After Astros’ sign-stealing suspensions, Red Sox are next — and Alex Cora’s punishment will be harsh

A.J. Hinch will never again manage the Houston Astros after Major League Baseball suspended him for his role in the club’s electronic sign-stealing scheme in the 2017 and 2018 seasons, and owner Jim Crane subsequently fired him and general manager Jeff Luhnow. 

MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred has yet to rule on the fate of Boston Red Sox manager Alex Cora, who as Astros bench coach helped concoct their system before reportedly flouting the rules himself in Boston a year later.

But if the commissioner’s report released Monday is any indication, it would be a surprise if Cora sees the Fenway Park dugout this year.

MLB’s investigation, which included interviews with Cora and 68 total witnesses, revealed that Cora played an integral role in an Astros system that began early in the 2017 season and continued into their playoff run that culminated in the franchise’s first World Series title.

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Red Sox manager Alex Cora shown prior to the game against the Orioles at Oriole Park at Camden Yards. (Photo: Mitch Stringer, USA TODAY Sports)

And if an ongoing investigation corroborates details reported by The Athletic about the Red Sox’s 2018 season, Cora will be far more culpable.

Manfred made clear that general managers and field managers will be held most culpable should teams run afoul of memos he issued in 2017, 2018 and 2019 warning teams against using electronic surveillance to steal signs. That's why MLB suspended Hinch and GM Jeff Luhnow for a year apiece while the club absorbs a $5 million fine and loss of four draft picks.

Just as a Sept. 15, 2017 memo Manfred issued served as a harbinger for the harsh penalties ultimately assessed Hinch and Luhnow, a memo sent from MLB Chief Baseball Officer Joe Torre in the 2017-2018 off-season may well be Cora’s undoing.

The memo read, in part: “Electronic equipment, including game feeds in the Club replay room and/or video room, may never be used during a game for the purpose of stealing the opposing team’s signs. In this respect, MLBR 1-1 expressly provides that “under no circumstance may electronic equipment or devices be used for the purpose of stealing signs or conveying other information designed to give a Club a competitive advantage.”

Torre even put the following sentence in bold type: “To be clear, the use of any equipment in the clubhouse or in a Club’s replay or video rooms to decode an opposing Club’s signs during the game violates this Regulation. Clubs (and Club employees) who are found to have utilized equipment in the replay or video rooms for such purposes during a game will be subject to discipline by the Commissioner’s Office.”

And that brings us to Cora’s World Series champion Red Sox, who in 2018, The Athletic reported, beat a consistent path to the team’s replay room and used its monitors to help decode opposing teams’ signs. The signs were then relayed, likely by baserunners, to hitters at the plate.

While not as craven as the Astros’ system of a center field camera, TV or computer monitor and trash can, the Red Sox’s alleged activities run specifically afoul of Torre’s memo. The Astros can relate: They even went so far as to use an Apple Watch – the device used by the 2017 Red Sox that earned them a fine from MLB and inspired Manfred’s memo – in their subsequent shenanigans, according to MLB’s report.

Less clear is how Cora’s role in devising the Astros’ scheme as their bench coach will inform his discipline. Manfred reiterated Monday that the memo was pointed toward managers and GMs; Cora, as bench coach, was the only non-player identified as part of the scheme.

Manfred’s report stated: “Cora arranged for a video room technician to install a monitor displaying the center field camera feed immediately outside of the Astros’ dugout. (The center field camera was primarily used for player development purposes and was allowed under MLB rules at the time when used for that purpose.) Witnesses have provided largely consistent accounts of how the monitor was utilized. One or more players watched the live feed of the center field camera on the monitor, and after decoding the sign, a player would bang a nearby trash can with a bat to communicate the upcoming pitch type to the batter.

“Players occasionally also used a massage gun to bang the trash can. Generally, one or two bangs corresponded to certain off-speed pitches, while no bang corresponded to a fastball. Witnesses consistently describe this new scheme as player-driven, and with the exception of Cora, non-player staff, including individuals in the video replay review room, had no involvement in the banging scheme.”

A year later, it was Cora in charge of dugout actions, clubhouse culture and all that comes with it. And as MLB proved Monday, it has little tolerance for those who run afoul of the rules in that position.

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