Caguas – Alex Cora has vivid recollections of November 3, 2018.
That day, Cora, who retired in 2011 after a 14-year career in “The Show”, celebrated, in his native Caguas, with all of Puerto Rico after managing the Boston Red Sox, one of his former teams as a player, to the World Series title by trouncing the Los Angeles Dodgers in five games.
Cora not only became the second Puerto Rican to manage a Mayor League Baseball (MLB) team, he also made history as the first Puerto Rican to win a World Series as a manager and is just the second Latino to skipper a team to a championship, joining former venezuelan player and manager Oswaldo “Ozzie” Guillén, who won it all as the Chicago White Sox’s manager in 2005.
The Caguas native produly stood that day on stage and hoisted the World Series trophy together with fans and some of his players and members of the front office who also made the trip. That same platform was also were Cora stood yesterday, when he spoke publicly for the first time after the Commissioner’s Office levied a one year suspension on Cora for his involvement in a sign-stealing scheme during the 2017 season, when he worked as bench coach for manager A.J. Hinch and the Houston Astros.
Cora talked about the case that tarnished his name and that led to a mutual agreement with Red Sox ownership “to part ways” back in January 14. Still, the former player is hoping to get a second chance.
“It’s a matter of paying the price. If you look at it, the biggest villain in Major League Baseball five or six years ago is one of the most-watched figures in the business now, Alex (Rodríguez, the former New York Yankees stars that admitted in 2009 to using peformance-enhancing drugs). We all deserve a second chance… will they give me one? That’s up to them. I know I’m ready. I made a mistake in 2017 and I’m paying the price,” were Cora’s words during an event to grant economic incentives to 50 employees of the Caguas Recycling and Sanitation Division.
The event was held outside Caguas’ City Hall, only a few steps away from where he celebrated his historic accomplishment in 2018.
The scene yesterday was much more somber. Cora held back his emotions as he began answering questions from the press, but as the conversation progressed he felt relieved… as if a weight had been lifted off his shoulders.
Cora hand-delivered the checks as part of a municipal initiative with Caguas Mayor William Miranda Torres. The employees took pictures with Cora and offered words of encouragement.
When asked about his aspirations for a possible return to the Mayors, Cora did not hesitate when he stated his desire to go back, but first expressed relief at speaking out for the first time about the scandal.
“As I said before, when they supported me here, when we walked into the town with that trophy with my mother along for the ride, it was insane. And standing before you here, as I have always done throughout my career, I can tell you that I failed. That’s all I can do now,” added Cora.
The former manager is sure that he’ll return at some point, but admitted he deserves the high price he’s paying for getting involved in the scheme involving the use of electronics to steal signs, an action that’s been frowned upon throughout the history of the game.
Cora was singled out in early 2020 after a several months-long investigation by the Commissioner’s Office while he was Hinch’s bench coach in Houston.
Cleared of any wrongdoing with the Red Sox
Cora was cleared of any wrongdoing in a parallel MLB investigation against Boston during the 2018 season, but ended up receiving a one-year suspension for his participation in the Houston scheme.
Before yesterday, Cora had only released written statements. According to the findings of the Boston investigation, the Red Sox replay system operator, J.T. Watkins, took advantage of the live game feeds to detect the sign sequences given to rival players.
“Yes, I’m gonna be back in the Mayors. I have no doubt about that. But I’m paying the price, and I deserve it,” Cora told the press. “And we’re going to (stand up) as a family and as a group, with the support I’ve received, whether it’s worth it or not. Sometimes I’m embarrassed that people support me because of what happened in 2017, but I thank them,” Cora said.
“If they give me the opportunity for an interview (to coach), I think that’s where the interview will start. And you have to be genuine, you have to tell them how I saw them, how they saw them, and how the commissioner saw them. But I’m not going to back down”, added Cora, who owns three World Series rings.
The 44-year-old coach, amid both investigations, agreed to step down as a Red Sox manager in January, a day after the MLB investigation against the Astros charged him with having a major role in the illegal technology-based sign-stealing scheme, along with fellow Puerto Rican Carlos Beltrán, who was then in his final year as a player.
For those actions, MLB commissioner Rob Manfred suspended Hinch and former general manager Jeff Luhnow for one year each. That same afternoon, Astros owner Jim Crane fired both Hinch and Luhnow. Meanwhile, the punishment against Cora was held until after until the Boston investigation was finished.
During this long wait, as the outcome of the investigation into allegations against the 2018 Red Sox became known, Cora said his family’s support was essential.
“They’re not ashamed of me. Are they disappointed about it? Of course, they’re disappointed. They are sad about what happened, but they still believe in me like many people I know in Puerto Rico do, even though at one time not many people believed,” the former Major League player added. “Those are the things you remember. I read things that I understand why (they said them), but at the same time, it was difficult to process, because I think it was just a mistake. We’ve all made mistakes. Some make mistakes in the personal lives, and others make mistakes in their careers. And now we are paying the price.”
And part of the price he will have to pay, Cora admitted, will be dealing with constant negative opinions. He is even aware that books and documentaries about the Astros scandal are coming, and he knows that everyone will have their version.
His children’s opinion is all that matters
However, the opinions that worry Cora the most are those of his twins, and he wants them to know the whole truth and not just some of the facts. That’s why he said the economic aid he brought to his fellow Caguas neighbors yesterday, along with the municipality, is important for him and his family.
Long before the Astros and Red Sox investigations came to light, Cora was involved in relief efforts along with the Boston franchise in early 2018, months after Hurricane María hit the island in 2017. Back then, Cora came to Puerto Rico with senior executives in the franchise’s plane stocked full of emergency supplies.
“People know how I feel about this town, and what this town has done for me throughout my childhood, then as a teenager and in my professional career. There are no words to thank them. And that I can help the people who help us, is very important,” he said. “It’s something important for Angélica (his partner and mother of his twins), for Camila (her daughter), for my mother and my little boys, who are two years old, and people will explain to them what their daddy did in 2017. I hope they understand that their daddy is not a bad person, that daddy only made a mistake and has a good heart, and is willing to help,” he said.
Disagreement with Luhnow
Luhnow alleged that he never cheated and didn’t have knowledge of the sign-stealing scheme, but Cora disagreed with that statement. According to the MLB report the scheme, was orchestrated by Cora with the help of Beltrán and other team employees.
“I don’t agree with Jeff. If you go back to the 2018 American League Championship Series (ALCS), when you use a spy, then I think you know what went down in 2017”, said the former manager. Cora referred to the 2018 second round playoff matchup between his Red Sox and the Astros, when it was latered revealed that, supposedly, the Astros tried to cheat using the same system.
“We were spied on during the first game of the championship series”, added Cora.
“As a team, we thought other teams (were also stealing signs),” continued Cora, speaking of his season in Houston. “And there were teams that were sanctioned for similar things. But that doesn’t mean that because so-and-so is doing it, you also have to do it. It started with one step, and it became something we’re not proud of. Unfortunately, it happened, and it’s already marked our lives. As for the game, it was a low blow to baseball,” he concluded.