More Astros fall­out

Man­ager was at cen­ter of sign-steal­ing scan­dal as coach in Hous­ton

The Washington Post - - FRONT PAGE - BY DAVE SHEININ

Alex Cora won’t re­turn as Red Sox man­ager af­ter be­ing im­pli­cated in the sign-steal­ing scan­dal.

In Mon­day’s nine-page in­ves­tiga­tive re­port by Ma­jor League Base­ball into elec­tronic sign-steal­ing by the 2017 World Se­ries cham­pion Hous­ton Astros, which has tainted that ti­tle and led to ma­jor penal­ties for the or­ga­ni­za­tion and its for­mer brain trust, only one per­son was called out by name as an “ac­tive par­tic­i­pant” in the scheme — a per­son who hap­pened to be, as of Mon­day, the man­ager of the Bos­ton Red Sox.

But by Tues­day evening, Alex Cora held that ti­tle no longer. The Red Sox dis­missed their pop­u­lar, con­ge­nial man­ager — a news re­lease from the team said the sides “mu­tu­ally agreed to part ways” — for his role in the scheme with the 2017 Astros, for whom Cora served as bench coach, as well as an al­leged sim­i­lar scheme per­pe­trated by Cora’s 2018 Red Sox squad. That team, like the 2017 Astros, also won the World Se­ries.

“We agreed to­day that part­ing

ways was the best thing for the or­ga­ni­za­tion,” Cora said in Bos­ton’s state­ment. “I do not want to be a dis­trac­tion to the Red Sox as they move for­ward.” Cora thanked the or­ga­ni­za­tion for the “best years of my life,” but he did not apol­o­gize.

“Given the find­ings of the Com­mis­sioner’s rul­ing,” the team said, “we col­lec­tively de­cided that it would not be pos­si­ble for Alex to ef­fec­tively lead the club go­ing for­ward.”

Cora, whose as­cen­sion to Bos­ton’s man­ag­ing job in Novem­ber 2017 was due in no small part to his suc­cess with the Astros that sea­son, was named 11 times in Mon­day’s re­port is­sued by MLB Com­mis­sioner Rob Man­fred. Cora, ac­cord­ing to Man­fred, “was in­volved in de­vel­op­ing” the scheme — in which Astros per­son­nel used a cen­ter field cam­era and a video mon­i­tor to steal op­pos­ing catch­ers’ signs, then trans­mit them to hit­ters, pri­mar­ily by bang­ing on a trash can — and ac­tively “par­tic­i­pated” in it.

And so, Cora, 44, met the same fate as his bosses with the 2017 Astros, for­mer man­ager A. J. Hinch and gen­eral man­ager Jeff Luh­now, who were sus­pended for one year each by Man­fred on Mon­day, then sub­se­quently fired by Astros owner Jim Crane. The Astros were also fined $5 mil­lion and for­feited their top two draft picks in 2020 and 2021.

Luh­now, in a state­ment re­leased through a Hous­ton law firm Mon­day, placed blame for the scan­dal on Cora, say­ing, “[T]he video de­cod­ing of signs orig­i­nated and was ex­e­cuted with lower-level em­ploy­ees work­ing with the bench coach.”

Although Man­fred did not dis­ci­pline Cora di­rectly, it was un­der­stood that a heavy penalty would be com­ing once MLB com­pletes its in­ves­ti­ga­tion of Bos­ton’s ac­tions in 2018. That penalty — which, given Cora’s pos­si­ble in­volve­ment in both schemes, is ex­pected to ex­ceed the one-year sus­pen­sions given to Hinch and Luh­now — is still pend­ing the con­clu­sion of MLB’S in­ves­ti­ga­tion, though the Red Sox pre­emp­tively took their own ac­tion.

In some ways, Cora’s down­fall was even swifter and more stun­ning than those of Hinch and Luh­now. In a lit­tle more than two years, he has gone from a ris­ing star man­ager who led the Red Sox to 108 reg­u­lar sea­son wins and a World Se­ries ti­tle in his rookie sea­son on the bench to the care­taker of an 84-78 un­der­achiever in 2019 that prompted a firm change in di­rec­tion for the Red Sox, and now to a dis­graced and un­em­ployed sym­bol of one of the big­gest cheat­ing scan­dals in the game’s his­tory.

De­spite find­ing the Astros’ scheme was al­most en­tirely “player-driven,” Man­fred did not pe­nal­ize any of those play­ers, say­ing such dis­ci­pline would be “dif­fi­cult and im­prac­ti­cal,” in part be­cause many of those play­ers now play for other teams. That in­cludes for­mer Astros des­ig­nated hit­ter Car­los Bel­trán, who re­tired af­ter the 2017 sea­son and was named man­ager of the New York Mets this win­ter. Bel­trán was the only player from the 2017 Astros cited by name in the re­port, which said he “dis­cussed that the team could im­prove on de­cod­ing op­pos­ing teams’ signs and com­mu­ni­cat­ing the signs to the bat­ter.” He will not be dis­ci­plined by MLB for his role.

Had MLB’S in­ves­ti­ga­tion been lim­ited to the 2017 Astros, Cora may have been able to avoid se­ri­ous pun­ish­ment as well, with the Red Sox making the ar­gu­ment that, if play­ers were not pe­nal­ized in part be­cause some had moved to other teams, Cora, hav­ing moved to the Red Sox, should be treated the same way. The 2020 Red Sox, in other words, should not be pe­nal­ized for some­thing per­pe­trated by the 2017 Astros. But the ex­is­tence of the 2018 Red Sox scheme, es­pe­cially if Cora is dis­cov­ered to have been ac­tively in­volved, makes it eas­ier for Man­fred to jus­tify a penalty for Cora at least as stiff as the one im­posed on Hinch and Luh­now, if not more so. (Dave Dom­browski, the gen­eral man­ager of the 2018 Red Sox, was fired by the team this past Septem­ber and is not cur­rently work­ing in the game.)

Mean­while, the Red Sox ap­pear very much like a fran­chise in tran­si­tion. Hav­ing al­ready hired a new GM, Chaim Bloom, and be­gun ex­e­cut­ing a plan to trim pay­roll, they, like the Astros, sud­denly find them­selves with­out a man­ager at an un­usu­ally late point in the off­sea­son. Pitch­ers and catch­ers re­port to spring train­ing in less than a month.

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