Ethics Corrupter: The Boston Red Sox

red_sox disgraced

Sometimes, a mere “ethics dunce” designation isn’t enough.

The decision, announced yesterday, by the Boston Red Sox to rehire disgraced manager Alex Cora to a two-year contract that will again put him at the helm of the team is disgusting and indefensible, unethical to the core. For me, it constitutes 2020’s second major ethics offense by an organization and a sport that has been important on many levels throughout my life, substantially challenging my loyalty and affection.

I was going to call the post “Ethics Strike Two On the Boston Red Sox,” but that formula would require me to give the team a third chance to disgrace itself before I called it “out” of my life, and I don’t know if I can do that. Nonetheless, I’m going to attempt to keep the emotional component of this most recent ethics breach on the metaphorical bench in this post as I try to be objective.

I won’t promise that I will succeed.

Cora was fired by the Red Sox in January after he was found to be the architect of the Astros’ 2017 sign-stealing scheme, one of the worst scandals in Major League Baseball history, trailing only the 1918 Black Sox scandal and the illegal player steroid era in its degree of damage to the sport. Commissioner Rob Manfred later suspended Cora through the end of the 2020 postseason. The revelation that Cora, a bench coach for then Astros manager A. J. Hinch,  had been at the center of an organized cheating scheme that helped bring the Houston Astros a World Championship also cast a shadow over the following year’s World Championship achieved by the Boston Red Sox, which had hired Cora as its manager. Did the cheating mastermind from Houston bring his unethical ways to his first managing job? Why wouldn’t he?

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Yes, We Have Another New Rationalization! Welcome #20 A: “Everyone Deserves A Second Chance!”

Cora

No, in fact everyone doesn’t.

I encountered this inexplicably omitted rationalization—“inexplicably” because we all hear it so often, yet its obvious rationalization character had not occurred to me—today while reading a post by a friend, a Boston Red Sox sportswriter. My friend was answering a query about who the Sox, just off a terrible season, might tap to become the new manager, since the team had unceremoniously dumped poor Ron Roenicke, who literally never had a chance to do anything but fail. The inquirer wondered if Alex Cora, the Sox manager in 2018 and 2019, might return though he had been fired before the 2020 season since he was serving a year-long suspension for his part in the Houston Astros cheating scandal while he was a Houston coach in 2017. My friend, who has made this same argument to me in private conversations, wrote,

I’m not an oddsmaker, but if I was making the decision, I would bring Cora back in a heartbeat. Players responded well to Cora in his two-year stint managing the Red Sox, and it would obviously be well-received in the clubhouse if he comes back. Cora is also popular among Red Sox fans as many of them have been pining for his return. Bringing Cora back could help to rejuvenate a fan base that was discouraged by the 2020 season. As for the detractors who say he was part of a sign-stealing scandal with the Astros? Everyone deserves a second chance.

Ugh. This was not my friend’s finest hour—wait, that’s a rationalization too (19A The Insidious Confession, or “It wasn’t the best choice.”). Okay, the statement was awful:

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Oh Joy! A Baseball Ethics Story! Alex Cora Finally Speaks Out!

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… Continue reading

What’s The Ethical Response When Your Life And Reputation Collapses, And It’s Your Fault? My 12 Step Program For Alex Cora

I have been thinking a  lot about what I would do if I were Alex Cora.

In the past, people who have had the kind of precipitous public fall from grace that Cora has had often committed suicide. That’s neither an ethical nor reasonable response for the former Boston manager, but what is an ethical and reasonable response?

If you don’t know: Alex Cora was, until recently, one of the most popular, secure and successful young managers in Major League Baseball. His present was bright—he had a contract that paid him $800,000 a year, he was one of the faces of the Boston Red Sox, a storied franchise with a fanatic following, he was seen as a role model and an an inspiring  figure who represented the game, his city and his team, as well as his Puerto Rico home. His future was if anything, brighter: more money, perhaps even greater success with a talented and wealthy club, endorsement contracts, upper management, books, broadcasting…and of course, adulation, celebrity and fame.

Then, in the span of days, it was all gone. Cora was named as the mastermind of a sign-stealing cheating scandal that devastated the Houston Astros, and as the likely one responsible for another cheating scandal in Boston. He was fired as Boston’s manager, and the fans, and sports media are furious. Cora is certain to be suspended without pay for two years, and to be pronounced persona non grata in baseball for the foreseeable future. No baseball team will want to be associated with Alex Cora even after his official punishment is over.

So far, Cora has not addressed all of this in public; presumably he is awaiting the MLB report after its investigation of Boston’s sign-stealing in 2018. He has not yet apologized nor acknowledged wrong-doing. What is the most ethical way for him to proceed?

If I were hired to give Cora professional guidance about the way to proceed in the most ethical manner possible, what would it be? Cora still has to earn a living. He has to go on living too: he has a family. He has responsibilities.

Here are the 12 steps—it just turned out that way, I swear. Okay, when I got to ten and realized I was near the end, I did think, “Surely this can be jiggered to have 12 steps..”—that I would urge Alex Cora to follow: Continue reading

Chess Learns to Cheat

The French chess federation has suspended three of its best chess players for cheating in a tournament last Fall. Sébastien Feller, a 20 years old grandmaster, Cyril Marzolo, and Arnaud Hauchard, who is the French team captain, secretly used a computer to feed them moves during their matches. The games were broadcast over the Internet, and a confederate fed the game positions into a computer with a sophisticated chess-playing program (computers beat the world’s best human player very regularly now).  Once the computer made its move, the confederate sent it to the human grandmaster using a text message. The three French chess whizzes matched the  computer almost move for move.

Amazing. Continue reading