By Kevin Flanagan
BSD Senior Staff Writer
Four months into his first full season at the helm of the Boston Red Sox and rookie manager Alex Cora has made the team that calls Fenway Park home fun again. His laid-back persona and smiling demeanor during almost all of his press conferences – few wouldn’t be beaming most days if they were skippering the best team in baseball that is playing just a tick under .700 entering the second week of August – is polar opposite that of the seemingly unable to relax John Farrell.
Even though Farrell had won a World Series in 2013 – his first year back with his old club – and “led” his team to back to back AL East Division titles for the first time in franchise history the last two seasons, he never seemed to be able to take a deep breath during his time in Boston. His quirky nature with the media and perceived underlying unprofessional behavior during his tenure with the team almost undoubtedly played a part in him being an uncomfortable interview. And the fact he spoke about the game in a language only he could understand didn’t help either, whether it came to talking to the press or communicating with his players.
Cora, on the other hand, speaks in clear baseball terms and by doing so is much more relatable. And given the fact that he actually played the game during this decade, no doubt has made it more easy for him to interact with the guys in his clubhouse.
However, the change in who occupies the manager’s office is not the only change in leadership that has made the Sox a fun team to follow once again. The change in the hierarchy among those who actually play the game has helped immensely as well.
With all-time bust Pablo Sandoval bounced last year after two-plus seasons of pitiful play in Boston, fellow 2015 free agent signing Hanley Ramirez was given his walking papers this past May, reportedly at the request of Cora. Team president of baseball operations credited his first-year skipper with the idea at the time, and it has turned out to be one of the best decisions the highly likely American League Manager of the Year has made in his brief career.
And while clearing the clubhouse of the pant-load Panda and Hanley the Hound has largely rid the team on the overwhelming sense of entitlement that hung like a stench over the two-time division champs, the absence of the self-proclaimed team leader Dustin Pedroia has done wonders as well.
The void of leadership that had a white-hot spotlight shone on it when the story broke about the mistreatment team colorman – not to mention World Series Champion, MVP/Cy Young Award winner and Hall of Famer – by an underperforming David Price on a team charter flight last season was glaring. And when it was reported that the Little Leader – copyright 98.5’s Adam Jones – was among those who gave Price a standing ovation after he humiliated Eckersley in front of the team – coupled with the tossing under the bus incident that took place in Baltimore with the Manny Machado incident in April – made Pedroia look petty, to say the least.
No one can argue with the approach Pedroia has taken on the field since he arrived in Boston in ’07. He has been dogged, productive and a pain in the ass to play against until his body started breaking down in recent years. And while he has been all of those things, he has never been a leader despite declaring himself one last July when his team was in turmoil, some of which he had created.
The absence of the veteran has allowed the likes of Mookie Betts, Xander Bogearts, and newcomer J.D. Martinez to spread their wings and give the team the personality that it has been lacking since the miracle that was the ’13 championship. And just like removing the dark clouds that were Sandoval and Ramirez breathed new air into a team that needed an airing out, so has the fact that the one-time franchise second baseman has been spending the better part of this summer in Arizona.
The Red Sox are on pace for a record-setting regular season record, and Alex Cora deserves praise for that. However, the fact that the faces that made the first place Sox so unlikable for the past two seasons have been removed from the equation is every bit as responsible for making the Olde Towne Team lovable once again.