Alex Cora returns to Houston and reckons with the biggest mistake of his life

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Tomase: Cora returns to Houston and faces the music originally appeared on NBC Sports Boston

Alex Cora has not once ducked his role in the sign-stealing scandal that tainted the Astros' 2017 World Series title, earned Cora a suspension for the 2020 season, and sullied his reputation.

He forthrightly answered Chaim Bloom's questions last fall and won back his old job. He fielded the media's question at a November press conference reintroducing him as Red Sox manager and started the process of moving on. He has frequently addressed the topic since the season started, recognizing that any mention of cheating in baseball -- from sign-stealing to illegal substances to doctored baseballs -- will put the focus back on him.

But no matter how much responsibility Cora takes for his actions, there was always one game on the schedule that was guaranteed to bring the topic of trash cans back to life: Memorial Day in Houston.

The Red Sox open a four-game set with the Astros on Monday in what is Cora's first appearance in Minute Maid Park since the scandal that cost him his job. And as expected, he fielded a host of questions about the scandal, the aftermath, and his feelings about returning to the scene of the crime, so to speak.

"I've said all along -- this is something, I'm not proud of it, but it happened, it happened," Cora said. "It's part of who I am, and this is going to be part of who I am for the rest of my life."

For those who need the refresher, MLB's investigation into sign-stealing by the Astros made Cora a central figure, if not a scapegoat. He admitted to conceiving of the plan to use video to decipher signs and then pound on a trash can near the dugout to signal whether a fastball or breaking ball was coming.

The Astros were a powerhouse and rolled to the World Series, but no matter how talented that team was, it will now forever be associated with winning dirty.

And no matter how well Cora's Red Sox are playing at 32-20, he knows that a series that should be about two of the better teams in the American League squaring off, it will instead be about 2017.

"I put myself in this situation, I handle this situation the way I'm going to handle it," Cora said. "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 the past. It's going to be part of my future. It's something I'm not proud of it but at the same time I've got a job to do and my job is to manage the Boston Red Sox and hopefully get back to the World Series."

Cora still counts a number of Astros among his close friends, from shortstop Carlos Correa to catcher Martin Maldonado to hitting coach Alex Cintron. If there's one person he harbors any kind of grudge towards, it's former GM Jeff Luhnow, who wouldn't even refer to Cora by name in the report that led to Cora, Luhnow, and former Astros manager A.J. Hinch losing their jobs.

"I think out of the whole report, the way Jeff talked about myself, just saying, 'the bench coach,' that really bothered me," Cora said. "That really bothered me. Obviously I don't know what was said in the investigation. I know what I said, what I went through, and it is what it is. I got suspended, that's something that will always be on my resume, and I think at the end, we all made a mistake. We all messed up and we all are paying the price."

When asked if he can still have good memories of Minute Maid, Cora didn't hesitate to mention the 2018 Red Sox coming to Houston and sweeping their way into the World Series behind big home runs from Jackie Bradley Jr. and a game-saving diving catch from Andrew Benintendi.

As he looks forward, Cora knows he'll always face questions about the Astros, but he also knows he can keep doing his job.

"In the press conference, we talked about it in November, and I think people took it the wrong way, like I was down and I wasn't going to be able to do my job and I wasn't into it," he said. "Well, I love what I do. Just the fact that I made a mistake is part of it. I don't think I'm the first human being that made a mistake. But the thing is, at this level, this platform, it's going to be tough forever.

"Not only when I come here, it can be when I go to other places and there are going to be situations that are going to come up through the season. There are going to be books, there's going to be 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."