While the players union and Major league Baseball bicker over the terms under which the American Pastime will have a limited season in 2020, the specter of the ugly ethics scandal that closed out the off-season came out to say “Boo!” Alex Cora, fingered in the Commissioner’s report as the mastermind behind the Houston Astros 2017 sign-stealing scheme, which apparently extended into the play-offs and World Series (which the cheating Astros won), finally talked about the episode, which promises to haunt the Astros, baseball and him for a long time. Cora was suspended for a year and lost his job as manager of the Boston Red Sox. Carlos Beltran, the Astros player who was found to be Cora’s partner in crime, was fired from his new position as manager of the New York Mets, and both the manager and the general manager of the Astros were suspended and fired.
Cora, to my surprise, was cleared in an investigation of the allegations that his Red Sox team in 2018 was also stealing signs. The MLB report faulted a single coach and determined that the sign-stealing was sporadic and relatively minor. I fully expected Cora to be found as the culprit in a second major cheating scandal, and to perhaps be banned from baseball entirely. Well, good: I’m relieved. he’s not the Bad Seed I feared he was.
Back when I was certain Cora was facing the end of his baseball career—and he still might be—I proposed a 12 Step Program for him to regain the trust of fans and his sport. The steps, which are described in detail here, were…
1. Come clean and admit everything,
2. Accept all blame.
3. Apologize generally, specifically, and without excuses
4. The apologize orally, not via social media.
5. Take questions from reporters, and perhaps fans.
6. Announce that he is donating his winners’ shares of the Astros and the Red Sox Championships to an organization that promotes sportsmanship or that works to eliminate corruption in the workplace.
7. Hire a professional ethics consultant and advisor (no, not me) to help him learn and master the ethics tools essential to strengthening Cora’s ethics alarms.
8. Begin a project that uses his experience to teach others not to behave as he did. The project should involve speaking engagements, gratis, except for expenses, at schools and in front of all students, not just athletes. He should expand his appearances to businesses, boards of directors, and elected officials, discussing the obligations of leadership and trust.
9. If his the response to his presentations warrant it, he should seek consultant positions in various organizations. At no point should he actively seek a position in baseball. He should wait to see if they come to him.
10. Eventually he should write a book about his life and career, in the context of his cheating, focusing on what he has learned and how he learned it. Again, the proceeds should be contributed to appropriate non-profit organizations.
11. Cora must go forward realizing that from now on, he has no margin for error. He must pay all of his taxes on time, drive at the speed limit, never exceed his credit limits. He spent all of his good will and more in his baseball crimes. He has to earn a second chance, and it may never come.
12. Finally, Alex Cora must be brutally honest and self-reflective, and know when he is genuinely ready to be trusted again, and worthy of that trust.
Now that he is finally speaking ( Cora said he had been silent all these months because “talking about it wouldn’t change anything.”), how is Alex doing regarding my 12 Steps?
Well, not too good. As you can see in his answers, Cora’s main thrust is that he and Beltran have been made out to be the primary guilty parties responsible for the cheating, and he feels this is unfair. “Out of this whole process, if there is one thing that I completely reject and disagree with is people within the Astros organization singling me out,” he says. “If there is one thing I am absolutely sure of, it is that it was not a two-man show. We all did it. And let me be very clear that I am not denying my responsibility, because we were all responsible.”
So much for Steps 1 and 2.
His apology, Steps 3 and 4? Cora says,
“I understand why people think that our championship is not valid, and it’s our fault that they think that. I am being honest and I apologize for what happened and for the mistakes we made as a group,”
Not good. That’s another Level 9 and 10 hybrid on the Apology Scale…
9. Deceitful apologies, in which the wording of the apology is crafted to appear apologetic when it is not (“if my words offended, I am sorry”). Another variation: apologizing for a tangential matter other than the act or words that warranted an apology.
10. An insincere and dishonest apology designed to allow the wrongdoer to escape accountability cheaply, and to deceive his or her victims into forgiveness and trust, so they are vulnerable to future wrongdoing.
Cora is apologizing for “what happened” and “mistakes we made as a group.” That’s a non-apology apology, and his repeated assertion that “I deserve my suspension and I’m paying the price for my actions” doesn’t fix it. He’s flunked Step #12: he’s not being honest with himself, much less us. I’ll give him half credit on Step #4 for not weaseling out on social media, and, also on Step #5 for finally agreeing to an interview. Steps 6-10 are still within reach, I suppose. As for #11…well, Cora just doesn’t get it. Maybe he will before it’s too late.