By Jim Lane
CURVE, Pa. – College All-American. First-round draft pick. Major league player for 11 seasons. American League all-star. Major League coach. World Series ring. Minor League manager.
When it comes to baseball resumes, there aren’t many more impressive than the one Curve manager Joey Cora sports.
There is one thing missing, though.
“My goal as a kid wasn’t to be a big league ballplayer,” Cora was saying recently at Peoples Natural Gas Field, “it was to be a big league manager. I never thought I’d be a player.”
But, he was a player, and a darn good one, too.
Born in Caguas, Puerto Rico, Cora was playing in a Legion Tournament in Dayton, Ohio, when he got his first big break in the game.
“The coach from Vanderbilt was there scouting and offered me a scholarship,” Cora recalled. “My dad was there, too, and it worked out for me.”
He attended Vanderbilt three years, majoring in math and political science, and noted: “I’ve always liked numbers.”
A second baseman-shortstop, nicknamed “Little Joey,” the 5-foot-7 Cora earned All-American honors at Vandy and was a first-round draft pick of the San Diego Padres in 1985.
“I never thought of myself as being little,” he said. “Maybe other people looked at me as being little, but not me. That’s not part of my makeup.”
Known for his hustle, grit and good nature, Cora played 11 seasons in the majors (1987-1998) with the Padres, White Sox, Mariners and Indians. He hit 30 homers, had 294 RBIs and a .277 average.
He was an American League All-Star in 1997 as a member of the Mariners, hitting .300 for the season with 11 homers and 54 RBIs.
“The All-Star Game was in Cleveland, and it was a lot of fun, getting to share the clubhouse with stars you competed against,” he said. “I was next to Cal Ripken in the locker room, and he gave me a lot of tips on how to handle the All-Star stuff.
“I’ll always remember that,” he continued. “One of my Seattle teammates told me, ‘once an All-Star, always an All-Star,’ and that’s something I can always say.”
Cora had signed with Seattle in 1995 and played a key role in one of the Mariners’ most memorable seasons. After hitting only three homers during the regular-season, he belted a homer off the Yankees’ David Cone early in the decisive Game 5 of the ALDS.
Later in the game, with the Yanks leading 5-4, Cora led off the bottom of the 11th with a drag-bunt single and later scored, with Ken Griffey Jr., on walk-off double by Edgar Martinez that sent the Mariners to the ALCS.
“That was the biggest game I ever played in,” Cora said. “Everybody remembers that bunt single and the homer off Cone kind of gets lost in the whole game.”
After his playing days, and a minor league managing stint in the New York Mets organization, Cora joined the White Sox staff in 2004, serving various roles during eight seasons under Ozzie Guillen. He was a bench coach and third base coach and earned a World Series ring with the ChiSox in 2005.
“It was big, but it was different because I was coaching,” Cora said. “I still tell everybody that no matter what I say there’s nothing like experiencing it yourself. It’s amazing and an unbelievable experience.”
Cora also coached third base for Guillen and the Miami Marlins in 2012 and has nothing but praise for his former boss, who often was criticized for his outspoken ways.
“He’s the only manager in the last 100-plus years to win a World Series in Chicago,” Cora said. “He gets credit for that, but what’s lost is how good a manager he was. He was really tactical.”
Cora said his dear friend deserves another chance to manage.
“I don’t know why he doesn’t get another chance,” Cora said. “We (White Sox) weren’t favored, but we went wire to wire and lost only one game in the playoffs. That’s how dominating we were.”
The ninth manager in franchise history, the personable Cora has had the Curve near the top of the Eastern League’s Western Division standings most of the season, but he’s more than a baseball manager, noting his goal is to make his players better men as well as better players.
“That should be our goal, as a team and organization – make them better men,” he said.
The 51-year-old Cora, his wife and two children live in Miami.
Cora has enjoyed his season in Altoona, but he’s not closing the door on becoming a big league manager.
“The dream is always there,” he said. “We’ll see where this takes me. I’ll keep grinding and do what people in the industry want.”