By TERRY LYONS, Editor-in-Chief
BOSTON – It is quite possible that the greatest quote in sports history was uttered in the early 1980s by Michael Ray Richardson, then of the floundering New York Knickerbockers. “The Ship Be Sinking,” said Richardson. “The Sky’s the Limit,” he added when asked of the team’s wayward ways which followed a promising 50-win season in ’80-81.
At the time of Sugar Ray’s illustrious quote, the great Hall of Famer Red Holzman was in his last season of coaching and he would turn the Knicks over to another Hall-of-Fame coach in Hubie Brown as Richardson was shipped out to the Golden State in the 1982-83 NBA season.
Amidst dysfunction, neither Hall-of-Fame coach could right the ship.
Here is Boston, where sporting success is measured only by championship banners raised to the rafters, there are always several ships at sea. This spring, there are three:
- The Good Ship Cassidy
- U.S.S. Stevens
- PT 108-54, commanded by Alex Cora
Cassidy is piloted by Bruce Cassidy, a 53-year old career hockey man who was once a first round NHL draft choice (1983) but bounced around the league and the minors as a defenseman who endured three knee surgeries as he was deployed to the likes of Ottawa, Saginaw, Nova Scotia and Indianapolis before he turned to coaching gigs which had him set sail to the likes of Jacksonville, Trenton, Grand Rapids before he hooked up with the NHL Chicago Blackhawks and an eventual head coaching post with the Washington Capitals.
Cassidy eventually made his way to Providence where he held stewardship of the Baby Bs and was promoted to head coach of the Bruins when Claude Julien set sail to Montreal in 2017.
In each of the last two seasons Cassidy and the Bruins cleared the 100-point mark and finished 2nd in the Atlantic Division, although they were bounced in the first and second round of the NHL’s Stanley Cup Playoffs in the last two years, respectively. A solid stewardship to say the least.
As we type, the Bruins are locked 2-2 with a formidable Toronto Maple Leafs club and a victory tonight could set the course for a long trip as No. 1 foe, the Tampa Bay Lightning, were upended in the first round, swept by the Columbus Blue Jackets.
The USS Stevens has been on turbulent seas all season long. With expectations set high as a glorious trip around the world, the voyage has been rocky, at best.
Through it all, Celtics coach Brad Stevens has been the rock, the rudder. He remains calm, even though the seas were rough.
Lack of cohesiveness, team chemistry, and some wear and tear nearly beached the USS Stevens during a 10-10 start and again, midway through the long NBA season, when consecutive losses at Milwaukee, Chicago, Toronto and home vs Portland dragged the team record down to 37-25.
Throughout, Stevens kept to his own style and forward-thinking methodology to remain, perhaps, the best modern-day coach in the game.
Which brings us to the Red Sox and second-year Manager Alex Cora.
Cora is the Skipper of a team that has lost its way in the first few weeks of the 2019 MLB season. While every baseball aficionado will note the early date (April 19th) of a marathon long baseball season that reached to October, the fact of the matter is the Red Sox have already endured two three-game skids.
The club is 6-13 and eight games out of the American League East leading Tampa Bay Rays, who they face tonight for the first of a three-game series. To say an early season series in muy important is a bit ridiculous, never mind a series in April.
There will be a sense of urgency this evening in St. Petersburg when lefty Eduardo Rodriguez takes on Tampa’s righty in Ryne Stanek, he of a 1.93 ERA and 0.86 whip.
Cora is a player’s manager and has every aspect of reasoning amidst his “stay the course” way. When facing adversity last year, as the regular season ended and his bullpen faded, Cora managed masterfully, subbing, inserting, starting, pinch-hitting, you name it.
Cora is the perfect skipper. He guides, and to his credit with the players, he doesn’t command. He doesn’t panic. He remains optimistic and realistic.
Cora’s most important attribute to right the ship?
He is decisive.