Alex Cora already has paid a significant price for his leading role in Major League Baseball’s latest ethical quagmire, with the Red Sox parting ways with him as manager shortly after he was identified as a mastermind of the 2017 Astros’ sign-stealing scheme during his only season as their bench coach.
Further consequences are still to come. We don’t know the details of his role in the Red Sox’ own alleged sign thievery, or what his ultimate punishment will be from the league. All we know is that his transgressions are going to cost him a place in the game that he loves, the game that has been his livelihood, and the punishment will probably be painfully steep.
When the time presumably comes for Cora to try to reestablish his reputation and image and get back in the game, it would not be a surprise, nor would it be unprecedented, for him to begin that process with a role on television.
Cora has worked in television before. He was hired by ESPN in February 2013 as a multiplatform baseball analyst who contributed to ESPN, ESPN Deportes, and ESPN Radio. He was most often seen on the late-night edition of “Baseball Tonight,’’ back when ESPN produced about 400 editions of that program in a year. While Cora wasn’t hitting in the heart of the lineup on “Baseball Tonight’’ — he appeared on about 35 shows in his first season — he made an excellent impression on his colleagues and bosses.
“I knew Alex not only as someone who was a great baseball guy, but also extremely forthright in the way he presented himself, in the way he was on the air and the way he was off the air,’’ said Phil Orlins, ESPN’s senior coordinating producer for MLB, who worked with Cora from 2014 until he left following the 2016 season to join AJ Hinch’s staff with the Astros.
“He was the same guy you guys saw as the Red Sox manager. I’m not talking about the scandal, but the way he comported himself with the media, the community, and the players. That’s the guy we saw working with him. He was a very confident and magnetic personality.’’
Karl Ravech estimates he worked with 60 or 70 analysts as the “Baseball Tonight’’ host. He said Cora often stood out among the pack, his reasons echoing Orlins’s.
“Alex was a little bit deeper, a little bit more detailed, a little different than some of the other analysts we’ve had,’’ said Ravech, a Needham native. “I think the same things that help them in the clubhouse made him great at television. There was a desire any time that he was on TV or asked to do something not to just go through the motions, it was to do it to the level that he had set for himself, and that was a very high level.’’
At a time when ESPN was cutting back on some of its personnel, Cora’s role actually expanded on Orlins’s watch, and he ended up doing about 70 “Baseball Tonight’’ shows in his second year, essentially doubling his workload.
Orlins said Cora’s appeal as an analyst was in his candor, and that would serve him well again if he chooses to return to TV.
“The hardest piece is finding someone who is completely free and honest with their comments, whether they are positive or negative. It’s a tricky thing, and it’s more tricky if you aspire to getting back into uniform,’’ said Orlins, who cited Mark Teixeira as someone who also has done that well. “It’s a real differentiator. Alex had so much confidence in what he said that he didn’t really worry about what people would think about what he said, because he believed so strongly.
“He’s one of the few guys I’ve known who clearly aspired to becoming a manager. He wanted to get back in uniform on the field. But he was so authentic in his opinions. He had no hesitation about speaking complimentarily or critically. That was the uncommon trait with him.’’
Cora, of course, would not be the first disgraced baseball lifer named Alex to begin a quest for redemption in a broadcast booth. Alex Rodriguez went from insincere-seeming superstar embroiled in one self-inflicted scandal after another to a high-profile broadcaster that . . . well, at least has had a lot of stories written about how likable he has become, even if he still doesn’t always seem authentic.
A-Rod has not one but two prominent broadcasting gigs (color analyst for ESPN’s “Sunday Night Baseball,’’ studio analyst for Fox’s postseason baseball coverage). He’s also a special adviser for the Yankees. For someone who looked like he was going to be an outcast from the game when his playing days ended in 2016, it’s been an impressive recovery.
Perhaps Rodriguez’s path back to the good graces of the baseball community will be illustrative for Cora — though Ravech isn’t even certain he requires redemption.
“OK, so you have Alex Cora, who took a skill set, which was sign-stealing — and it is a skill set — and he was great at it,’’ said Ravech, noting Cora’s long-held reputation for adeptness at breaking the code of opposing teams’ signs. “And then you alternately introduce all of this video use and cameras in center field and all this technology. And you’re taking somebody who has got a great skill set and now you’re providing them with a tool which will emphasize their skill and make it a little bit easier. So why wouldn’t they, prior to any knowledge that that was against the rules, why wouldn’t they take the tool that could expand their skill set even further and make it easier?
“When we get into rehabbing the image, to me there’s a distinction between whether it’s Alex Rodriguez or others that were involved in performance-enhancing substances and Alex Cora, because I’m not sure personally that I buy the premise that his image needs to be rehabbed. What he did was he took advantage of a situation. It was like they brought the apple to Adam, like, ‘Hey, we know you’re great at this, and now we’re going to put this technology within your purview.’
“He should have eventually been made aware that video and sign-stealing is illegal. Whether that was communicated to him or not, I don’t know. It’s illegal and you shouldn’t do it. But at the beginning of the process, it was like providing better sneakers to a really fast runner.’’
Orlins said Rodriguez and Cora have one thing in common that serves them well: a clear passion for baseball that comes through when the red light turns on.
“Television allows opportunity to control the narrative and talk about what they want to talk about, and be funny, insightful, self-deprecating, whatever it is,’’ said Orlins. “It’s not an apology tour and going out and doing interviews about what went wrong. It allows you to present yourself to your strengths.
“If the right things fall into place for Alex, wherever that might be, it would be an opportunity for people to see him in a light in which he can talk about what he knows well. We’ve already seen him do this before.’’