By Dick Flavin
Boston Red Sox Poet Laureate
and New York Times Best Selling Author
ALEX CORA AND DAVE DOMBROWSKI, TEAMMATES
There is an old show business story – perhaps apocryphal, but maybe not – concerning
the wife of famed Broadway lyricist/librettist Oscar Hammerstein II and the wife of the
equally renowned composer, Jerome Kern. The two women had a famously adversarial
relationship that was not shared by their husbands, who enjoyed a close friendship and
working partnership (this was years before Hammerstein would team up with Richard
Rodgers to form the most famous partnership in Broadway history). Kern and
Hammerstein had just finished collaborating on the words and music for their ground-
breaking play, “Show Boat,” when they and their wives attended a glittering upper East
Side cocktail party. As Dorothy Hammerstein was passing by a covey of women who
were gushing over Mrs. Kern’s husband having written “Ol’ Man River,” the iconic
show’s most dramatic song, she interrupted. “Excuse me,” she firmly said. “Her husband
did not write ‘Ol’Man River.’ Her husband wrote, ‘Daa daa de-dum.’ My husband wrote
‘Ol’ Man River.’” Then, executing a perfect spin-on-the-heel maneuver, she stalked off.
The story comes to mind after hearing several lively discussions over the winter as to
who deserves the most credit for the historic success of the Red Sox last year. Was it the
president of baseball operations, Dave Dombrowski, who put together the roster, piece by
piece, essentially writing the script for the season? Or was it Alex Cora, the manager,
who took what Dombrowski had given him and got the most out of the lineup each day,
more or less putting music to the words? Each side has its advocates. The comparison
with Jerome Kern and Oscar Hammerstein is not a perfect one; for one thing, there is no
issue between the wives of Dombrowski and Cora. But there are enough similarities to
make a point.
As far as Dombrowski and Cora are concerned, the whole issue is a non-starter. Theirs is
a collaborative effort which worked beautifully last year and hopefully will again in
2019. Such perfect synergy of talent and purpose is difficult to achieve and should be
appreciated when it is. Both men worked hard to make the other guy better, and we got a
season for the ages (maybe more than just one?) as a result.
Such close working partnerships are had to come by and, unfortunately, they do not
always end happily. We can only hope that the Dombrowski/Cora liaison will avoid such
The Bill Belichick and Tom Brady duo has worked for two decades and six Superbowl
titles, but even that long-running partnership hit a very rough patch in the road a few
seasons back over what to do, or not to do, about quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo. Brady
appears to have won that power struggle, as Garoppolo was traded to the San Francisco
Forty-Niners in October, 2017, for a second round draft choice. Brady and Belichick
seem to have survived the dust-up. Both have apparently moved on and the partnership
endures, at least for now. We shall see.
Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig formed a mutual admiration society when they first became
teammates. The younger Gehrig idolized the already legendary Ruth when he first arrived
as a New York Yankee and, for his part, the Babe greatly admired Gehrig’s talent and
tenacity. They would form the core of the famed Murderers’ Row that terrorized pitchers
throughout baseball, and there was never a hint of jealousy between them. The two men
even barnstormed around the country together when the seasons ended.
But things happen. A misunderstanding between their wives led to a cooling of their
relationship which soon developed into a total rupture. Ruth and Gehrig did not even
speak to one another over their final years as teammates.
Another twosome who made it all the way to the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown,
New York, also broke up in acrimony. Bud Abbott and Lou Costello are not actual
inductees in the hall, but their classic baseball bit, “Who’s on First?” has a place of honor
there, including its own plaque. Developed more than eighty years ago, “Who’s on
First?” still resonates with hilarity whenever it’s viewed. Google it sometime; there are
several versions of it readily available. Costello was the funny one, and he garnered most
of the attention. One day he announced that their 50-50 partnership was no longer in
effect, that he was taking 60 percent of the profits and Abbott could either take the pay
cut or leave it. Abbott, who had frittered away his money on gambling, had developed an
alcohol problem in an attempt to control epileptic seizures and owed back taxes, took the
new deal, but their partnership was forever fractured. Eventually the team split and
neither one of them was ever the same again.
Interestingly, if you do watch “Who’s on First?” it will be worth your while to keep your
eye on Abbott. Although it is Costello who gets the laughs with his histrionics and
frustrations, it is Abbott, with his masterly sense of timing and pacing, who makes the bit
still resonate after all these years.
But back to Cora and Dombrowski. They don’t tell jokes, write songs, or hit home runs,
but they are, at least so far, a great team. They make themselves – and the other guy –
better. The closest parallel to their working relationship was a decade and a half ago
when Terry Francona and Theo Epstein forged a working partnership that resulted in two
world championships. In that case the manager was fifteen years older than the baseball
ops guy. Cora is nineteen years younger than Dombrowski. Even the Francona/Epstien
partnership frayed toward the end, a cautionary tale.
We thought the Sox might have another perfect partnership in 2013 when first year
manager John Farrell and Ben Cherrington combined to produce a championship, but the
Red Sox fell to last place in the American League East in both 2014 and 2015. By then
Cherrington was gone and Dombrowski had come aboard.
In any case, the Red Sox seem to have a really good thing going with the men they have
put in charge. As the new season gets underway, let’s hope that it keeps going.