There was a time when you couldn’t get anybody to buy into the idea of a Puerto Rican managing against someone of mixed African-American and Japanese heritage in the World Series. Toss in the notion that one of those teams was based in Boston, and 30 years ago you’d have been laughed off the planet.
But that’s what baseball has in this particular World Series in the person of Boston Red Sox manager Alex Cora and Los Angeles Dodgers manager Dave Roberts. For the first time, neither manager in the World Series dugouts will be white, while camera shots in games in Boston will show something vaguely resembling a cold weather Trump Rally and people of colour remain underrepresented in front offices of Major League Baseball.
Times like this make me think of Pedro Martinez.
I remember having a discussion with then-Red Sox GM Theo Epstein on the field during the Red Sox curse-busting World Series win over the St. Louis Cardinals, and being impressed that Epstein felt moved to credit one of his predecessors, Dan Duquette, with helping change the culture around the club.
It was Duquette who traded for Martinez, who in addition to being a Cy Young Award winner for his pitching had a Cy Young ability to call out people’s B.S. He was, as his Montreal Expos manager Felipe Alou once called him, “a challenging man,” – less whiny than, say, David Price and unafraid to carve out what he considered the appropriate degree of respect from teammates, opponents, and the media. Pedro made the cramped Red Sox clubhouse safer and more welcoming for players of colour than it had ever been – Epstein acknowledged this – because he was unflinching. He embraced the role, in a city and with a team that twisted itself out of shape trying to come to terms with past racial tensions, and was quick to hang labels on the likes of Jim Rice and Mo Vaughan. It was an uncomfortable, often smothering love. You know, the kind you sometimes get when people try too hard.
I have no horse in this race, which is strange because normally I find a rooting interest in the World Series. In this case? It’s I-don’t-give-a-crap in six games. But I’ll be happy either way for Cora or Roberts, who are rarities in other ways: this is their first job. Neither has been fired – yet – and the last time two managers who hadn’t been fired at least once met in a World Series is 2013 when the Red Sox under John Farrell met Mike Matheny’s St. Louis Cardinals. But Farrell was on his second team after knifing the Toronto Blue Jays in the back. Before that, you need to go all the way back to 1997 to find a matchup of managers who hadn’t been fired at least once, when Jim Leyland’s Florida Marlins beat Mike Hargrove’s Cleveland Indians. Leyland quit the Pittsburgh Pirates to join the Marlins. The bottom line? Being fired – more than once, even – doesn’t preclude an ability to take a team to the top. As always, it’s on the players.
NOW TWEET THIS
In which we celebrate Ibra, because of course we do … wonder about the Leafs’ 5-on-5 play … wrap our heads around “positionless baseball” and ask whether it’s time to replace shortstop, second base and third base with “infielder” … remind ourselves that Kyle Lowry’s still here … and think about neo-colonialism.
• Some men are gods, others are kings – but only one is Zlatan Ibrahimovic, whose goal against the Whitecaps Sunday made him the second player in MLS history with two five-game goal-scoring streaks in a season, alongside Roy Lassiter of the 1996 Tampa Bay Mutiny. #zlatsallfolks
• The Maple Leafs’ issues 5-on-5 would be greatly mitigated by the presence of William Nylander. I’m less worried about his absence’s impact on the Auston Matthews line and more about the trickle-down effect on Nazem Kadri’s. #depth
• Might want to hold off on the balloons and streamers for the Sixers. Joel Embiid has been great but, man: in their loss to the Celtics they shot just 11-for-45 from 10 feet or further, never mind 5-for-26 from three-point range. #twoshort
• The Brewers choked in the NLCS, but they gave us stuff to think about, as SI.com’s Emma Baccellieri wrote in talking about “positionless baseball” and I wonder if it will be applicable to a team with Vladimir Guerrero Jr. at third. #newera
• Things you might not realize: The NBA has, by a country kilometre, the best, easiest group of stars. Friday, the Celtics’ Kyrie Irving apologized to reporters for “saying ‘um’ so much” during a post-game scrum. #umok
• I wouldn’t say this is a statement start by Kyle Lowry, but through his first three games, the Raptors guard has 70 points, one away from his career-best set during 2012-13. His 26 assists are two shy of his best start in 2011-12. #forgetmenot
• Best play of the NFL weekend: Panthers’ Eric Reid calling Eagles’ Malcolm Jenkins a “neo-colonialist” in accusing him of selling out the anthem protest. You don’t hear that word dropped often in any clubhouse or locker room. #cliche
The decision on John Gibbons’ replacement as Blue Jays manager, and subsequent announcement, is expected before MLB general managers convene after the end of the World Series (Game 7 is Oct. 31) and any announcement before that date would likely be made on a World Series off-day, as is baseball’s preference. So far, only one person widely considered a serious candidate – David Bell – has signed to fill one of the game’s other managerial openings. Another, Cleveland Indians first base coach Sandy Alomar Jr., was considered to be an early finalist but according to my Sportsnet colleague Stephen Brunt took himself out of the running two weeks ago at least, citing family concerns. His brother, Blue Jays Hall of Famer Roberto, had been lobbying extensively for him once it became known that Gibbons was in his final year.
Family was also part of Bell’s decision; he was born in Cincinnati, ran the player development system from 2009-12. His father, Buddy, is vice-president and senior advisor to Reds GM Nick Krall and his grandfather, Gus, was a Reds Hall of Fame player. Among the candidates widely considered to be in the mix for the Jays job include Rays field co-ordinator Rocco Baldelli (a candidate for the Angels managerial job that has gone to Brad Ausmus); Astros bench coach Joe Espada and Cubs bench coach Brandon Hyde. Jobs still open, aside from the Blue Jays, include those with the Baltimore Orioles, Minnesota Twins and Texas Rangers. The Chicago Cubs job isn’t open, but Joe Girardi’s acting like it will be: the former New York Yankees manager pulled himself out of any talks last week to remain as a network TV analyst, with an eye on Joe Maddon’s job, no doubt.
Jeff Blair hosts The Jeff Blair Show from 9 a.m.-noon ET on Sportsnet 590/The Fan and Leafs Morning Skate from 11-noon ET on game-days. He is also co-host of ‘The Lede’, a podcast with Stephen Brunt.