Will Alex Cora be successful his second time with the Red Sox?
Alex Cora now joins two other Boston Red Sox managers in the second time around club. I will omit Eddie Popowski who briefly served as a placeholder in 1969 and 1973 until another more prominent victim could be brought into the fold. The Red Sox also had managers who were with other clubs with various degrees of success with Terry Francona, John Farrell, and Bobby Valentine being the latest of a rather large group.
The first manager in Red Sox history to make a mistake and come back was Bill Carrigan. Carrigan was a catcher for the Red Sox and as was common in his day, a player-manager from 1913-1916. In the last two seasons, Carrigan managed the Red Sox to World Series titles. His style was no-nonsense and the nickname of “rough” would have no difficulty discussing issues in a physical way.
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Carrigan was feisty, competitive, tough, and intelligent and that intelligence was both in baseball and in the business world. As a player Carrigan – a product of Holy Cross College – was a borderline regular with excellent defensive skills and a strong arm, once leading American League catchers with a 58 CS%. As a hitter, his career .257 average with six home runs in 709 games shows no confusion with Johnny Bench.
Carrigan was a master at mental manipulation and one could say a baseball, Dr. Phil. Babe Ruth – a high maintenance item – called him the best manager he played for. Then Carrigan walked away. He was quite successful in the theater business and dabbled in other financial ventures so the money in baseball soon became secondary to his other successes, but sometimes when you walk away you walk back to it.
Carrigan’s record for his first Boston run was 323-205 and two World Championships. In 1927, he accepted pleadings to return to the Red Sox to rescue a team that was consistently the worst in baseball. Carrigan’s teams finished last three straight seasons and compiled a dismal 166-295 record. He had enough and resigned.
The name Pinky Higgins has become synonymous with the racism attached to the Red Sox and there is some compelling evidence to support that. Where Higgins had a significant plus is his connection to owner Tom Yawkey. Yawkey admired Higgins as a player and later appointed Higgins manager in 1955.
Higgins enjoyed limited success in his five seasons with a 360-329 record and a string of Red Sox teams that were usually out of the race by the All-Star break. Higgins knew limited success as a player being on a 1940 Tigers team and a 1946 Red Sox team that made it to the World Series only to lose. Higgins’ last season as a player was on the 1946 Red Sox where he hit .275 in 64 games.
His style could best be described as laid back and non-confrontational. In his years as manager, Higgins was only ejected from a game once. Close plays were usually given a very cursory all for show display. With players, Higgins assumed they knew their job and would let them do it. He was never one to call out a player publicly nor to put the clamps down on after hour ventures. The Red Sox were considered the country club of baseball and Higgins did nothing to defuse that.
Higgins was replaced as Red Sox manager in the middle of the 1959 season but was not gone from the organization and remained an assistant to Yawkey or just lurking in the background. In 1960, Higgins resumed his manager duties and also acted as a quasi-general manager until assuming full-time GM duties in 1962.
His second Red Sox managerial venture produced a lackluster 200-227 record. As GM, Higgins produced as well as he did as a manager with a series of personnel moves that kept Boston in a deep spin until 1967. Higgins’ big claim to fame was ongoing “issues” with Johnny Pesky which finally resulted in Pesky being replaced by Billy Herman. By 1965, Yawkey had enough and in September Higgins was finally gone.
Cora now is added to this list and is certainly closer to Carrigan in style and substance than Higgins. Cora’s been given props for his astute development of younger players on the team, most notably Rafael Devers. As with any manager, we can do the hindsight evaluation but Cora got the most out of his team in 2018 and quite possibly learned a valuable lesson regarding post-success hangover. Time will tell if he breaks the curse of the second time around failure of Carrigan and Higgins.