BY Art Thiel 04:00PM 05/06/2019

Thiel: The courage of Alex Cora’s convictions

Knowing the post-Maria problems of his native Puerto Rico, manager Alex Cora will skip the White House party for the Red Sox, who now have planes going in different directions.

Manager Alex Cora and several Red Sox players are skipping the White House champions party.  / NBC Sports Boston

Compared to Hurricane Maria that slammed his native Puerto Rico in 2017, any metaphorical whirlwind caused by Alex Cora’s decision to shun the celebratory trip to White House Thursday for his defending World Series champion Red Sox is a trifle.

But the Boston manager undoubtedly stirred the sports/politics pot with his decision after a game in Chicago Sunday. He said he will join perhaps as many as 11 of his players in skipping the traditional celebration offered sports champions by the White House — and President Trump’s new tradition of offering fast food for the meal.

Red Sox management made clear the trip was optional for all parties, including executives and staff. Given his previous criticism of the federal government’s poor response to the category 4 storm, a point buttressed by a study released in March using public data, Cora’s decision wasn’t a surprise.

He released a statement to Puerto Rican outlet El Neuvo Dia that said in part:

Even though the United States Government has helped, there’s still a long road ahead and that is OUR reality. I’ve used my voice on many occasions so that Puerto Ricans are not forgotten and my absence (from the White House) is no different. As such, at this moment, I don’t feel comfortable celebrating in the White House.

The 17-18 Red Sox — who’ve won 11 of their past 16 as they recover from a terrible start begun by losing three of four in Seattle in March — have an off-day Thursday before hosting the Mariners for three games starting Friday. The team is chartering two planes after a series in Baltimore, one going to Boston and one going to Washington, D.C.

So far, American League MVP Mookie Betts and teammates Xander Bogearts, Jackie Bradley Jr., Rafael Devers, David Price, Christian Vazquez and Hector Velasquez, among others, have said they will join Cora on the Boston flight. A number of others have said they will go to D.C.

If there is a more accurate image manifesting in sports of the national divide, I haven’t seen it. One team, two planes. Is Cora concerned about a backlash?

“No, because there was going to be a reaction anyway,” he said, responding to a reporter’s question in Chicago. That is true.

If Cora participates in the ceremony, he would seem to turn his back on his previous criticisms of the poor federal response to a disaster that claimed more than 3,000 lives and still hampers many today. If he declines, he alienates the Trump fans in Red Sox Nation and invites presidential criticism.

It didn’t take long. Trump fired back in a series of tweets Monday morning, including this:

“Puerto Rico has been given more money by Congress for Hurricane Disaster Relief, 91 Billion Dollars, than any State in the history of the U.S. As an example, Florida got $12 Billion & Texas $39 Billion for their monster hurricanes. Now the Democrats are saying NO Relief to Alabama, Iowa, Nebraska, Georgia, South Carolina, North Carolina and others unless much more money is given to Puerto Rico.”

The claim is misleading at best, as this Washington Post story explains here.

Aside from the merits of the claims, the exchange is an example of the way Trump exploits sports to instill national discord, confusion and alienation. Many sports figures have to decide whether the White House champions custom is merely a ceremony or a tacit endorsement of his administration, and many fans are caught in the vortex.

Since the goal is controversy and conflict, the fact that a tweet can provoke such toxicity is all that matters to the perpetrator, not which side is right.

Trump believes the world responds only to what is seen on TV and his words. Agitating in sports, one of the few kinds of programming that is still appointment TV for most of the U.S., means he can reach a part of a larger audience that seeks to tune out politics.

His tweet Monday about the controversial outcome of the Kentucky Derby was a classic example. Regardless of whether you think Maximum Security fouled, per the rules of racing, Trump scornfully spun the revised victory of Country House via disqualification as a win for “political correctness,” one of his favorite cultural targets.

Beyond the fact that he spelled it “Kentuky,” political correctness had nothing to do with following the sport’s rules. Being fair, accurate or even rational was never the point. Confusion about rules and customs helps manipulate his base.

Cora, younger brother of Joey Cora, the Mariners’ popular second baseman from 1995-98, is willing to endure the blowback because his conviction prevails over the tempest. He knows his sports credibility counts for something.

A career .243-hitting infielder over 14 MLB seasons for six teams, he won World Series rings as a Red Sox player (2007) as well as last season as manager, and has a third as a coach from the 2017 title won by the Astros. He’s one of five in MLB history to win a World Series in his rookie year as a manager, and the only one to win 119 games,  including postseason. The Red Sox in October beat the Yankees in four games, the Astros in five and the Dodgers in five to win their fourth title in 15 years.

As a condition of his 2017 hire from Houston by the Red Sox, he asked for and received a plane-load of supplies in the aftermath of Maria for Puerto Rico, where he lives with his family in the off-season and continues his humanitarian work. He played for Puerto Rico in the 2006 and 2009 World Baseball Classic.

“Puerto Rico is very important to me,” Cora said. ” . . .Unfortunately, we are still struggling, still fighting. Some people still lack basic necessities, others remain without electricity and many homes and schools are in pretty bad shape almost a year and a half after Hurricane María struck.”

Besides the U.S. territory of Puerto Rico, the Red Sox’s 40-man roster has players from five nations. The Mariners have four nations on their 40-man. By attacking individuals, teams, owners and rules in nearly all major sports, Trump is attempting to divide the most culturally and ethnically diverse industry in the nation, including the top, highest-paid individuals. Yet it’s a world in which he wanted desperately to be a part. He was rejected by the NFL in a 1988 bid for the New England Patriots, and outbid in 2014 for the Buffalo Bills.

In the bigger picture of scandal and chaos in his administration, Trump’s tweeted hypocrises and mewlings about sports are a small sidebar. But his policies have real-world negative impacts on sports teams and people. Cora doesn’t see a party there.

The bet here is that Cora not only will find a way to keep two planes of Red Sox on course this season, his courage and activism will be a beacon in the storm.

 


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YourThoughts

  • Paul R. Heyden Sr.

    Hey Alex. Wanna blame someone for the hurricane? Try San Juan’s DUMB Mayor who refused to order all the relief supplies in the docks to be delivered by cowardly TRUCKERS (Union drivers of course). But you refuse to blame the skank who did this to her people to make Trump look bad. Nice from the racist David Pierce that the ‘White’ Sox would be visiting the White House. I no longer put anything past these lefty morons.

    • Matt Kite

      “Skank,” “cowardly,” and “lefty morons” all in one comment! But only one ALL-CAPS word?

      https://youtu.be/Ja06DJrFe5E

      • art thiel

        Well played, Matt — +1.

    • art thiel

      Well, that hit most of the whataboutism tropes . . .

  • 1coolguy

    Let’s get real here – PR has been governed by Dems forever and they have done a horrible job running it, as evidenced by the deplorable condition of the islands infrastructure, including its electrical system that had not met decades old standards It is basically a third world place, and the truth is simply those running the country through decades of mismanagement are the ones who have hurt the citizens. But now that they have been hit with an historically powerful hurricane, apparently this is all Trump’s fault. Tell us all how it would have been any different if your god Obama had been in office?
    Unless you have visited PR, which I have unfortunately done, it is a mess and always has been. This is typical, inaccurate yellow journalism. Sad.

    • art thiel

      The problems of Puerto Rico run through generations of Democratic and Republican presidencies and Democratic- and Republican-led congresses. The policy problems that led to its economic vulnerability are shared jointly. But the response of the Trump admin to the cat-4 storm was judged as inadequate by federal and non-federal agencies that were commissioned to investigate the results. Please read the links in the story.

      • Bruce McDermott

        There is no read to read the links when you already know the answer, Art.
        You should know that. Facts just get in the way.

        Art’s point, or one of them, was that the Federal response to the PR disaster was piss-poor. Trump denies that, and then lies about it repeatedly. PR has never been a Democratic or a Republican problem as a whole. In this case, it was a humanitarian problem, and we failed.

      • jafabian

        Remember when Rey Quionnes claimed he was late for Spring Training for the M’s because of Visa problems? And he was coming from Puerto Rico? 😁

  • Tian Biao

    oh no! Art has dared to criticize the Dear Leader! fetch the sandbags! fortify the windows! prepare yourselves for a hurricane of venom, vitriol, unsupported assertions, ALL CAPS and personal insults! rising floodwaters are expected . . .

    • art thiel

      You’re the first in line to grab a shovel and help fill the sandbags.

  • jafabian

    I’ve never been much of a fan of the White House recognizing sports teams success on the premise that there’s other things they should be doing. There is something to be said about acknowledging the role sports plays in American society however. That being said I don’t know if teams and athletes will ever go back to how things were. Not going has become the equivalent of kneeling during the playing of the Anthem. But considering how Latinos have been disparaged by the White House the past few years I don’t blame their decision at all. After all is said and done I wouldn’t be surprised to see Puerto Rico demand to be released from the US which would be funny to see how POTUS would handle the situation. His ego would double-dog dare them to survive without US aid but another part of him would remind him that his legacy would be that of the president that lost Puerto Rico.

    If anything can be said about the Trump Administration is that it’s possibly the best reality show in the world!

    • art thiel

      The sports celebrations were mostly fun, but the joy is gone when the president has previously degraded the ethnic heritages of many athletes. Deliberately. To draw and keep voters.

      • ReebHerb

        Ahhh…but Pres. Trump kicked the the wicked Queen of Thieves to the curb just as Pres. Obama did in 2008. We get it Art. You love Hillary and the way her kind keep their jack boot of oppression on certain ethnic groups for their votes. Do we really need to hear Doug Baldwin’s proclamation of Trump’s idiocy when life has never been better? It looks to me like Antifa, BLM, and other domestic terror groups will not effect a coup for the elite. Accept the fact the 4th Estate is dead killed by its own. We don’t want to send the Blethens over to give you another spanking. MAGA

        • art thiel

          Who’s doing the domestic terror against U.S. citizens who are Jewish, Muslim and black? Just checking.

        • Effzee

          Its true that the Bush/Clinton/Obama/Cheney cabal who drove this country into the ground for the past 30 years needed to be removed from office. Hard to believe they take such pride in things like America’s crappy global education, environmental and mental health rankings. However, voices like yours do not help move things forward in a productive way. If you have nothing nice to say, its better say nothing at all. Parroting Trump’s toxic, reckless and disrespectful language is not the path to civility or solutions.

      • jafabian

        Not just ethnicity either. The LGBT community has had issues with the White House as well. Can’t we all just get along?

    • Kirkland

      The only pre-Trump controversy I remember was with the 2011 Boston Bruins. Goalie Tim Thomas — incidently, the only American on the team — refused to go to the White House for the team welcome. He publicly said he disapproved over the gridlock in Washington, but it was well known he couldn’t stand Obama. His teammates were furious, because he broke the hockey code of putting himself over the team. Instead of being asked what it was like to visit the White House, they had to spend their time being asked “Why isn’t he here?”

      Virtually all other hockey fans and pundits at the time were critical of Thomas, too, saying this should have been the time to celebrate the team, instead of getting on a soapbox. The hockey culture then was to concentrate on the sport and your team, and keep your trap shut about politics. That’s gone out the window now, and not just because of Trump. The NHL community is now rallying for gun control, as the Vegas Golden Knights and Florida Panthers’ communities were hit hard by the shootings last season on the Strip and Parkland, Fla.

  • Talkjoc

    😴

  • tor5

    As we’d expect, Art, you’re already getting lots of posts debating the truth about the situation in Puerto Rico, what Trump did or didn’t do, who’s to blame, and the correctness and ethics about going to the White House for championship celebrations. But one thing that is certain is that Trump has zero interest in truth or ethics. He lies in a bizarre, truly pathological fashion, often in ways that are starkly obvious and with or without clear motive. And there has yet been a single demonstration of any ethic beyond his own personal enrichment and self-aggrandizement. The man is not well. Whatever you think about Puerto Rico, there comes a point where we have to stop pretending that he’s just a normal president that some people don’t like or disagree with. Alex Cora made the right call. Going to eat cheeseburgers with Trump is blind denial of the dangers of his pathologies.

    • art thiel

      I understand your points. I hope you understand I would prefer not to open further the dissection of his personality disorders and dysfunctions except to the extent that his actions impact sports matters. That’s almost impossible, I know.

      But we gotta have goals, right?

      • tor5

        Fair enough, Art. My post is a little beyond Trump specific to sports. But it is indeed impossible to think about his sports-related actions as disconnected from a broader, disturbing truth that is the elephant in the room.

  • Alan Harrison

    11.2 billion. Not 91 billion. But as he has shown throughout his life, if you say any lie over and over again, with conviction – hm, conviction, gives me an idea.

    • art thiel

      From the dictator’s playbook: Lies repeated endlessly take on the veneer of truth.

      • rosetta_stoned

        So now Trump is a dictator?
        Good grief, man. Get some perspective.

        • art thiel

          Not yet. But he’s working toward his varsity letter.

        • Husky73

          The vile, corrupt, compromised, scandal-plagued, lying, Constitutionally ignorant, dictator wanna-be that is Trump poisons everything he comes into contact with….including a baseball celebration.

      • Gary

        My favorite George Costanza-ism
        “Remember Jerry, it’s never a lie……if you truly believe”

        • art thiel

          Well played.

          • Gary

            If you think about it long enough, is he truly not George Costanza with a bad comb-over?

          • art thiel

            Possible. But every once in awhile, Costanza had an attack of conscience.

        • Husky73

          “I lied about the contest!”

    • Kirkland

      The Economist had an interview podcast with Steve Bannon, where he said Trump exaggerates *on purpose*. The strategy is that whenever Trump says something untrue or outrageous, and the media/left call him out on it, he then turns to his base and says, “See how much I bother them?”, and that further rallies his base around him and against the liberal/media/establishment. So it continues.

      This just tells me that Trump is governing not for a country, but for a base. That’s fine if you have a huge majority like Reagan or FDR, but not when more individuals voted against you than for you. But when you’re on a power binge that rivals Nixon, you don’t care.

      • art thiel

        Trump has done purposeful lying his whole life, knowing that most people don’t have guts to call him out. Even if they do, he’ll demonize his challengers personally rather than correct himself.

  • rosetta_stoned

    Partisanpoliticspressnw.com

    Hard pass.

    • art thiel

      Trump’s denigrations, by policy or words, hit home to lots of athletes, coaches and staffers in all sports who were born outside the U.S., but succeeded here. He’s made himself a sports controversy.

    • Effzee

      You’ll be back. Just as always.

    • 2nd place is 1st loser

      Bye Felicia……

  • Kirkland

    A friend of mine is a Puerto Rican who splits her time between San Juan and Seattle. She was in Puerto Rico when the hurricane hit, which was unquestionably scary; but says there are *still* houses with blue tarps for roofs and a hideous amount of damage that is still waiting for repairs. She is livid at Trump’s subpar response to Maria.

    In the meantime, I point you to the response of Chef Jose Andres, who after the hurricane organized efforts to feed fresh food to entire communities at a time (think pots the size of cars filled with scratch-made stews). He has since started the nonprofit World Central Kitchen, which goes to any area hit by a human or natural disaster to feed those affected. Recently WCF fed the firefighters and homeowners involved in the Northern California wildfires, government employers unpaid during the shutdown, and now they’re on the Venezuela-Colombia Border. Here: https://www.eater.com/2017/11/10/16623204/world-central-kitchen-jose-andres-puerto-rico-haiti-houston

    • art thiel

      Thanks for the tip and the link, Mr. K. Learning about good people doing good things is especially important these days. And the eyewitness reporting.