Why SI struck out in picking its Sportsperson of the Year


Sports Illustrated named the Golden State Warriors its Sportsperson of the Year for 2018, and here’s hoping it helps them sell magazines the way the Warriors win titles — in bunches.

Because after reading the end-of-the-year cover story, that seems the only rationale for the pick, other than the Warriors are good at basketball.

(The article culminated by asking “The secret of the Warriors?” as if it were an unexplainable mystery. The answer is talent. And it’s not exactly classified info.)

The end-of-the-year issue is 120 pages long and not one of them (that I’ve yet perused) has any mention of the person who should have been Sportsperson of the Year, that in parlance SI can understand, should have been a slam dunk: Alex Cora.

Cora won 108 regular-season games and a World Series in his first season as manager of the Red Sox, which should cover the athletic angle of the award.

He also asked his employers to take up the cause of relief for the hurricane-devastated island of Puerto Rico, where he was born, and Red Sox management responded off the field as the team performed on it — with abundance.

That should have taken care of the humanitarian side of the award.

Sports Illustrated was more impressed with the magnanimity of the Warriors’ Andre Iguodala, who agreed to come off the bench after starring in the Olympics.

If I didn’t know better, I’d think Sports Illustrated missed the point of its own award.

It’s been that kind of month for sporting miscalculations, which is why it’s best —  normally — to look past them. First Harold Baines was gifted entrance to the Hall of Fame as if  he were the lucky winner of a present at the office grab bag holiday party.

Then Sports Illustrated elevated Draymond Green,  the NBA’s modern-day version of Dennis Rodman, to statesman and lauded the “venture capitalist” who owns a basketball team. (Who knows? Maybe someday Green, like Rodman, will be buds with Kim Jong-Un.)

Anyone who still works in journalism must have retched on reading the latter, if not the former.

There are economic realities to Sports Illustrated’s world, and it’s easy to presume some of them affected their choice. It doesn’t take Stephen Curry-like accuracy to predict newsstand sales will be greater this week in California with the Warriors on the cover than they would ever have been in Puerto Rico with Cora on it.

Sports Illustrated was once the pinnacle of its profession, and was to sports journalism what the New York Times is to news. Some of us have been subscribing for much of its existence (my first issue came with Alex Karras on the cover — for his playing, not his announcing — 10 years after the magazine debuted in 1954).

As recently as 2015 it published 51 issues a year; in 2018, like a seven-day-a-week major metro reduced to publishing three days a week, it’s down to 27, or about the number of pitching changes Dodgers manager Dave Roberts made in the World Series.

That’s sad news, but Sports Illustrated’s credibility is more important than single-copy sales.

Cora hasn’t had much luck with awards this year — he didn’t win manager of the year either — but he deserves better.  Before Cora had even signed his first contract in the fall of 2017 he asked not for J.D. Martinez or another reliever, but help for Puerto Rico.

Red Sox team president Sam Kennedy, according to mlb.com: “At the end, he asked for one thing. Not for him or his family. He asked the Red Sox for relief help for the people of Puerto Rico, and specifically for his hometown of Caguas.”

The Red Sox agreed, the planes landed in January and according to mlb.com, “over the span of the next two weeks, JetBlue pledged to make room in the cargo holds of its regularly scheduled flights from Boston to San Juan for the nearly 10 tons of supplies collected by Cora and the Sox. The Red Sox Foundation also presented a $200,000 check to Caguas Renace (“Rebirth”).”

Ten months later, having won the World Series, Cora and the Red Sox took the World Series trophy back to his home island and his hometown of Caguas.

Cora’s contributions to the World Series title were many: he championed the cutting of Hanley Ramirez when it was thought to be rash; he ingeniously used starters as relievers during the postseason (look for a lot of copiers next October); he twice bypassed his ace Chris Sale to start David Price, 0-9 in postseason starts before the ALCS, on short rest; and every postseason pinch-hitting move, like a five-time Jeopardy champion’s answers, seemed right.

He also dealt with a demanding media for eight months and answered in two languages.

The entirety of Cora’s first 13 months with the Red Sox makes for a pretty good story: he won a World Series and used his position to act selflessly, building on the tradition of service and excellence established by the island’s most famous baseball-playing son, Roberto Clemente.

Too bad someone, like so many Dodger hitters in the World Series, missed it.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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