Alex Cora’s return to the Boston Red Sox may be viewed as terrific news for the team’s owners and the fans who recall seeing him carrying a championship trophy on a duck boat parade two years ago. But if anyone is even slightly tempted to portray it in a shimmering glow of redemption, Cora himself flatly rejected the premise.
Cora, who was reintroduced as the Red Sox manager at a news conference on Tuesday at Fenway Park, said no one should misinterpret the circumstances surrounding his scandal-induced dismissal from the team in January, or his unusual return after his suspension.
“I don’t want people to make it seem like it’s a great comeback story,” he said. “I don’t want that.”
Cora did come back to Boston, though, after missing just 60 games because of the pandemic-shortened season. He was suspended for the entire season by Major League Baseball in January (before it was shortened by 102 games), and then fired by the Red Sox — all for his role in the Houston Astros’ illegal sign-stealing scandal in 2017.
Cora was the Astros’ bench coach that year, and an M.L.B. investigation found that he was one of the principal architects of a caper to steal signs from live video feeds and relay the information to batters at the plate by banging on a trash can.
During Tuesday’s meeting with the news media, Cora apologized a half-dozen times for his role in the scandal.
“I’m going to say today, I’m going to say tomorrow, I’m going to say the rest of my life: I’m sorry,” he said
A.J. Hinch was Houston’s manager and Cora’s boss in 2017 and was also suspended for the 2020 season and then fired by the Astros. Two weeks ago, he was hired to manage the Detroit Tigers. Two others who lost their jobs in the fallout from the scandal, Jeff Luhnow and Carlos Beltran, are still unemployed. Luhnow was the general manager of the Astros and is suing the team for breach of contract. Beltran, who was a player on the team, was not suspended by M.L.B. but was still fired by the Mets in January, leaving the job before he had managed a game.
Cora got his second chance because, like Hinch, he had a record of success. He led the Red Sox to the 2018 World Series championship, and he is generally adored by the Red Sox owners, John Henry and Tom Werner. But in January, Henry, Werner and Sam Kennedy, Boston’s chief executive, said that “it would not be possible for Alex to effectively lead the club going forward.”
That changed drastically over the past 10 months. The owners said that the decision to rehire Cora was made by Chaim Bloom, the Red Sox president of baseball operations, but Kennedy made it clear on Tuesday that it was also the choice favored by ownership.
“We are very pleased with the outcome, given how excited we are to have Alex back,” Kennedy said.
Bloom, who was hired by Boston one year ago, worked only a few months with Cora. He had interviewed several candidates to replace the interim manager Ron Roenicke but determined — after a lengthy interview process that Cora described as “intense” and “tough” — that the former manager was the right person to take back the reins.
“We all know him as a brilliant baseball mind who can lead and who can inspire as well as anybody in the game,” Bloom said of Cora. “He has shown he can get the best out of players, and we’re looking forward to a really bright future with him at the helm.”
Cora was originally hired by Boston after helping the Astros, through legal and illegal means, to the 2017 championship. The next year, Boston won the title. An investigation by M.L.B. this year determined that Cora did not bring the same illicit tactics to Boston, nor did he oversee anything on the scale of what happened in Houston.
On Tuesday, Cora was asked why he didn’t cheat again since it had worked the first time. Cora admitted that he was scared to try a similar system. He said there had been enough allegations of cheating (indeed, some Red Sox players were found to be using Apple Watches to illegally steal signs against the Yankees in 2017) to prompt him to proceed with caution.
During spring training in 2018, there were warnings by M.L.B. officials and, Cora said, from Red Sox executives, including the former general manager Dave Dombrowski, that cheating would not be tolerated.
“They walked me through it,” Cora said, adding that his reaction was “Wow, I better not even try to do something like that.”
M.L.B. did find that a Red Sox video room operator was involved in a smaller sign-stealing incident in 2018 but said it was more isolated, and the league did not find Cora or Dombrowski culpable.
Cora says the lesson from that episode is to avoid “gray areas.” But he did vow to keep trying to steal signs through legal means and said he was fully aware that he could never cross any lines again.
“If I fail at this,” he said, “I’m out of the game.”