Alex Cora is back with the Red Sox, and I have mixed feelings about it.
There is no doubt that Cora can lead men. I saw that firsthand when he was in the manager’s chair at Fenway Park. The players like and respect him.
I also know that Cora is good with we members of the media. I know that’s not a big deal to many of you, but having a manager who doesn’t just spout clichés when he speaks can be an advantage. It’s an advantage to us, and it’s an advantage to you because we are the folks who tell you what’s going on. A good manager reaches the fans through the press.
Cora is not getting the same Red Sox team back that he had when they won the 2018 World Series, or not even the team that played in 2019.
There’s no Mookie Betts. There’s no Mitch Moreland. There’ll likely be no Jackie Bradley Jr. The jury is still way out on Chris Sale and Eduardo Rodriguez coming all the way back from injury and COVID-19 related illness, respectively. There is no Rick Porcello. Going into the season, your No. 1 pitcher remains Nathan Eovaldi.
It will, of course, be interesting to see what Chaim Bloom and his baseball staff can do via free agency or possible trades to strengthen a pretty bad Red Sox roster.
Whether Bloom should have brought Cora back is a legitimate question. Cora was a huge part of the Houston Astros’ cheating scandals, and was the manager when the Red Sox got caught as well. We can all debate whether he deserves a second chance, but the Red Sox believe he’s earned one.
I would rather debate the merits of a manager getting a second crack with the same team. Because those second chances have come with some really mixed results.
Boston even has experience with that. Here’s the most recent one.
Pinky Higgins was the Red Sox manager from 1955-59, and had a record of 360-329 in that time. He was fired in July 1959, and replaced by Billy Jurges. Jurges went 59-63 and was fired in the middle of the 1960 season. Higgins was hired back, and he finished his Red Sox managerial career with a less-than-stellar 200-227 record.
Higgins is not in the Baseball Hall of Fame and Earl Weaver is. But the two managers do have something in common. Rough second acts.
Weaver replaced Hank Bauer in 1968, and the Hall-of-Famer guided the Orioles to a 48-34 record to close the year. From 1969 until his “retirement” in 1982, Weaver had no losing records, none. He guided the Birds to American League pennants in 1969, 1970, 1971 and 1979, and beat the Cincinnati Reds in 1970 for a World Series title.
Weaver was called back into the dugout when Baltimore fired Joe Altobelli in 1985. Weaver finished that season going 53-52 and then 73-89 the next season before, once again, calling it quits.
There’s always the Billy Martin eras with the Yankees, so multiple stints as a manager doesn’t necessarily have to go badly. Here, however, are two where it went very well.
Danny Murtaugh replaced Bobby Bragan as the manager of the Pittsburgh Pirates in 1957. In 1960, the Murtaugh-managed Pirates beat the Yankees in seven games to win the World Series. That came on the famous (or infamous if you’re a New York fan) Bill Mazeroski home run in the bottom of the ninth inning.
Murtaugh moved upstairs into the front office and Harry “The Hat” Walker was hired to start the 1965 season. He was fired in 1967 and replaced by Murtaugh in the interim.
But Murtaugh came down from the front office again in 1970 and guided the Pirates to consecutive division titles, and a World Series crown in 1971.
Bobby Cox in Atlanta, however, takes the prize for the best second act.
Cox was hired by the Braves for the 1978 season, replacing the trio of owner Ted Turner, Vern Benson and Dave Bristol. In four years, Cox went 266-323, and was replaced by Joe Torre.
Five men managed the Braves until Cox replaced Russ Nixon in mid-1990. Until he retired from managing after the 2010 season, all Cox did was win 14 division titles, 11 of them in a row, and a World Series championship in 1995.
It has happened in other sports as well. See Jon Gruden in Oakland/Las Vegas, Bill Walsh in San Francisco, and in college football Johnny Majors at Pittsburgh and Mark Whipple at UMass. While the jury is still out on Gruden, none of those other second acts amounted to much.
Much of Red Sox Nation has to be happy this morning. We’ll see how things work out.