Much has been written and said about the fact that the Red Sox and Yankees, the two teams viewed by almost everyone as the two strongest teams in the American League East and likely to battle each other for the Division Championship, are both being led by Managers with no managerial experience.
The Red Sox Manager, Alex Cora, was the Bench Coach of the World Championship Houston Astros last year, which most people feel gives him an advantage over the Yankees Aaron Boone who jumped into managing straight from the broadcast booth.
On paper, the teams look pretty evenly matched with the Yankees having the edge in the power and offensive departments and the Sox with the stronger pitching staff.
How important is the Manager? Don’t ask a Red Sox fan who gloried in the Francona years, only to have to endure a year with Bobby Valentine. But, on the other hand, John Farrell, who most members of Red Sox Nation were unhappy with, gave them three regular season Division titles and a World Series win in five years as Manager.
Cora recently said that the Red Sox are a strong team, having won two Division Titles in a row, while winning 93 games both seasons, but he also said that Red Sox fans are generally not happy with less than a World Championship.
The 2016 and 2017 Red Sox will be a hard act to follow for Cora. Coming off two 93 game win seasons and adding J. D. Martinez to the mix, a lot will be expected of him. Even though they won those two regular season titles, they were defeated in the first round of the Playoffs which, in Boston, is the equivalent of a bad year. It was especially bad in 2017, when the hated Yankees won the Division Playoff round and came within one game of making the World Series after the Red Sox had bowed out in the Division Series.
Cora has history on his side in his first year as he takes over the Red Sox. The franchise started out as the Boston Americans and became the Red Sox in 1908. Since 1908, the Sox have won eight World Series of the 11 they have played in.
In 1912, when they won their first World Series as the Red Sox, Jake Stahl was in his first year as Manager of the Sox. In 1915 and 1916 when they won the next two, Bill Carrigan was the Manager and he was in his third and fourth years as Manager. In 1918, Ed Barrow, in his first year as the Sox Manager, took them to a World Series win.
Of course, from 1916 until 2004, there were no World Series victories for the Sox but, in 2004, when they won their first title in 86 years, their leader, Terry Francona, was in his first year as Manager. The next Series win was in 2007, with Terry Francona still at the helm. In 2013, John Farrell, in his first year as Manager of the Sox, took them to a World Series win.
There have been seven Red Sox World Series victories in 111 years, since they became the Red Sox in 2008. Only five Managers of the 40 who have led the Sox in that time have brought a World Series Title to Boston. Four of the five Managers who have led the Sox to a World Series Championship did so in their first year at the helm. Stahl, Barrow, Francona and Farrell won in their first year. Of the five, only Carrigan did not win a title in his first year.
Does this give Cora an advantage as he enters his first year? I don’t think so but it won’t be like he’s trying to do something that has never been done before. On the other hand, there have been 35 Managers since 2008 who have not won a World Series in their first or any year compared to just the five who have won.
So far, I like what I have seen with Cora. He seems more involved with his players, coaches and the game than Farrell was. I was impressed with the way he interacted with the players from Boston University and Northeastern during their exhibition games. He is obviously getting an early look at his core players while giving those players who might make the team, like Blake Swihart, Sam Travis and Deven Marrero plenty of opportunities to show what they can do.
I like that he is in the game and talking with his staff and the players, teaching when it’s needed and congratulating when it’s earned. I like it that, when Roenis Elias obviously balked twice in the Minnesota game on Tuesday, Cora took the time to talk with the umpire who made the call to find out just what he saw so he could correct it.
( Do they really believe that Elias, who was 2-7 at Pawtucket last year with a 5.59 earned run average, has a 15-21 overall record in the Majors and has thrown just eight innings, giving up 11 runs, in the Majors, in the last two years, can be an effective part of their starting rotation this year? )
I like the fact that the players seem to be comfortable with approaching their new boss in the dugout and that he is just as comfortable with them. He seems to have the desire and the personality to lead this talented team to success.
I am sure that we have a lot to learn about Alex Cora, some things that we will like and some that we won’t. Knowing Boston fans, the things that they found they didn’t like will be forgotten if history repeats itself and he gives them a Championship in his first year. If not, Cora may find that, in the pressure cooker that is Boston, it can get really hot.