Karl Lindholm: To go — or not to go?
What do you think Alex Cora should do? What would you do in his position?
Cora is the manager of the Red Sox, the World Champion Red Sox, the on-the-field leader of the team. His performance in this role last year was impeccable, perfect, as the Red Sox won 119 games, the most ever in their long history.
Cora grew up and learned the game in Puerto Rico in the town of Caguez, 16 miles from San Juan: He is a proud American from that island territory. He signed with the Red Sox on Oct. 22, 2017, the 26th Red Sox manager since baseball’s integration in 1947 and the first non-white.
Before he had managed a single game for the Red Sox, he led a delegation in January 2018, bringing nearly 10 tons of relief supplies (food, water, and other essentials) to Puerto Rico in the aftermath of its devastation by Hurricane Maria five months earlier.
About the actual signing of his contract, he said, “I didn’t talk about money. I didn’t talk about incentives. I didn’t talk about housing or cars and all that. All I wanted was a plane full of supplies for my hometown.”
The week after the Red Sox victory in the World Series last October, Cora returned to Puerto Rico with the Championship trophy for a triumphant celebration, along with a number of Red Sox representatives, including teammates Christian Vazguez, Chris Sale, and Rick Porcello.
Herein lies Cora’s dilemma.
As World Series victors, the Red Sox have been invited to the traditional visit to the White House to receive formal congratulations from the President. That visit will take place on May 9 (postponed from Feb. 15 because of the partial government shutdown at that time).
Cora is undecided about going. He has been both outspoken and restrained in reacting to President Trump’s response to the destruction wrought by Maria in Puerto Rico and the enormous tasks and expense required for its reconstruction.
He has described that response as “disrespectful” — specifically concerning Trump’s questioning of the revised death count in Puerto Rico (“a plot by Democrats to make me look bad”) and his interest in redirecting funds intended for Hurricane Maria victims to the relief efforts in Florida and Texas.
This White House celebration used to be just a happy ritual that accompanied athletic success at the highest levels. More recently, in the Trump years, it has become fraught with controversy.
The first team to visit the White House was the World Series Champion Washington Senators in 1924, there at the invitation of Vermont’s own Calvin Coolidge, who had attended Games 1, 6, and 7 of the Series. (That was the last and only time a Washington team has won the Series, prompting the expression: “First in war, first in peace, and last in the American League.”)
The first basketball team to be honored by the President in the White House was, appropriately, the Boston Celtics in 1963, invited by their townsman John F. Kennedy.
The White House honor did not become commonplace until the Reagan Era.
Just last year, Golden State Warriors players, and their coach, Steve Kerr, made it clear they would not attend the White House event, so President Trump made it clear they were not welcome.
In a counter-gesture, the Warriors visited the National Museum of African-American History with Washington, D.C., students on the day the White House visit had initially been scheduled.
Warriors star Klay Thompson said at the time: “We’re going to hang out with some kids, take them to the Museum, and hopefully teach them some things we learned along the way, and give them some great memories.”
Then, the 2018 Super Bowl Champs, the Philadelphia Eagles (remember them — they beat the Pats) were uninvited, their June visit canceled by the President when a number of Eagle players indicated they would not attend.
The conflict there was over players not standing for the National Anthem, Trump pronouncing they should be fired or suspended by their teams.
On a personal note, my son David has been to one of these White House parties. In 2011, he was the Director of Media Relations for Major League Soccer Champions, the Denver Rapids.
His Rapids team was honored by then-President Obama. “It was amazing,” David said, “and a lot of the thrill had to do with meeting Obama.”
So what will happen on May 9 — and what will Alex Cora choose to do?
Red Sox management has remained neutral, making it clear that each player will decide for himself whether or not to go.
Four players have announced they will not be a part of it: Mookie Betts, Jackie Bradley Jr., Hector Velazquez, and Rafael Devers. Another five — David Price, Xander Bogaerts, Eduardo Rodriguez, Eduardo Nunez, and Christian Vazquez say they are undecided.
Others are going enthusiastically. Brock Holt says he is “excited.” Chris Sale thinks it will be “pretty cool.”
It’s difficult not to note that 12 of the 13 players who have indicated they will attend are white. Those undecided, or not going, are persons of color.
Is it possible that this matter will distract and divide the dramatically cohesive Red Sox clubhouse of last season? General Manager Dave Dombrowski says about that he has “no concerns at all.” Likewise, owner John Henry: “It’s strictly optional. It’s a tradition that a lot of our players are really looking forward to.”
The manager of a baseball team, like Alex Cora, is decidedly middle management in the organization’s structure. Where does his primary loyalty reside? To the players he leads, or to those at whose behest he serves (who will all attend the ceremony)?
Cora seems genuinely torn: “It’s a topic that back home is huge,” he said last month. “If I go, I’ll represent Puerto Rico the right way. I don’t know what kind of platform I will have if I go.
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