When the new generation of baseball bosses talk about process, it’s OK if your eyes glaze over.
Sometimes these Ivy League products can sound more like McKinsey consultants than personnel men, with their organizational handbooks and rigorous data systems and willingness to question every assumption about the game.
In the best organizations, however, process matters. And today Chaim Bloom deserves a lot of credit for the process that led him to reacquire the MVP of the Red Sox this winter — Alex Cora.
Bloom has admitted that he did not begin his managerial search with Cora in mind. The wounds over Cora’s suspension, which helped torpedo the 2020 season before it even began, were too fresh. Given the green light by ownership to hire his own man, Bloom demonstrated flexibility of thinking by considering Cora at all.
The Red Sox interviewed no shortage of qualified bench coaches, from Miami’s James Rowson to Pittsburgh’s Don Kelly to Carlos Mendoza of the Yankees. Despite the narrative of a bag job for Cora, nothing could be further from the truth, especially once Phillies performance coach Sam Fuld emerged as a legitimate finalist.
It wasn’t until Bloom and general manager Brian O’Halloran flew to Puerto Rico in October for a face-to-face in an airplane hangar that the new chief baseball officer could really envision Cora reclaiming his old job. Cora addressed Bloom’s concerns forthrightly and demonstrated sincere remorse over his central role in the Astros’ sign-stealing scandal.
Still, almost until the moment that Bloom selected Cora, some members of the organization still believed he’d choose Fuld. Even Cora had his doubts. When he was officially reintroduced in early November, many believed he had been forced on baseball operations by ownership. Bloom denied it, knowing few would believe him, but multiple team sources back him up.
Cora was Bloom’s hire. The process worked. And today the Red Sox are reaping the benefits.
On Tuesday, they won their seventh straight in a fashion that once again had the manager’s fingerprints all over it. Playing in miserable Minnesota conditions that included snow flurries, the Red Sox overcame a 2-0 first-inning deficit to claim a 4-2 victory and maintain their status as the hottest team in baseball.
Cora once again pushed all the right buttons, mixing up his outfield alignment for the ninth time in 10 games, assembling a bottom of the order that drove in three runs, and making a small gesture that unlocked a big performance out of first baseman Bobby Dalbec.
“Last year it was tough to watch, it was tough for them that were here,” Cora said. “It’s still early, but they can see the talent we have, and what we are doing, it’s fun for them again. Baseball is fun again.”
Cora deserves every plaudit he has received for helping them rediscover that joy. On Tuesday, NESN’s cameras caught him fist-bumping Dalbec after a flyout to right field, and broadcaster Jerry Remy was all over it. Despite playing virtually every day, Dalbec had enjoyed the winning streak as more of a spectator than contributor, hitting just .120 with 10 strikeouts in 28 plate appearances.
Cora recognized the significance of driving the ball the other way, however, and he let Dalbec know it. The big first baseman rewarded that confidence with the tying double to right in the fifth and the go-ahead shot into the right field corner in the eighth. We might’ve easily missed it, but it’s a small way that Cora impacted the game.
He has had a similar effect on second baseman Christian Arroyo, who went 2 for 3 with a pair of runs and also started an outstanding double play on a shot up the middle. In the 10th inning vs. the Rays last week, Arroyo managed to move Enrique Hernández to third by grounding an 0-2 pitch to the right side. He returned to the dugout for a conga line of high fives, led by Cora’s. The message was simple — you gave yourself up and made a productive out. Even though the run didn’t score, Arroyo had done his job.
“There’s a reason you’re given three strikes,” Arroyo said. “If I need to give up an at-bat, if I need to give up four at-bats, as long as we win the game, I don’t really care. That’s my mentality.”
That comes from Cora, who has also helped Rafael Devers navigate a brutal opening weekend en route to homers in his last four games. That comes from Cora, who gave J.D. Martinez the kick in the pants he needed late in spring training to turn on the afterburners during his historically great start. That comes from Cora, who has bounced veterans Marwin Gonzalez and Hernández all over the field while managing to keep each member of the bench and bullpen engaged.
Manager as MVP? You’d better believe it. The Red Sox aren’t 7-3 without him, and for that they can thank a process that may not have started with Cora as the choice, but ended with Bloom convinced that he had made the right call.