.

How about the Los Angeles Dodgers, who lost consecutive World Series in '17 to the Astros, who now have been convicted of cheating, and to the Red Sox, whose '18 season—in which Cora was managing—is under investigation by MLB for the same stuff?

How about Yu Darvish, whose reputation was left in tatters as the Astros swung away with impunity against him in the '17 World Series? How about Clayton Kershaw, who was mugged in Houston in that World Series by a team that likely knew what he was throwing? How different might his ragged postseason reputation be had things gone differently?

LOS ANGELES, CA - AUGUST 11:  (L-R) Alex Wood #57, Clayton Kershaw #22 and Yu Darvish #21 of the Los Angeles Dodgers look on from the dugout with the Dodgers down 4-3 to the San Diego Padres during the ninth inning of their MLB game at Dodger Stadium on A
Victor Decolongon/Getty Images

How about the Cleveland Indians, who were mowed down in the '18 playoffs by Houston in as bad a mismatch as Muhammad Ali vs. Pee-wee Herman?

On and on it goes, organizations and lives affected by a devious, postmodern cheating scheme that arrived as an unintended consequence of baseball's move to institute instant replay. A replay room and endless cameras and monitors in the clubhouse—and apparent subsequent failure to anticipate that something like this could happen.

What a colossal mess.

And now comes the cleanup in Houston, Boston and, likely, beyond, like following a circus-parade elephant with a shovel.

In Boston, barely more than a year after a World Series title, both the general manager (Dave Dombrowski, fired last September) and the field manager are gone. When Chaim Bloom, Boston's new chief baseball officer, decides who will manage the Red Sox, it will be, incredibly, the club's fifth manager in 10 years. This for an organization that's won four World Series titles in the past 16 seasons.

In-house, Bloom could promote highly regarded bench coach Ron Roenicke, who managed Milwaukee from 2011-15 and was hired in Boston as Cora's bench coach in 2018. Former Boston catcher Jason Varitek has been mentioned as a candidate seemingly since the day he retired. Or, Bloom could move in a totally different direction and tab someone he knows from his tenure with the Tampa Bay Rays.

Regardless, in a twisted sense, that might be the least of Bloom's worries. The Red Sox still face an enormous financial puzzle with their payroll and might end up having to trade All-Star Mookie Betts if they cannot induce him to sign long-term—and there are no indications they will. Or, they may have to deal Jackie Bradley Jr. And, they very well may be tasked with trying to attach the remaining three years, $96 million of lefty David Price's contract to a Bradley or Betts trade.

It already had been mostly a disaster of an offseason for Boston before the Sox and MLB perp-walked Cora right out of town. Now, unspool the firehoses and blast away.

Throughout the game, from Houston to Boston to New York, it's hot and getting hotter. And unfortunately for all, not exactly in a good, ol' Hot Stove League sense either.

As Bloom attempts to plot the Red Sox's future, the organization awaits the verdict on MLB's investigation and whatever sanctions that brings to Boston. In New York, we're reaching the point where we'll take odds on whether Beltran is still around when pitchers and catchers report to Port St. Lucie next month.

In the distance, alarms continue to blare.

                            

Scott Miller covers Major League Baseball as a national columnist for Bleacher Report. Follow Scott on Twitter and talk baseball.

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