Terry Francona knew. More than a decade ago, he knew Alex Cora would one day occupy a Major League Baseball manager’s office.
Francona made the proclamation to the then-utility man in 2005, and it all came to fruition Monday when the Red Sox introduced Cora as the 47th manager in franchise history.
The job that once was Francona’s now belongs to Cora.
While Cora inherits a team that’s won more than 90 games in each of its last two seasons and is the two-time defending American League East champion, the first-time skipper has his work cut out for him. It’s a roster of good players, but it’s on Cora to make sure the team not only maintains its success but finds a way to put an end to disappointing early-playoff exits.
Cora was great Monday in his introductory press conference, shaking off any concerns about his status as a first-time manager. He represents a different voice and a different approach from John Farrell, a change that was needed. While Farrell is one of Francona’s best friends, it might actually be Cora who represents a closer resemblance to Francona in the Boston dugout.
Francona is arguably the best manager in baseball, in large part because he’s been blessed with talented players in Boston and now in Cleveland. But Francona is also considered a players’ manager, displaying an ability to get through to his players. He genuinely cares about his players in a way few managers, Farrell included, can’t express. The Red Sox are hoping Cora can do the same. Given his track record, there’s reason for optimism.
Not only was Cora well-liked by his peers as a player, he showed an ability to create and cultivate relationships during the 2017 season with the Houston Astros. He earned the trust and respect of young stars like Carlos Correa or Alex Bregman and he’ll look to do the same with a talented group of young players in Boston who now need to take the next step in their careers.
“Having that good relationship with players is not bad,” Cora said Monday. “Doing that, you’ll get the best out of them. People might think that crossing that line is not helpful, but I see it the other way around. I lived it. You embrace them, you tell them how good they are and when you have to twist their arm and tell them it’s not good enough, they’re going to respond to you and that’s my goal here.”
It’s a Franconian strategy deployed by the former Red Sox manager every spring, as former pitcher Curt Schilling once recounted.
“No. 1, he would say, ‘I respect you, and you’re never going to play for someone who cares more about you than I do,’ ” Schilling recalled in an interview last year with The New York Times. “And 2, he would say: ‘I will not lie to you. A lot of times I’m going to tell you something you don’t want to hear. But I’m not going to lie.’ ”
And Cora will need to have those conversations, too, within a clubhouse that had its share of issues in 2017.
That’s as important in Boston as it is anywhere else in the big leagues. Few markets, if any, present the kind of daily hoopla Boston does. Every single move or play is scrutinized, making life a living hell for teams that don’t win. And even when you do have success, the constant focus and attention can be suffocating, especially in a city as relatively small as Boston.
But Cora’s been through that before, too, and while he might not have managerial experience at the highest level, he does have plenty of experience — good and bad — with the “monster” that is Boston.
“I understand people want to talk about this team and I’m going to be able to talk about this team,” he said. “(Some might say) that’s an obstacle, that is pressure, I don’t see it that way; I see it as an opportunity.
“… There’s something about this place that pushes you. There’s no off days at Fenway Park. If you need something to push you that day, you look around. The fans will be here and they’ll push you to be the best.”
Of course, it’s also on Dave Dombrowski and the Red Sox front office to provide Cora with players who embrace the challenges of playing in Boston in a similar fashion.
Cora undoubtedly will help in that process, too. At 42 years old, he’s not long removed from being on the other side of the white lines. He knows how hard it is to succeed at that level, and he’ll be able to empathize with his players in a way that, quite frankly, it didn’t seem like Farrell could.
“He’s a players’ guy,” Astros center fielder George Springer told the Houston Chronicle last month during Houston’s playoff run. “He played the game. He understands how hard it is to play this game and that’s the most important thing. It’s easy to forget how hard it is when you’re not playing the game. He hasn’t forgotten that.
Farrell returned to Boston billed as a no-nonsense disciplinarian, and perhaps that ran its course. Cora made it seem like he’d put an emphasis on keeping things loose.
“Enjoy the moment,” he said. “To win a big league ballgame is hard enough. If you don’t enjoy it, if you don’t have fun doing it, it’s going to get to a point that’s it going to be like, “Blah. This is not fun.’ We’re gonna celebrate every win and, hopefully, we’ll celebrate that last one at the end of the year, too.”
Thumbnail photo via Greg M. Cooper/USA TODAY Sports Images
Thumbnail photo via Greg M. Cooper/USA TODAY Sports Images.