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Padres manager search: Why Joey Cora is the right choice

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I know there is a constituency of fans who are adamantly opposed to their team hiring a rookie manager for any reason at any time, and I find that more than a bit ridiculous. Every manager who has ever managed anything was a first-timer at some point, as is the case for everything that everyone ever has ever done. Ever. And it's not like having a new-to-the-job skipper is an instant kiss of death; in just the past two seasons we've seen three rookie managers take their clubs to the postseason.

The next team that hires Joey Cora as its manager will be the first. His name has been bounced around in regard to a multitude of openings, he's received a number of interviews, and has even been short-listed a few times. Yet somehow he keeps losing out to a bevy of retreads. Since Padres general manager A.J. Preller is a notorious free-thinker, not constrained by convention, I hold hope that he'll do the right thing and give Joey a crack at running a big league ballclub.

While Cora has no major league managerial experience, he served three years as a minor league skipper in the Mets and Expos organizations, and apprenticed in the majors as a third base coach for three years and a bench coach for six more. I believe that part of what has held Cora back is that all nine of those seasons were as a member of Ozzie Guillen's staff, and that Joey has been deemed guilty by association. Sure, Cora and Guillen are good friends -- as you'd hope a former double-play-duo would be -- but that's no reason to judge Joey's ability to lead. Yes, Guillen surely imparted much of his wisdom on his right-hand-man, but Cora can think for himself and had many other managers to learn from in his three decades in pro ball.

After being drafted in the first round of the 1985 draft by the Padres, Cora played under Jack Maloof (low-A Spokane in 1985), Steve Smith (AA Beaumont in 1986, when Joey got stabbed and nearly killed by an opposing fan, and again in 1988 and '89 with AAA Las Vegas), and Jack Krol (Las Vegas in 1987). True, only Krol is the only one who could claim major league managerial experience -- and it came years before Joey was under his tutelage -- but all of them had a hand in forming this MLB All-Star and a great number of others. A look at the managers Cora played for in the majors lends more insight into what he's learned due to more being known about those he learned it from.

Year(s) Manager
1987 Larry Bowa
1989-'90 Jack McKeon
1990 Greg Riddoch
1991 Jeff Torborg
1992-'94 Gene Lamont
1995-'98 Lou Piniella
1998 Mike Hargrove

His first manager in the majors, Larry Bowa, gave him a crash course in how not to treat people. Joey's tortured experience as Bowa's whipping boy likely ensures that he would not ride and demean young players, as he knows the detrimental effect that has on someone truly doing his best. McKeon and Torborg both had managerial careers that began before Joey started playing, and extended beyond his retirement, so he can pick through what kept them so in-demand while reflecting on what kept first-timer Greg Riddoch from getting another chance. I'm sure he picked up a few pearls from Gene Lamont, who led the White Sox to the top of their division in both of his years with Joey, 1993 and '94, before getting canned after 31 games into a hopeless 1995 season. But it was the manager Cora spent the most time playing for who is his best reference.

Yes, Cora finished his career playing for Mike Hargrove's Cleveland Indians after a waiver-deadline deal in 1998, but those 24 games had nowhere near the impact that three-and-a-half years under Lou Piniella did. Piniella managed parts of 23 seasons in the majors, winning six division titles and a World Series ring, while being handed teams that didn't stand a chance well over half the time. While he was well-known for his temper, there is little doubting Piniella's bona fides on the bench and the impact that had on those beneath him who wished to follow in his footsteps.

This is just a drop that has melted off the tip of the iceberg; there are many more selling points as to why Joey Cora deserves to be in charge of the Padres' bench next season, but those will have to wait for my rebuttal to whoever says someone else should get the job.