Alex Cora has rejoined the Boston Red Sox as manager, less than a fortnight after his season-long suspension from Major League Baseball expired.
Cora, 45, had won the World Series title with Boston in 2018, but was then sacked by the club in January for his part in the Houston Astros sign-stealing scandal, and subsequently banned by MLB for the 2020 season.
That ban lasted until the conclusion of the recent World Series.
But after a poor season under Cora’s replacement Ron Roenicke, in which the Red Sox lost 36 of their 60 games and finished bottom of the American League East division, they have moved quickly to rehire Cora once he was available again.
“This past year, I have had time to reflect and evaluate many things, and I recognize how fortunate I am to lead this team once again,” he said.
What is ‘sign stealing’ – and what was the scandal?
It happens when opposing teams monitor what finger signs a catcher is using to request specific deliveries – such as a fastball, curveball or slider – from his pitcher.
MLB rules prohibit the use of electronic equipment to steal signs but otherwise the practice, while frowned upon, is not against the rules.
In September 2017, the Red Sox were fined for using an Apple Watch to steal signs from the New York Yankees, leading MLB to specifically warn all 30 teams over the use of technology.
A report by The Athletic in November 2019 then claimed that the Astros had used a camera in the outfield in 2017 to monitor opposing teams’ signals, and then banged on a rubbish bin inside the clubhouse to signal an off-speed pitch.
In January, MLB suspended Astros manager AJ Hinch and general manager Jeff Luhnow for a year – the pair were both fired by Houston the same day – while fining the Astros and stripping them of four draft picks.
What about Cora?
Cora, who was Hinch’s bench coach at Houston in 2017 before moving to the Red Sox as manager, was found to have been involved in setting up the illegal recordings, and was mentioned 11 times in the nine-page report.
Also named in the report was former outfielder Carlos Beltran, who stepped down as New York Mets manager without taking charge of a game.
Although Cora was not immediately disciplined by MLB because of a separate probe into further allegations of sign-stealing by Boston in 2018, he was sacked by the Red Sox days later, and stated: “I do not want to be a distraction to the Red Sox as they move forward”.
That MLB investigation – into claims by The Athletic that Boston players had visited their video replay room, before relaying information to team-mates on the field – was not concluded until April.
The Red Sox were stripped of one draft pick, while their video replay system operator JT Watkins was suspended for a year – but MLB commissioner Rob Manfred concluded that neither Cora nor any other staff, nor “most of” the players were aware of Watkins’ actions.
Cora was, however, suspended for a season because of his actions at Houston, saying: “I take full responsibility for the role I played, along with others, in the Astros’ violations of MLB rules in 2017.”
But he is now back in the game – and is likely to face his old boss Hinch, who was hired as Detroit Tigers manager last week when his own ban expired, in 2021.