The 2021 ALCS will pit the American League’s two most recent World Series winners against one another to see who will represent the junior circuit in 2021.
It also matches two teams that were involved in sign-stealing scandals from their championship years: the Astros and Red Sox. The thread between the two is current Boston manager Alex Cora.
Cora was the Astros’ bench coach in 2017, when Houston won the World Series. The team was later found to have used advanced technology to steal signs during the regular season and postseason.
The Red Sox were fined by MLB in September 2017 for a sign-stealing incident and then were investigated for using video to steal signs in 2018 when Cora managed them to a title.
How was Alex Cora involved in the Astros’ scandal?
Before Cora took over the Red Sox, he was the bench coach for the Astros when the team made its World Series run in 2017.
According to a report of MLB’s investigation of the Astros dated Jan. 13, 2020, Cora would call the team’s replay review room to obtain sign information. He also asked for a technician to set up a monitor displaying the center-field camera feed immediately outside Houston’s dugout. MLB said the center-field camera was allowed at the time for the purpose of player development.
The report stated that players would watch the live feed, decode signs and then bang on a trash can to communicate the pitch type to the batter.
Witnesses told MLB that the sign-stealing was largely player-driven and that Cora was the only non-player staff member who had involvement in the scheme, though it was made clear to MLB that other personnel in the dugout would have heard or seen the banging.
“Cora was involved in developing both the banging scheme and utilizing the replay review room to decode and transmit signs. Cora participated in both schemes, and through his active participation, implicitly condoned the players’ conduct,” MLB commissioner Rob Manfred wrote in the report.
Manfred added that he would wait to determine discipline until baseball’s investigation of allegations against the 2018 Red Sox was complete.
Alex Cora and the 2018 Red Sox scandal
This scandal was similar to the Astros’ sign-stealing but according to MLB was “far more limited in scope and impact.”
The Red Sox investigation, the results of which were released April 22, 2020, unearthed a system that was not as in-depth as the one the Astros set up. Video replay operator J.T. Watkins would, on occasion, view game feeds in the replay room to learn about opposing teams’ sign sequences and then relay them to players.
MLB said in its report that the operator would tell players the signs before games and then update them with revised information during the game. The report also said the information was only relevant when the Red Sox had a runner on second base, and the operator decoded the signs from the in-game feed “in only a small percentage of those occurrences.” According to the report, 19.7 percent of plate appearances across MLB in 2018 came with a runner on second.
Cora was not quite as wrapped up in the Boston scandal as he was the Houston scandal. MLB’s report on the Red Sox stated that Cora would not have known about the use of video and that communication of signs was limited to Watkins and a few Boston players.
Manfred announced after the investigation that Cora would be suspended through the end of the 2020 postseason for his involvement in the 2017 Astros scandal.
“While I will not impose additional discipline on Cora as a result of the conduct engaged in by Watkins (because I do not find that he was aware of it), I do note that Cora did not effectively communicate to Red Sox players the sign-stealing rules that were in place for the 2018 season,” Manfred wrote in the discipline section of the investigation report.
Cora’s tenure as Red Sox manager
Cora was announced as Boston’s manager just before the 2017 World Series between the Astros and Dodgers. He took over the club after the series’ conclusion.
He was at the helm when the Red Sox won the 2018 World Series in five games over the Dodgers. After the series, he received a contract extension through the 2021 season with a team option for 2022.
When MLB announced its findings in the Astros scandal, Cora’s Red Sox future was called into question. It became murkier when Manfred said in the Astros investigation report that Cora would not face discipline until the conclusion of the Red Sox investigation.
Cora and the Red Sox agreed to part ways on Jan. 14, 2020. The team lost a draft pick as punishment for stealing signs and Manfred suspended Cora for the entire 2020 season.
The Red Sox finished the COVID-19-shortened season 24-36 and last in the AL East. They brought Cora back in November 2020 with a two-year contract and a pair of club options that could keep him in a Red Sox uniform through the end of the 2024 campaign.