Edited and condensed excerpts from the conversation between Red Sox manager Alex Cora and Globe Magazine staff writer Neil Swidey.
Who have been your most important models for leadership?
My dad. He was the founder of our Little League chapter in our hometown, in Caguas, Puerto Rico. There was a presence about him. My dad was 6 foot 3, dark skin, gray hair, deep voice, and when he talked, people listened. In our Little League facility, you knew where he was all the time. People that spent more time with him always saw him as a leader. I was lucky to have him 13 years of my life.
At what points do you still feel his presence?
In Pasadena, right before [World Series] Game 5, we had team breakfast, and everybody was loud — parents, kids, whatever. You see all these family members around, and he would have enjoyed this. But he’s enjoying it.
You seemed to have created a special climate with this team.
The whole World Series for us was like an American Legion summer team. Kids, parents, this and that — everybody. I think we spent like three hours after Game 5 on the field with everybody. We had so many kids everywhere, it was like the coolest thing ever. There was chanting in the clubhouse, and it took us forever to get to the clubhouse because we have everybody. That was so awesome. Players’ parents came up to me and were like, “Thank you for trusting my kid, thank you for what you’ve done.” That means that they actually talk to their parents [about our team culture]. That was cool.
How would you characterize the team on the field?
We’re very talented. If you start looking at what we did, the way we did it: we platoon at first, we platoon at second, we platoon at third, and we platoon behind the plate. So four out of the nine guys, it was like a platoon trying to match up and trying to get the best match for our lineup. It wasn’t easy, but you have to trust players. Brock Holt hit for the cycle [in Game 3 of the division series], and the next day he didn’t play, because it wasn’t a good match for him. And Ian [Kinsler] came in and hit a double. And so on and so on. We pinch-hit for [Rafael] Devers in [World Series] Game 1, and then we let him hit. There’s a lot of work that goes into it, from upstairs all the way to here, but at the end, they’re talented.
How do you balance the inputs from the analytics team with the coaching experience on the field?
We get information, we get ready, we prepare before the game, and then we make decisions based on what makes sense. Going into the Series, we knew that there were some matchups that were very positive for Eduardo [Núñez]. And there were some lefties that we felt comfortable for Raffy [Devers]. There were others that maybe the numbers say that Raffy was a better matchup, but I didn’t feel that it was a better matchup from previous experiences. That’s the beauty of this organization, that we can make decisions not only based on information but about experiences. In the World Series, we made decisions as a group — because it’s not only me, I mean, the coaching staff, they have a lot of input for what we do, and we make some decisions that change games: Núñez pinch-hitting in the first game, pinch-hitting Devers in Game 4. There was a lot of stuff that went on that people said, “Oh, he’s pressing the right buttons.” It’s not the right buttons — it was the right decision, because as an organization, we were ready for those moments.
It was impressive to see so many of your starting pitchers eager to work from the bullpen. But I’m guessing you had to manage it. I mean, do you really want Nathan Eovaldi going into Game 4 after having pitched six innings in the record-breaking, 18-inning Game 3 loss?
They could have been in the bullpen, but I wasn’t going to use them! [laughs]
Nate wasn’t going to pitch Game 4. Not a chance! Honestly, I think we won the Series in that Game 3. I mean, game over. There were three things that I clearly remember from that day. The ground ball to Ian [Kinsler], I’m there, sitting there, and David [Price] starts going out to celebrate in the 13th inning. When Ian makes the error, David is going out, and he throws the ball away, and he comes right up like, “Oh!”
And then when Nate gives up the home run, David is sitting right next to me, goes across to go outside the dugout, and he waits for Nate. Follows him inside and I said, “David, get everybody together.” We got together, and I said, “Thank you for the effort from pitch one all the way til 7 hours and 15 minutes. We were all in. When we finish this thing and we win this thing, people are not going to remember who won Game 3. They’re going to remember Nate Eovaldi.” And people stood up and clapped. It was awesome. [Rick] Porcello was crying. At that moment I knew, they’re done. I went to a press conference and somebody asked me, “How do you guys bounce back from this devastating loss?” I’m like, “What? Devastating? It’s a 2-1 series! It’s just one game.” And then somebody asked me something in the same terms and I said, “We’ll see you tomorrow, we’ll show up tomorrow.” And we did.
How would you handle a team visit to the White House, if you end up going? [Note: The team accepted the invitation after this interview took place, though no date has been set.]
I will use the platform the right way. I haven’t embarrassed myself yet, I don’t think I’m going to embarrass myself or my countrymen or my country, but I’ll use it the right way. How? People have to wait and see. I have a lot of ideas. We have to wait and see. It’s nothing that people are going to be like, “What the hell is he doing?”
Any plans to bring rolls of paper towels to toss at President Trump?
Nah, I don’t have a good jump shot.
You’ve said you’re already in the mind-set for the 2019 season. What’s in store?
Our main goal, actually, is to be ready for that first game in Seattle [March 28], physically. Mentally, they’re going to be fine. But we have to figure out how we’re going to do that. Obviously, there’s going to be some moves, people are going to leave, people are going to stay, there’s going to be some new faces. We’ll take care of that throughout the offseason, and we’ll meet with players and make sure everybody’s on the same page. But we’re going to go to spring training and it’s about taking care of them and making sure that when we get to Seattle, we’re ready to play.
Last year, I think we did an outstanding job at spring training, we played well, finished strong. But this year might be a little more difficult because this season ended October 28. Guys [on non-playoff teams], their season ended on September 30 [and they started working out for the next season] on November 1. This year, we’ll be a month behind, but we’re not complaining. Hopefully, we can be “behind” for a lot of years! The division is going to be a tough one again. Toronto has a new manager, Baltimore a new GM, a lot of different things, the Yankees are going to be there again, and Tampa. We’ve got to be ready.
You’ve won it all in your first season ever as a big-league manager. Does any part of that early success scare you?
No. Somebody asked me the other day, “Did you see this coming?” And I was like, “Yeah.” I’m not saying 108 wins, but the goal was always to win the whole thing, so we did it. And the goal next year is to win the whole thing. That’s what you sign up for here in this city — it’s winning the whole thing. That’s what they enjoy. And expect. So, yeah, we’ll be ready.