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Scott Lauber, ESPN Staff Writer 345d

Analytics, 'Boston experience' made Alex Cora the Red Sox's first choice

MLB, Boston Red Sox

BOSTON -- For two weeks, Alex Cora lived a double life.

"I was the Red Sox manager from 8 to 11 [in the morning]," he said, "then I became the bench coach for the Houston Astros."

On Monday, 15 days after signing a three-year contract to be the 47th manager of the Boston Red Sox, Cora finally was able to devote 100 percent of his time and energy to that singular pursuit.

Having concluded his Astros coaching tenure with a World Series parade through downtown Houston last Friday, he arrived at Fenway Park to be reintroduced to the media, some of whom covered him as a player from 2005 to 2008, and take questions for the first time since the announcement of his hiring in a news release.

The Red Sox fired John Farrell on Oct. 11, two days after losing to Cora's Astros in the American League Division Series, and finalized a deal with Cora on Oct. 22, one day after the Astros won the pennant by beating the New York Yankees in Game 7 of the AL Championship Series.

In between, Red Sox president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski led a seven-person contingent to New York to interview Cora on Oct. 15, an off day in the ALCS. A few days later, owner John Henry and chairman Tom Werner -- who happened to be in New York on what Henry termed "non-baseball business" -- met with Cora.

And although the Red Sox also interviewed former Detroit Tigers manager Brad Ausmus and longtime Minnesota Twins skipper Ron Gardenhire, they quickly homed in on Cora. The 42-year-old native of Puerto Rico didn't have any previous big league managerial experience and had only one season on a major league coaching staff, as Astros manager A.J. Hinch's right-hand man.

"We had a list of legitimately 50 names and cut it down to three, always knowing we could expand the list if we wanted to," Dombrowski said. "Once we finished interviewing, we didn't feel like we needed to go out and interview anybody else, because we felt comfortable with Alex. Everybody said at that point, 'If somebody else is going to be our manager after this, they're going to be outstanding,' because all of us felt so good about our meeting with Alex."

Despite Cora's lack of experience, Dombrowski explained that the Red Sox believed he brought the best combination of leadership, respect and communication skills with players. Cora also had a strong basis in analytics after a season with the Astros, who under general manager Jeff Luhnow have been at the forefront of baseball's evolution into data-driven analysis.

But there was something else about Cora that sold the Red Sox on him.

"Every time a player comes to play here for the first time, you wonder how they're going to respond to this environment," Henry said. "You guys write about it a lot. In this case, we knew Alex would be able to handle the Boston experience."

Indeed, of Cora's 14 seasons as a utility infielder in the majors, four were with the Red Sox. He arrived in a trade with the Cleveland Indians in 2005 and left as a free agent after the 2008 season. The Red Sox won the World Series in 2007 and went to Game 7 of the ALCS in 2008, and although Cora was a role player on the field, he's widely credited with being a team leader and one of the veterans who kept enigmatic Manny Ramirez in line.

Cora becomes the Red Sox's first minority manager, no small matter for an organization that has a checkered history with race relations. Under former owner Tom Yawkey, the Red Sox were the last major league team to integrate its roster, in 1959, and last summer, Henry made headlines by announcing his desire to remove Yawkey's name from the street that houses Fenway Park.

But although Cora presented Dombrowski with the flag of Puerto Rico and emphasized how important his hiring is to his country, he also brushed off the notion that being Latino gave him an advantage over other candidates.

"I always said the last two years, I'm a capable manager. It was going to come down to someone giving me that opportunity," Cora said. "I never thought that I was getting interviewed because I was a minority. I happen to be. I've seen it as: I'm a capable guy. I understand the history throughout the game. There's not too many Latino managers. But there's 30 capable managers, and I'm one of them."

Said Henry: "In my mind, it did not play a role. We chose the best man. We weren't looking to make a statement. We were looking to do the best thing for the organization."

Cora envisions himself as a players' manager and credits Hinch with teaching him about the importance of building trust within the clubhouse.

"This year, I learned that talking to players is not bad," Cora said. "Having a good relationship with players is not bad. Doing that, you're going to get the best out of them.

"People might think that crossing that line is not helpful, but I see it the other way around. And I lived it. You embrace them, you tell them how good they are, and when you have to twist their arm and tell them that's not good enough, they're going to respond to you. That's my goal here. I want players to respond to me, respond to the city, and if we do that, we're going to be in good shape."

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