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There was a time not too long ago when Alex Cora might have expected a warm welcome back to Houston.
The Red Sox manager served as the bench coach for the Astros on their way to a World Series title in 2017. Cora was hired by Boston that offseason to turn a two-time American League East winner into a champion.
Houston’s electronic sign-stealing scandal and Cora’s role in it had yet to be revealed by a Major League Baseball investigation. He was dealt a season-long suspension in 2020 along with former Astros manager A.J. Hinch and top Houston executive Jeff Luhnow. Cora lost his job with the Red Sox — only to be rehired in November.
“Obviously those are not my proudest moments — the last 14, 15 months when we talk about Houston and myself,” Cora said. “The fact that we’re playing good baseball — the story should be the Boston Red Sox and the Houston Astros, two of the best teams in the big leagues. To think that it helps.
“But like I’ve been telling the guys — and you guys can ask them if you want to — they know. I put myself in this situation. I handled the situation the way I’m going to handle it. I’m not afraid to talk about it. It’s part of who I am. It’s part of my present. It was part of my past. It’s part of the future.
“It’s something I’m not proud of, but at the same time I have a job to do.”
The Astros outlasted the Dodgers in seven games to claim their lone championship in franchise history. The following years brought allegations that Houston filmed opposing catchers during games and relayed their signs to hitters in the batter’s box. MLB’s Department of Investigations concluded the Astros were organizationally culpable, and several sources who spoke with the commissioner’s office named Cora as the central figure.
“There was a lot of stuff that happened during the investigation that was tough to swallow,” Cora said. “At the end, like I’ve been saying all along, I made a mistake. I went through the process. After that, MLB did the right thing.”
Cora still maintains close contact with several members of Houston’s organization. He described hitting coach Alex Cintron as his best friend. Cora has played against catcher Martin Maldonado in the winter ball ranks and has long-standing ties with fellow Puerto Rico native Carlos Correa, the standout shortstop for the Astros.
But when asked about his favorite memories from the ballpark in general, Cora cited several instances from the American League Championship Series in 2018. Boston won all three games in Houston thanks to a succession of memorable moments — a Jackie Bradley Jr. grand slam in Game 3, a diving catch in left field by Andrew Benintendi to end Game 4, a three-run homer by Rafael Devers and a dominant pitching performance by David Price in the Game 5 clincher.
“I have good friends around and some good stuff that we did in ‘17,” Cora said. “But right now, as the manager of the Red Sox, this is what I remember — when we came here and we swept the Astros and we went to the World Series.”
Cora made clear his displeasure with Luhnow, who issued a January 2020 statement describing the scandal as one executed “by lower-level employees working with the bench coach.” Luhnow went on to defend his own character and that of the organization as a whole. The Astros’ collective culture came further into question thanks to its actions under Luhnow and the subsequent suspension of assistant general manager Brandon Taubman, who directed inappropriate comments toward a group of female reporters in 2019.
“I think out of the whole report, the way Jeff talked about me — saying the bench coach — really bothered me,” Cora said. “Obviously I don’t know what was said during the investigation. I know what I said, what I went through.
“It is what it is. I got suspended — deservedly so — and that’s something that will always be on my resumé. I think, at the end, we all made a mistake. We all messed up. We all are paying the price.”
Cora addressed his suspension during his November news conference at Fenway Park and again on multiple occasions over the following six months. He’s maintained an open-door policy with his players and members of Boston’s organization since his return. Cora was also forced to have difficult conversations with family members and friends regarding his exile from the game.
“It’s part of who I am,” Cora said. “This is going to be part of who I am for the rest of my life. I think in the press conference we talked about it in November.
“I think people took it the wrong way, kind of like I was down and I wasn’t going to be able to do my job — that I wasn’t into it. Well, I still love what I do. It’s just the fact that I made a mistake, and that’s part of it. I don’t think I’m the first human being who’s made a mistake. The thing is at this level, with this platform, it’s going to be tough forever.
“It’s not only when I come here. It’s going to be when I go to other places. There are going to be situations that are going to come up through the season. There are going to be books and stuff that’s going to be said. There are going to be narratives.
“For people to judge me, I understand. There’s nothing I can do. There’s nothing I can do to change the past. What I can do is be myself in the present and keep getting better.”
This article originally appeared on The Providence Journal: Red Sox's Alex Cora back in Houston for first time since scandal