Don’t look now, but someone is making a better impression upon the Boston Red Sox’s brass in the team’s managerial search than you might have thought. His name isn’t Alex Cora, either.
Sure, Cora’s still in the running to reclaim the job his Astrogate shenanigans cost him last winter. Sure, his squeeze-out happened even before we saw affirmed that his Rogue Sox turned out to be cheaters of a slightly less nefarious variety en route their own 2018 World Series conquest.
Like former Astros manager A.J. Hinch, Cora deserves another chance after having served the sentence that ended the moment the World Series did. But notice that Hinch is getting his in Detroit, not Houston. No matter how popular he was among his Red Sox players, Cora’s second chance cannot come in Boston.
You have to ask? Maybe Cora did or didn’t order, abet, or merely encourage his 2018 and maybe 2019 Rogue Sox to steal signs off the feeds in their video replay room. You don’t applaud cheating qua cheating when you say the Rogue Sox can be seen as led into temptation by MLB itself providing the apparatus. (Behind both dugouts in all parks, by the way)
But you don’t absolve Cora or his troops for giving in. Just because Mom and Dad left the keys to the hooch hutch lying around open before going out for the evening it doesn’t mean their short-of-legal-age kids have the license to get themselves swacked.
Let’s give the benefit of the doubt a moment and assume Cora didn’t order, abet, or merely encourage. No matter. The first responsibility of leadership is that you take responsibility for what your subordinates do. Or, undo. Hinch learned the hard way, too. He was a lot more forthcoming in the aftermath while he was at it. When he spoke of wishing for a second chance, he never exactly said it ought to be with the Astros.
To those Red Sox fans who were just as outraged over the Red Sox Replay Room Reconnaissance Ring as Astro fans outraged over the Astro Intelligence Agency, take heart. If Red Sox general manager Chaim Bloom gets his way, you might see a white knight riding in from Philadelphia soon enough.
MLB Network’s Jon Heyman says former outfielder turned Phillies coordinator for player information Sam Fuld has “a real chance” at landing the Red Sox bridge. “Fuld, who is from (New Hampshire) and is well regarded,” Heyman says, “can’t be ruled out here as Bloom is said to love him going back to their [Tampa Bay] Rays days.”
It’s not that Bloom’s unaware that previous Red Sox GMs found their ultimate managerial choices overruled by Red Sox ownership. Just ask now-Pittsburgh Pirates GM Ben Cherington. His choice after the infamous 2011 collapse, and Terry Francona walking subsequently before he could be booted, was anybody but Bobby Valentine.
Valentine wandered into a clubhouse already toxic from the 2011 collapse and played with matches. Even the 27 disabled-list trips Red Sox players made in 2012 weren’t half as detrimental as Valentine’s divide-and-conquer style. Questioning popular but aging Kevin Youkilis’s heart in hand with his physical health lost the skipper his clubhouse too early that season.
Valentine threw so many people under buses in Boston that Cherington probably sang “Happy Days Are Here Again” to himself when he got to fire Valentine after that season ended. The last thing Bloom should want now is to get an ownership boot in the backside by way of a forced hire he might have to can after 2021.
“Bloom may want a fresh start as he rebuilds this team from the ground up—in which case Fuld sounds like the man for the job,” writes Yahoo! Sports’s Darren Hartwell.
“The new chief baseball officer deserves his own hire, and Cora made his life miserable when he threw a managerial search on top of trading a franchise player last winter,” writes NBC Sports Boston’s John Tomase. Bloom’s public statements about Cora have been cool at best, suggesting the former skipper needed to undertake some serious soul searching and image rehabilitation following his central role in Houston’s cheating scandal. If Bloom wants to start fresh, why interview Cora at all?”
Why indeed. But Red Sox brass traveled to Cora’s home in Puerto Rico to talk to him. You might think that’s an exercise in futility, considering Cora isn’t exactly an unknown quantity to the Red Sox. You’d also think the Red Sox wouldn’t need to know anything—other than, perhaps, the depth of his contrition for his Astrogate role and Soxgate allowance—that they didn’t know already.
Fuld was a hustling outfielder who rarely met a wall or fence he didn’t think he could conquer on the run. His frequent spells on the disabled list reminded him there were more than a few walls and fences that didn’t suffer fools or outfielders gladly. If he studied baseball history formally, the one day he ditched was probably the day they taught the sad story of Pistol Pete Reiser.
He defied the still-lingering prejudice against players who weren’t six foot-plus galoots, yet he didn’t make his first team right out of spring training until he was 29. He was also a solid contact hitter who could extort his way on base and whose injuries—especially one to his wrist ligaments—probably eroded those skills far sooner than they should have.
Fuld was also as analytically-inclined as a player as he was the type who dared the outfield to blow him to Kingdom Come. When the Phillies hired him following his 2017 retirement, Fuld became so well respected that he was on the short list for several managerial openings including four last fall. The Cubs, the Mets, the Pirates, and the Giants gave him serious looks before Fuld turned them down to stay in his Phillies job.
But with the Phillies canning GM Matt Klentak and their next GM likely to look for his own people, Fuld is probably very available now. He’s not exactly alien to New England, either. He’s the son of a longtime University of New Hampshire dean and a former New Hampshire state senator, and he grew up an avid Red Sox fan, keeping posters of Nomar Garciaparra on his bedroom wall and visiting Fenway Park as often as he could.
Fuld once made a big day of his own at Fenway while playing for the Rays. On 11 April 2011, he went 4-for-6 and might have hit for the cycle except for his final plate appearance, where he needed a single to finish the cycle but hit the ball far enough down the line that he knew he had a shot at the clean double and had to take it.
Consummating the cycle would have made headlines, highlighted SportsCenter, and thrilled his visiting family even more. But baseball’s more than great theater, and Fuld knew it. “I never thought about stopping at first,” he told ESPN’s Tim Kurkjian post-game. “That’s not the right way to play the game. If you can advance to the next base, you advance. That’s the only way to play baseball.”
A guy who surrenders a cycle to play the game right is a guy who’ll take his marriage of right play and right analysis and get whatever rebuilding Red Sox are handed to him to play the game right. Assuming Bloom is allowed his head rather than unexpectedly bereft of it, Fuld should be more than just a little green dot on the Red Sox radar.