The Boston Red Sox had an awful year in 2020, just like many of us. Controversy struck before spring training even began when manager Alex Cora's full role in the Houston Astros' sign-stealing scandal came to light, leading to a yearlong suspension for Cora and a mutual parting of ways between him and the Red Sox organization. Bench coach Ron Roenicke took over as interim manager for the year.
Then Chris Sale had Tommy John surgery and Eduardo Rodriguez went on the injured list for the year after complications arose from his bout with COVID-19. Boston's players generally regressed, they were unable to recover from the sudden loss of two starting pitchers. The Sox ended the year at the bottom of the league with a ripe 24-36 record. Soon after, it was announced that the 64-year-old Roenicke, who from all accounts is a good guy and did the best he could with the hand he was dealt, would not return as manager. The search for a new one began.
Boston appears to be nearing the end of that search. Reports from today suggest that it's a two-man race for the job between Alex Cora and Sam Fuld, currently the integrative baseball performance director for the Philadelphia Phillies. Chaim Bloom, who's calling the shots in Boston now, knows Fuld from their time together in Tampa Bay and reportedly favors him, but Cora has a lot of internal support.
Now, I don't know about you, reader, but I don't particularly care that Cora cheated. Yes, cheating is bad. It robbed other teams of the chance to win a championship fair and square and impacted the livelihoods of many a player. Did it personally affect me, a person who watches and occasionally writes about baseball? No. So it's hard for me to get worked up about the Red Sox hiring Cora despite his role in that whole scandal. Others can be gatekeepers for the integrity of the game. Baseball is supposed to be self-policed, after all.
Besides, from my perspective, Cora has paid the price for all that. He was made out to be the biggest villain of the whole story and, according to former Red Sox pitcher Joe Kelly, had to take his daughter out of school in California and move back to Puerto Rico because of the backlash from the incident. He missed a season (albeit a shortened one) and will forever be associated with one of the biggest scandals in modern baseball history. For a baseball lifer like Cora, it's hard to imagine a worse punishment than having that mark next to his name in the record books. The dues have been paid.
But the Red Sox still shouldn't hire him. Why? Because it is far more likely the 2018 season was a fluke than something resembling a normal campaign under Cora. It was basically a perfect year. They won 108 games and never really came close to losing a playoff series. Steve freaking Pearce won World Series MVP. The 2019 season saw the team come crashing down to Earth and they finished third in the AL East under Cora's watch.
Baseball managers are not like football or basketball coaches. There are only so many scheme adjustments managers can make. They set the tone in the dugout and work to get the best out of their players, but the look of a team does not change drastically from one manager to another. That isn't to say they are not important. Far from it. But Cora, like every other manager, doesn't have a magical formula that makes a team competitive or fundamentally change everything about the way nine men take the field every night. Not like how adding Bill Belichick to a terrible defense would elevate their play to average, or how Mike D'Antoni can take a league-average offense to one of the best by installing his methods of playing basketball.
Hiring Cora again would evoke memories of that flawless 2018 season, but certainly would not replicate it. So why not dodge all the heat that would come along with the hire and go with Fuld? Bloom likes him, and he's the top decision-maker in the organization. It's best to be fully aligned like those two would be. Cora is a great manager, but frankly, he's more trouble than it's worth at this point.