[Editorial] Cora Goes for More-a
Although this time of year typically finds many of us New York Mets fans rooting for our uptown cousins, the established New York Yankees, this October has been an anomaly as it is difficult not to cheer for the Boston Red Sox, whose manager Alex Cora is Puerto Rican and has done the unthinkable leading his team to a record 108 wins in 2018. The Red Sox victory over the Yankees in a thrilling fourth game in the American League Division Series was one more cherry to top Cora’s splendid rookie season as a manager.
As a Mets fan, it is difficult to admit this. Some will claim it is penitence, a returned favor for that ground ball that went through Red Sox first baseman Bill Buckner’s legs, leading to a final inning meltdown and come-from-behind win by the Amazins in game six of the 1986 World Series. Although the meltdown was not entirely Buckner’s doing, urban myth has it that he tried to commit suicide by standing in front of a moving truck—but it went through his legs. Yes, bad joke.
Now, more than a generation later, Cora is the first Puerto Rican manager to have led his team to a division title and subsequent division series win in his first year out of the gate. It is a historic accomplishment in the annals of Major League Baseball (MLB) that is chock-full of monumental feats by Puerto Rican players.
Cora’s achievements as a manager do honor to the momentous occasion on which Santurce-born pitcher Hiram Bithorn hurled a slider as member of the Chicago Cubs in 1942, making him the first Puerto Rican to play in the big show more than 75 years ago.
In the time since, there have been many Puerto Rican players who made it to the majors, but not without their share of sacrifice. During an investigative series filed by this journalist and colleagues José Alvarado and Eric Edwards, we conducted dozens of interviews with stars from the era’s past—Luis Rodríguez Olmo, Rubén Gómez, Víctor Pellot and Orlando Cepeda—some of whom are no longer with us.
Many of those who played in the 1950s recounted stories of the racial affronts against them in their travels across the United States. Gómez recalled having to sleep at a Black Resident’s Inn with teammates Willie Mays and Hank Thompson while their white teammates on the San Francisco Giants slept at a whites-only hotel during a road trip through Lubbock, Texas. Gómez recounted giving his white teammates a lecture for condoning discriminatory behavior. The lashing reportedly led the manager to keep the team together at the same hotel for the remainder of the road trip.
In the decades since, many players have gone on to shine, thanks to those sacrifices by the Puerto Rican pioneers in the majors. We’ve had huge stars, the likes of Roberto Clemente, who perished in a plane crash on a humanitarian mission to help earthquake victims in Nicaragua, the year after obtaining his 3,000th hit in 1972. His example and that of those who preceded him inspired so many others to work hard in their aspiration to achieve greatness.
We’ve had great sluggers—such players as Carlos Delgado, Rubén Sierra, Juan “Igor” González, Edgar Martínez, Carlos Beltran and Bernie Williams; the catchers are stellar—the Molina brothers, Benito Santiago and Jorge Posada.
All these players inspired the latest crop of MLB stars—names like Francisco Lindor, Carlos Correa, Yadier Molina, Edwin “Sugar” Díaz, José Orlando Berríos and Martín “Machete” Maldonado—who are contributing to their teams and setting examples for our youths today. The list goes on and on.
If some of those players can follow in Cora’s footsteps; if Puerto Rico can continue to turn out top-notch managers and put executives into front offices, honor will be bestowed on the vicissitudes endured by those players in the 1950s and 1960s. For his job, thus far, Mr. Cora deserves to be named Manager of the Year. That is something worth rooting for, no matter the team.