Álex Cora was named the 47th manager in Red Sox history on Sunday.
But that number is not the story.
The numbers 1, 2 and 18 are.
First on the Last
Álex Cora is the first minority manager in the Red Sox’s 117-year history.
That Cora, 42, makes this kind of history with the Red Sox in 2017 is understandable, given Boston’s place in baseball’s racial saga, then and now.
Adam Jones earlier this year was not the first black player to hear the N-word or complain about the challenge of playing in Boston, as part of the visiting or home team.
But what has transpired over the past two decades in Boston is telling of a particular shift in the Red Sox organizational identity.
The roster today is a rather powerful reflection of the diversity of the city of Boston: black, brown, and white.
For certain, these Red Sox are not the legacy of the organization Tom Yawkey built — his Red Sox were last to integrate.
Many blamed the Curse of the Bambino for the Red Sox’s failure to win a World Series after 1918. For them, the Sox’s 1920 trade of Babe Ruth to the Yankees was the act that doomed the organization’s championship aspirations.
Those who study baseball’s racial integration offer their own assessment.
It wasn’t the Curse of the Bambino.
More like, it was the Curse of the Club that Refused to Integrate.
Yawkey’s Red Sox had their shot.
Jackie Robinson was literally brought to them for an April 1945 tryout at Fenway by African-American sportswriter Wendell Smith.
Not really interested. No call-back. No contract offers.
It would not be until July 21, 1959, that Elijah “Pumpsie” Green appeared as the first black player on the Red Sox. By then Jackie Robinson had already been retired two years following 10 Hall of Fame seasons.
For much of the Yawkey era — which began in 1933 and lasted 70 years — the Red Sox maintained an organizational culture that was not very welcoming to Afro-Americans or black Latinos. Front office personnel and managers were hired who were either openly hostile or at best hesitant about embracing integration.
For example, in 1959 the Red Sox moved their spring training home to a segregated Scottsdale, Arizona. Which meant Pumpsie Green spent that spring training while attempting to become the first black Red Sox shuttling a dozen miles each way, every day, between Scottsdale and Phoenix. His white teammates spent their nights in Scottsdale hotels, where they were welcomed. Green did not because he wasn’t.
Becoming ‘los Red Sox’
The Red Sox organizational culture underwent a radical change when the Yawkey Trust sold the team in 2002.
Sure, Luis Tiant had his glory days in Red Sox uniform in the 1970s. He had BoSox fans chanting “LOO-ee, LOO-ee, LOO-ee” with his gutty performance during the 1975 American League playoffs and World Series. But what we saw in the 2000s elevated what Tiant enjoyed to a level not previously seen in Boston — Latino players becoming a major part of the team’s identity.
Over the course of the next two decades, Manny Ramírez, Pedro Martínez and David Ortiz, along with others transformed Boston into a team with a Latin soul, los Red Sox.
Those Red Sox became World Series contenders and champions. It was those Red Sox that Cora joined as a reserve infielder halfway through the 2005 season, winning a World Series ring in 2007 and playing with them through 2008.
Álex is familiar with the fact that Boston’s team also has an identity as los Red Sox, a team with as diverse a roster as Boston has ever seen, combining young and veteran African-American, Latino and white players.
This is why Cora released a statement that stated: “Returning to the Red Sox and the city of Boston is a dream come true for me and my family,” and that he looks “forward to working towards the ultimate goal of winning another championship for this city and its great fans.”
Two and 18
That next season Cora and the White Sox’s Rick Rentería will be the only Latino managers working in Major League Baseball is not as understandable as Cora becoming the Red Sox’s first minority skipper.
There have been a good number of Latinos who aspired to be MLB managers, including Roberto Clemente, who also wanted to be the first black one until his untimely death in 1972. Most of them never got to enjoy the kind of announcement that Cora just did with Boston: Congratulations, you are our guy.
With Sunday’s confirmation, Cora became just the third Puerto Rican and 18th Latino to manage a MLB team, including those who were just interim choices, according to a count by La Vida Baseball and the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum. That’s out of more than 700 managers.
This is noteworthy in that the 2017 season marked the 50th consecutive season Latinos have represented at least 10 percent of all major league players. Today they total around 30 percent.
Latinos who desire to become managers are all around the league. As coaches, sitting alongside managers Joe Maddon (Dave Martínez) and Terry Francona (Sandy Alomar Jr.) in Chicago and Cleveland, respectively, just like Cora did this season in Houston next to A.J. Hinch.
They are also manning the first- and third-base coach’s boxes.
And working as studio analysts for sports networks, in front-office positions or in the minor leagues preparing the next group of budding stars.
Yet, Alomar Jr. is still waiting for his first chance to be named as any team’s manager while one of his colleagues on the Indians’ staff, pitching coach Mickey Callaway, was announced this weekend as the new Mets manager.
Gaining experience coaching teams that become winners and World Series teams used to help coaches like Martínez and Alomar secure a skipper’s job. But MLB’s hiring practices over the past decade shows this is not the case when it comes to Latinos.
Oquendo is still waiting
Instead, MLB initiated a wave of hires from 2012-2015 of candidates with zero managerial or coaching experience. In addition to a lack of previous experience, a common thread to these hires was that they were all white.
So, Cora getting hired to manage the Red Sox is important. It signals to aspiring Latino managerial candidates like Alomar, Martínez, José Oquendo, Roberto Kelly and Raúl Ibáñez, plus those with previous experience like Ozzie Guillén, Manny Acta and Tony Peña that there is hope. That there are front office officials who realize that success in 21st century involves both understanding advance analytics and knowing how to manage a diverse roster with Latino stars.
That was the secret of los Red Sox’s success.
That combination is no longer the future of baseball. It’s its present.
Featured Image: Ronald Martínez / Getty Images Sport
Inset Image: Elsa / Getty Images Sport