Without Joey Cora, the Seattle Mariners might not exist. What a shame it is that the White Sox bench coach wasn’t even considered to fill their current manager vacancy.
Former Indians manager Eric Wedge got the job Monday.
So how did the 5-foot-7, 170-pound Cora, a native of Puerto Rico, help save Seattle Mariners baseball?
In the Pacific Northwest it is stuff of legend how three 11th-inning hits, Cora’s being the first, eventually led to the existence of Safeco Field. Ken Griffey Jr. and Edgar Martinez might play the more iconic roles in the Mariners’ masterpiece, but if they were the artists, then Cora was the canvas providing the base for what would happen next.
Game 5 of the Mariners-Yankees AL Division series in 1995 was the stage. After the Yankees took a one-run lead in the 11th inning, leaving them three outs from advancing to the ALCS, Cora led off the bottom of the inning with a drag bunt single. Griffey singled to put runners on the corners and Martinez delivered what is affectionately referred to as “The Double” to Mariners fans, scoring both runners for the victory.
The memorable snapshot of the moment was Griffey on the ground with a grin as his teammates piled on top of him.
Cora, who was in his first season with the Mariners after playing four years with the White Sox, batted .297 that 1995 season with a .359 on-base percentage. He would go on to have arguably three better seasons in Seattle, but never had a better moment. Cora also had a home run in Game 5.
Before that Game 5 victory, rumors had been flying that the team could be sold and relocated. The Mariners ended up staying and in 1999, Safeco Field opened. Among the artwork in the new stadium is a depiction of “The Double.” Somebody should have included “The Drag Bunt.”
Word has surfaced recently that the Brewers and Blue Jays are interested in talking to Cora about their manager vacancies. Cora is reportedly set to interview with the Brewers on Tuesday. His body of work from a player to minor-league manager (three seasons) to a White Sox coach for seven years shows his qualifications.
They just weren’t qualifications the Mariners could see, despite his ties to the team and his role in one of the organization’s most defining moments.
In correspondence with Cora recently, he said that all he wanted was a chance to talk to somebody within the Mariners this offseason about their manager opening. As of Friday, though, he had not received one call and seemed, if not hurt, then a little disappointed. He apparently will get that chance elsewhere now.
If anything, not being on the Mariners’ candidate list is what probably affected Cora the most. He was their second-best candidate the last time around when Don Wakamatsu was hired prior to the 2009 season, and the consensus seemed to be that the Mariners would right their wrong and Cora would be among the favorites to get the job this time around.
Instead, the Mariners were reportedly looking for candidates with previous major-league experience. Why? A big reason could be that Wakamatsu didn’t have that experience (he was a minor-league manager for four seasons) and the Mariners apparently didn’t want to go down that road again.
So not only did Wakamatsu beat out Cora for the Mariners job originally, his inability to relate to his players apparently cost Cora a chance to be considered for it this time.
The Mariners didn’t have to hire Cora, but they could have at least brought him in to talk. He appears to know what he’s doing, definitely knows what he’s talking about and is ready to manage.
It’s sad the Mariners didn’t see it, but good for the Brewers and Blue Jays to consider a guy who doesn’t even have a history with those clubs, much less a rich history.