Months after Boston rehired the alleged (convicted?) cheater, I still haven’t gotten any sort of concrete answer from anyone, fan or foe, as to why he was allowed back not only into the game of baseball, but to resume his employment at the exact position from which he was let go last March.
That’s from a morality perspective, though.
From a baseball perspective? It’s extremely obvious why Cora is back, and any organization would be lucky to have him.
For the second time this generation, the Yankees have faced off with an enemy that has stopped at nothing to win at all costs, losing to both the Houston Astros in ’15, ’17 and ’19 and the Red Sox in ’18, while getting lapped by them mid-rebuild this year, too.
We all know what Houston did, and we all know what a large part of the proceedings Cora was. Both franchises made the calculus that they could largely escape punishment while shrugging off reputational harm — the Astros cheated in 2017 knowing their title would never be taken away, and the Red Sox re-hired Cora knowing a pandemic would overshadow any shady baseball decisions they made, while fans of the team believed Cora had been wronged, and would welcome him back.
Both teams were correct, and the resurgent 2021 Red Sox stand as an argument for just how much of an impact the right motivator can have, and just how right they were that the world would forgive Cora by forgetting him.
Yankees manager Aaron Boone has forgiven Alex Cora — who still runs laps around him.
The end goal is winning titles, right? As infuriated as I am by Cora’s continuing presence in the dugout, much of that frustration comes from how much relief I felt when he was extinguished prior to the 2020 season. His managerial acumen and unique ability to get the most out of an entire slumping team felt like the No. 1 most villainous presence in my sports life.
Boone himself was very complimentary of Cora prior to this series. Unfortunately, he laid out in a nutshell where Cora succeeds at his expense.
"“He’s created a culture where it’s a team that really pays close attention to the details,” Boone said of his counterpart. “He sees the game really well. He’s fearless. I think he’s really good at what he does, and I think his players certainly reflect that and play with a confidence that he kind of sets that tone for them on a daily basis.”"
“Fearless.” Man. Is any team more “fearful” than the New York Yankees?
No manager is an island in MLB in 2021. Cora certainly works in conjunction with the Red Sox analytically-inclined front office to set lineups and expectations, just as Kevin Cash does in Tampa. Both of those firebrands have fostered a level of trust in the clubhouse, raising all boats with their personal motivational tides.
Boone? He receives hatred from this fan base for the “analytical” decisions the Bombers make, when in reality he’s in lockstep with what Cora and Cash do except for one crucial final element: the ability to maximize the skills on his roster.
Without Cora in 2020, JD Martinez had the worst season of his baseball life, post-breakout. Without Cora in 2020, Rafael Devers hit just .263 with a 110 OPS+ a year after nearly capturing MVP honors. When those two middle-of-the-order bats are playing average or below-average baseball, the Red Sox aren’t fearsome. When they’re OPS+’ing 161 and 148 respectively? Things look different.
How much of that bounce back can be attributed to Cora? Like most journalists these days, we’re not in the locker room. But besides the freedom that comes from pandemic restrictions being loosened and fans being welcomed back to the ballpark, Cora’s the only real difference between last year’s objectionable roster and this year’s AL East contender.
When Cora speaks to the media and says a three-game slump in Houston is being overblown, you believe him. When Boone says for the 30th straight postgame press conference that things will turn around, you tune him out, and you start to suspect the locker room does, too.
Cora has a proven track record of turning players around, especially his personal favorites. Once you’ve seen example after example, you likely start to believe in his magic touch, too. Under Boone? Gleyber Torres, Gary Sánchez, Miguel Andújar, Clint Frazier and now DJ LeMahieu have all gotten much worse. They’ve all had their routines messed with and position changes foisted upon them. They’ve all ridden the minor-league shuttle. They haven’t gotten what they’ve signed up for. At what point can we say they’re lacking the right voices in their ears? At what point can we admit there’s a difference between “staying the course” and starting LeMahieu every day while also turning him into a first baseman?
Every time the Yankees encounter a bumpy road, they press harder, ending in spiraling disaster. Every time the Red Sox face a similar impediment, like last week’s three-game, dead-behind-the-eyes losing streak in Houston, they manage to bounce back because they’re well aware the season wasn’t ending.
Too often watching the Yankees feels like watching a bunch of Yankee fans, resigned to another spark-less night well before it’s over. Cora’s Red Sox may be less talented, 1-through-25, than other contenders, but I can guarantee he’ll be able to squeeze the best possible ending out of this roster.
We’re not in the locker room. It would be unfair to claim that Boone has “lost” a team he once guided to 103 and 100 wins in back to back seasons. But ask yourself this: with the entire roster slumping on offense at the exact same time, is there any way this team gets worse if Boone leaves? And is there any way you could ever envision yourself saying the same thing about Cora? Have the Yankees ever made the most out of “bulletin board material,” or have they only wilted after creating it for others?
In terms of righting ships, Cora is master and commander, and Boone is stuck sideways in the Suez Canal. He knows how to ride waves, but he doesn’t know how to incite them. In the next few weeks, the Yankees need to be looking all their most important personnel in the eyes and asking: how can we better set you up for success?
The guy in the other dugout probably knows, but he’s not telling.