Hispanic Heritage Month In Focus: MLB’s Alex Cora, Dave Martinez

This is part of The Shadow League’s Hispanic Heritage Month In Focus series celebrating Latino excellence in sports and culture.

Miguel Gonzalez became the first Latino manager in Major League Baseball 78 years ago, but bigoted attitudes towards Mexicans, Cubans and other Latinos and a lack of opportunity thwarted his chance to keep the job full-time. 

After the 1932 season, Gonzlezs major-league playing career came to an end. He was 41 years old. After some experience coaching in the minor leagues, when Cardinals player-manager Frankie Frisch needed a coach for the 1934 team, he did not hesitate to select Gonzlez, who was considered an astute baseball mind. 

Frisch was fired with 16 games remaining in 1938, and Gonzlez was named interim manager, the first Latin American to manage in the big leagues

He enjoyed stints as the Cardinals interim manager in 1938 and 40 but MLB wasn’t ready to give a person of color a permanent plush, leadership gig. Jackie Robinson’s game-changing arrival was still seven years away. It wasn’t until 1969 that a Hispanic manager was at the helm of a team to start a season when Cuban Preston Gomez grinded his way through ranks to earn the Padres managerial job. He also went on to coach the Astros and Cubs through 1980. 

Astros Daily on Twitter

4/20/1923: Pedro “Preston” Gomez is born in Preston, Cuba. The #Astros’ seventh manager and first minority manager guided the club to a 128-161 record for 1974-75. https://t.co/h7F7xWhg0D #RIP

Latino players aren’t new on the MLB scene, having represented at least 20 percent of the player pool since 1996, according to research by baseball historians Mark Armour and Dan Leavitt, but when the Red Sox hired Houston Astros bench coach Alex Cora, a former MLB player from Caguas, Puerto Rico to be their manager in October of 2017,  he became just the 11th Latin-born manager in the long, illustrious history of baseball. 

A recent Latin explosion has led to Hispanics flooding MLB rosters and infusing elite talent into the game, but all these years after Latinos became the lifeline of the sport, they still don’t get much consideration for leadership positions. 

J.A. Adande on Twitter

If this is the case in today’s MLB there should be a wave of Latino managers hired. Right? https://t.co/yhJpzjnExf

In 2017, things started changing with the hirings of Cora and New York Citys own Dave Martinez. Born to Puerto Rican parents in Brooklyn, Martinez was hired with the tough task of replacing crafty veteran Dusty Baker as Nationals skipper, becoming the third Latino manager in the game.

As the MLB season comes to an end, these managers stand on opposite sides of the favorability meter. 

Cora has shined as a rookie manager taking over a team that won 93 games in both 2016 and 2017 before feebly bowing out the playoffs. Hes changed the culture of the team, has 103 wins — two short of the franchise record of 105 set in 1912 — and the Red Sox look equipped for a deep playoff run. 

ESPN Stats & Info on Twitter

Alex Cora is the fifth manager in MLB history to win 100 games in his first year as manager. Should the Red Sox go at least 10-6 the rest of the way, Cora would pass Ralph Houk (1961 Yankees) for the most wins by a rookie manager in MLB history.

Coras success hasnt been lost on Red Sox principal ownerJohn Henry, who gave the rising managerial superstar mad props for his leadership and production this season. Alex is very, very focused and so is this team and staff this year. He is aggressive yet doesnt overreact or fail to think important issues through, Henry wrote in response to an email from The Boston Globes Peter Abraham. All of us have been amazed at the presence and intuitive insights he has brought on a daily basis and weve also been amazed at how quickly he adjusted to what a major league manager has to deal with in real time during each game. The teams focus shows up every single night. Nothing is taken for granted.

 After a 14-year career as an MLB journeyman with an astute grasp of the game – from 2013 to 2016 -, Cora flexed his communication skills and baseball intellect as a color analyst on ESPN and ESPN Deportes.

Cora is also the first Hispanic manager for a franchise that was the last in the major leagues to accept a player of color into the fold with the signing of Pumpsie Green in 1959. The Red Sox — who faced renewed racial scrutiny in 2017 after Orioles outfielder Adam Jones was bombarded with racial slurs at Fenway Park,– made Cora the second manager with Latino blood to currently managing one of the MLBs 30 teams, joining Chicago White Sox skipper Rick Renteria who has served since 2016 and is Mexican-American.  

Cora has shown what kind of leader and cultural ambassador he is off the field when he criticized another one of President Trump’s comments concerning the reported death toll of Hurricane victims in Puerto Rico. The first-year manager received rave reviews for his remarks. It seems Cora has the Midas Touch right now. 

Sports Illustrated on Twitter

Red Sox manager Alex Cora addressed President Donald Trump’s comments after the President tweeted he doubted Hurricane Maria’s death toll in Puerto Rico https://t.co/SJgdQtvpLd

On the other hand, Martinez came into the season with high praise and optimism, but a rash of unexpected injuries and some rookie mishaps resulted in one of the most disappointing seasons in Washington Nationals history as the World Series hopefuls have floundered to a 76-74 record.  

District on Deck on Twitter

Good article by @ThomasBoswellWP: “The Washington Nationals shouldn’t have hired Dave Martinez last offseason. Now they shouldn’t fire him.” https://t.co/3Ck8XSL3SE

The Nationals inked him to a three-year deal to try and get a talented team over the World Series hump, which is something his winning predecessor Dusty Baker couldnt accomplish. Washington Nats shot caller Mike Rizzo felt Martinez was a perfect choice. The 53-year-old Martinez previously served as the bench coach for the Tampa Bay Rays and Chicago Cubs. Both teams reached a World Series.  

Now that the smoke has cleared and the seasons are considered a failure, Monday morning quarterbacks have blasted Washington for firing a seasoned winner like Baker. At the same time,  Martinezs communication, poise, and resilience, as well as his ability to improve as a manager throughout the season, has earned him another crack at it. 

Via Washington Post: The managerial flaws that were exposed early in the season have been improved, especially the communication with his bullpen during games so he doesnt burn out the arms of his relievers. Martinezs willingness to learn and be open with players may contribute to the pride his team has shown after it has been buried, exhumed and, just to make sure, pronounced dead again.

Lovable Winners. on Twitter

Dave Martinez is showing Dusty Baker isn’t such a bad manager. The #Nats are terrible. So much talent.

Davey deserves a lot of credit for the way weve played when it would have been so easy multiple times for this team to pack it in, said all-star closer Sean Doolittle, who spent nearly two months on the disabled list. Its been a tough kind of first year for a manager. Bad luck and bad timing on injuries. They came in bunches to one part of the team or another.

The contrasting first-year managerial experiences Cora and Martinez and the fact that it appears both will be retained for next season,  really speaks to baseballs increased efforts to not just find minority candidates but cultivate certain people of color to be able to acquire all of the skills needed to ascend to a position of leadership, team management and become the face of a franchise.

It wasn’t all bad for Martinez. The two managers made history this season in more ways than one. 

Both Cora and Martinez were hired for plush jobs, with teams that were considered talented enough to make World Series runs. Teams who are division winners loaded with talent. One failed so far and one succeeded in his mission to lead a playoff team, but the fact that they both got the opportunity is whats important. Cora and Martinez represent the new MLB, where a changing culture has forced intelligent and open minded GMs to expand their traditional talent pools, move in a new direction and stay ahead of the competitors. 

Chelsea Janes on Twitter

Dave Martinez and Alex Cora meet at home plate to start this series, the first managers of Puerto Rican descent to manage against one another in the big leagues.

The language barrier has always been an excuse as to why Latino managers arent more abundant. With baseball still being majority white American, communication is a huge factor in choosing a manager. But as the league becomes increasingly Hispanic — from the low tier stadium workers up to the executive offices  —  a manager with bi-lingual communicative abilities is invaluable and a rising commodity.

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