Alex Cora is one of those rare pro team managers who has figured out how to treat his players like humans instead of commodities and still win championships, one who didn’t let the business of sport rule his world or his soul.
In his introductory news conference, Cora offered some insight into his philosophical beliefs.
“Too close to players? That doesn’t exist,” he said. “The whole thing about drawing the line [between the manager and players], they understand that; but at the same time, they’re human beings, man, and you’ve got to talk to them, you’ve got to see how they feel. I’m going to encourage my coaching staff to get close to players.”
This kind of mindset is what we need throughout every sports league. Many times, we see managers and team owners acting out of their own financial interests. We see them dehumanize their players in the name of profit and big business, and none of us stops them because we’ve convinced ourselves that’s just the way things are.
We never ask, “Is that the way things have to be?”
In 2017, the MLB was comprised of 31.9 percent Latino players. Nearly one-third of these players were born outside of the United States and are desperate to make it big in the league. Not surprisingly, team front offices exploit this eagerness and desperation for their own financial benefit. As a result, some of these young players get mistreated and lowballed before they even get a chance at success.
“The treatment ranges from unethical to potentially illegal,” according to the Guardian’s Erick Fernandez.
“In a 2013 exposé, Mother Jones described the Dominican academies as the MLB’s ‘sweatshop system,’” he wrote. “It detailed the death of teenager Yewri Guillén who died after reportedly suffering bacterial meningitis and going untreated while he was at the Nationals’ Dominican Republic academy, where Mother Jones alleged the team had no authorized medical staff.”
In an October 2017 article, CBS Sports’ Jonah Keri also described these unethical practices:
“This is what we’re doing when we celebrate our team landing a prized athlete from Venezuela or the Dominican Republic for millions less than that player’s true market value,” Keri wrote. “We praise our favorite team’s shrewd negotiating skills and think nothing of the teenager who doesn’t get to negotiate under fair, unfettered labor standards.”
When Cora signed his three-year contract with the team last year in October, just weeks after Hurricane Irma and, especially, Hurricane Maria had ravaged Puerto Rico, all he asked for during negotiations was to get some relief aid sent to his hometown.
“I still remember, it was around this time [last year] when we got the deal done,” he said in a post-game interview following the Red Sox’s win against the Houston Astros in the 2018 American League Championship Series. “And I didn’t talk about money. I didn’t talk about incentives. I didn’t talk about housing or cars and all that—all I wanted was a plane full of supplies for my hometown.”
The Red Sox “didn’t hesitate” to meet his request, Cora said. “We went down there and we helped 300 families in my hometown,” he said at another press conference. “And I told them, ‘People are going to say ‘thank you,’ very genuine, and they did. It was a life-changing experience for a lot of people in this organization.”
Cora is also a former Red Sox player, having played from 2005 to 2008. According to Red Sox beat reporter Ian Browne, as a teammate, “he was known for his ability to be a positive influence in the clubhouse.”
No matter how much success and fame he has received from being an athlete on one of the greatest baseball teams in history and now being that same team’s manager, Cora has never forgotten where he came from. In fact, according to Browne, he “was a general manager for a team in Cagua and he was also the GM of the Puerto Rico national team that finished runner-up to the United States in [last] year’s World Baseball Classic.”
“I think people can be overwhelmed by it. . . . [The] attention that you get [is a lot], but he’s a person that has experienced it,” Astros manager A.J. Hinch once said of Cora.“You’ll experience it in a different fashion being a manager, but I think it’ll be a situation that he thrives on rather than the opposite way.”
Also according to Browne, even after the Red Sox had already hired him as their new manager, Cora was determined to learn some invaluable lessons; he was determined to make himself the best manager he could be. For example, during last year’s American League Championship and World Series between the Houston Astros and the Los Angeles Dodgers, he shadowed Astros manager Hinch in hopes of learning even more about the game he would soon manage.
“I learned a lot from him, how to handle the numbers and how to handle people. And how to handle coaches. And honestly, players. [Hinch] is outstanding, so I think the timing was perfect. It worked out perfect,” said Cora via ESPN.com.
Don’t let his humane, compassionate side fool you, though. Cora eats, breathes and sleeps baseball, and as he proved on Sunday night, he came back to Boston to win championships.
“In my family, for breakfast, we talk baseball. For lunch, we talk baseball, and for dinner, too,” Cora said via MLB.com in November 2017. “My dad was the founder of the Little League chapter in Caguas, where I’m from. He passed away in 1998, and that’s what he preached. He preached school and baseball. My mom, if you talk to her, she’ll be around during the season, she’ll talk baseball with you guys. This is going to be fun.”
In addition, Browne has said, Hinch gave Dave Dombrowski, president of Red Sox baseball operations, a glowing recommendation for Cora, warning him that, “with Alex, just remember, he’s baseball, he’s baseball 24/7.”
Dombrowski said, “He [Hinch] said, “I’ll get a text at 11:00 at night, “Did you see the pickoff move on such-and-such? I’m watching this, we got to pay attention, it might help us win a ballgame tomorrow.’”
And win he has.
In Cora’s rookie year as Red Sox manager, the team set a franchise record for the most wins in one season. They won 108 regular season games and went 11-3 through the postseason over dominating teams from the Bronx, Houston and Los Angeles.
“I give him all the credit in the world,” Red Sox owner John Henry said on the Dodger Stadium field late Sunday night, following the 5-1 win over the Los Angeles Dodgers in Game 5. “We have a unity that was unlike any I’ve ever seen. And it was Alex. Alex brought that. He did everything right, on every level.”
Cora now joins former White Sox skipper Ozzie Guillen as the only Latino managers to win a World Series. This lack of diversity in upper management isn’t new or surprising. It’s everywhere in sports. According to the Guardian’s Erick Fernandez, “The reality is, opportunities like this for Latinos in MLB are far and few in-between despite their dominant presence in the sport.”
Representation has always mattered, but in MLB, like the NFL, it’s rare for a player to find a team owner or manager who looks like him, one he can relate to on a cultural level. “Thirty-one percent of MLB players are Latinos (and nearly 50 percent in the minor leagues) and yet year after year the lack of adequate representation among managers continues,” says Fernandez.
“This year, there were three managers of Latino descent (the Nationals’ Dave Martinez and the White Sox’s Rick Renteria are the others) and that came less than two years after there was a period, where there were no Latino managers. Indeed, 2016 marked the first time since 1991 that the league had no Latino manager, a troubling figure considering the increasing number of players from the Latin American region since then.”
Cora has undoubtedly brought triumph and excitement to his hometown and to Puerto Rico, especially after everything the island’s been through since last year’s hurricanes.
After winning the World Series Sunday, Cora said the next thing he wanted to do was to take the trophy back home to Puerto Rico.
“I think [Boston] is going as crazy as Puerto Rico right now,” he added. “I cannot even imagine what is going on in Boston, I cannot even imagine what is going on in my island. This is for you guys.”