HOF Class of 2023: Joey Cora

Longtime MLB player and coach’s baseball journey took flight at Vanderbilt (1982–85)

More than three decades after playing his final game for the Commodores, Joey Cora was wearing a Vanderbilt hoodie when he received a surprise phone call and learned that he would be among those enshrined in the Vanderbilt Athletics Hall of Fame.

“The reason I’m here, in baseball and in life, is because I went to Vanderbilt,” Cora told The Anchor podcast recently. “All my success, I owe a lot to Vanderbilt.”

An All-Star and the first Vanderbilt baseball alumnus to play 1,000 games in Major League Baseball, Cora’s college career offered a glimpse of the VandyBoys’ future. By his sophomore season, Cora emerged as a third-team All-American and All-SEC and All-South Region selection. After earning MVP honors in the vaunted Cape Cod League in summer 1984, he repeated his collegiate conference and regional honors in 1985 and was a second-team All-American.

A standout student and athlete growing up in Caguas, Puerto Rico, Cora was still learning English when he arrived in Nashville. To master the language, he took classes early in the morning, then went through his normal academic schedule and baseball practice before additional language instruction in the evenings. It’s safe to say the hard work paid dividends. At Vanderbilt, he excelled as a math major and earned SEC First Team All-Academic honors in his final year.

The San Diego Padres selected Cora in the first round of the 1985 MLB Draft. He reached the majors with the Padres two years later and enjoyed a distinguished 11-year career in the big leagues with the Padres, White Sox, Mariners and Guardians, batting .277 and amassing more than 1,000 hits. An All-Star in 1997 with the Seattle Mariners, when he hit .300 with 11 home runs, he helped that franchise win two AL West titles in three seasons.

The gifted communicator has served in a variety of coaching roles in professional baseball, including as bench coach for the 2005 World Series champion Chicago White Sox and a coach with the Miami Marlins, Pittsburgh Pirates and New York Mets. He also had the opportunity to manage the Double-A Altoona Curve in 2016, leading the Pittsburgh affiliate to the playoffs. He recently joined the Detroit Tigers as the third base coach under manager A.J. Hinch.

Through all his travels in professional baseball, and even in his own family with brother and Boston Red Sox manager Alex Cora, Joey says he’s always quick to seize on the clubhouse bragging rights his Vanderbilt ties afford him.

Cora is a member of the Tennessee Sports and Cape Cod League halls of fame.