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The Sports Report: Baseball scandal keeps getting worse for the cheaters

Alex Cora
Alex Cora
(Michael Dwyer / AP)

Howdy, I’m your host, Houston Mitchell. Let’s get right to the news.

Fallout from the biggest scandal in baseball since steroids inundated the sport continued Tuesday when the Boston Red Sox fired manager Alex Cora.

Cora, Houston’s bench coach in 2017, was charged in MLB’s nine-page report with working with players to devise the illegal sign-stealing system, which evolved into banging trash cans to relay catchers’ signs to hitters from a monitor placed behind the dugout.

The league levied punishment to the franchise, Astros general manager Jeff Luhnow, and Astros manager A.J. Hinch, but held off on disciplining Cora as it continues investigating allegations that the Red Sox also broke rules to steal signs en route to winning the World Series under Cora’s watch in 2018. The Red Sox, anticipating the penalty will be severe, did not wait to dismiss Cora, who first played in the major leagues with the Dodgers from 1998-2004.

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“Given the findings and the commissioner’s ruling, we collectively decided that it would not be possible for Alex to effectively lead the club going forward and we mutually agreed to part ways,” the Red Sox said in a statement.

Rich Hill, who pitched for the Dodgers the last four seasons, wondered about the impact the cheating may have had against his team, which lost to the 2017 Astros and 2018 Red Sox in the World Series. He thought about all the people behind the scenes — the clubhouse workers and bat boys and trainers and so on — that could have used the life-changing cash shares awarded to the championship club.

“I don’t know how you justify it, really,” Hill said. “How do you justify something like that?”

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Josh Donaldson, who was among the top free-agent targets of the Dodgers entering the offseason, reportedly agreed Tuesday to a four-year, $92-million deal with the Minnesota Twins, leaving the Dodgers little choice but to pursue a trade if they are to make any significant upgrades.

Donaldson, 34, was considered the last elite free agent on a market once teeming with stars, and a bounce-back season in which he hit .259 with 37 home runs, 94 runs batted in and a .900 on-base-plus-slugging percentage for the Atlanta Braves drove up the price tag on the veteran third baseman.

Several teams were reportedly willing to approach the $100-million range for Donaldson, though it is not known whether the Dodgers were one of them. The Braves, Washington Nationals, Texas Rangers and Philadelphia Phillies also expressed interest in Donaldson.

Read more baseball:

Dylan Hernandez: Legacies of Clayton Kershaw and Yu Darvish irreparably tarnished by Astros’ cheating

Astros’ cheating scandal becomes topic of discussion in high school baseball

Angels acquire pitcher Matt Andriese from Diamondbacks for minor leaguer

CLIPPERS

Kawhi Leonard was at his absolute best, out-muscling and out-shooting anyone the Cleveland Cavaliers put between him and the basket in an easy 128-103 win for the Clippers.

Leonard scored 43 points in just 29 minutes, hitting 14 of 22 from the field, six of 10 from three and nine of 10 from the foul line in his most dominant performance of the season.

Finding a signature stretch on a night when he was so consistently lethal isn’t easy, but Leonard’s 15-point second-quarter might have been in. With the game still tight – the Clippers briefly even trailing, Leonard broke things open from deep, hitting four in the quarter while the Clippers’ lead ballooned all the way out to 16.

While most of the quarter was about showcasing his skill, the final play of the first half was all about his strength. With the clocking winding towards zero, Leonard streaked down the middle of the court and split right through Cleveland’s young backcourt, Collin Sexton and Darius Garland, for a dunk and the foul.

If it was just Leonard, the Cavs, who were already in trouble with Kevin Love sitting out the second-night of a back-to-back, might’ve been able to hang in there. But the Clippers’ star was far from alone.

USC

When Mike Bohn was hired as the first outsider to lead USC athletics in decades, sweeping changes were expected inside a historically insular department recently plagued by scandal.

Those changes at Heritage Hall began Tuesday, according to multiple people familiar with the situation who were not authorized to speak publicly. Three of USC’s most senior officials in the athletic department are out, including Steve Lopes, the CFO and COO, who’d long been considered second in command.

Ron Orr, a senior associate athletic director who led the Trojan Athletic Fund, is also out, along with associate athletic director Scott Jacobson, who worked with Orr in development and fundraising.

Their removals stem in part from concerns over recent turmoil, including the ‘Varsity Blues cash-for-admissions scandal, The Times has learned.

The moves Tuesday also come because of the desire of new athletic department leadership to bring in its own people.

Read more USC:

Bill Plaschke: Mike Bohn’s plan: Clean up USC’s athletic department before tackling football

KINGS

Nikita Kucherov, the reigning NHL MVP and scoring champion, scored with a little over a minute left in regulation and Steven Stamkos delivered the game-deciding goal for Tampa Bay in a shootout to complete a 4-3 come-from-behind victory over the Kings on Tuesday night.

Brayden Point also beat Kings goalie Jonathan Quick in the shootout, helping the Lightning rebound from a loss to New Jersey that stopped Tampa Bay’s franchise record-tying 10-game winning streak on Sunday.

Quick stopped 35 of 38 shots for the Kings, who took a 3-2 lead when Dustin Brown scored on the power play at 12:00 of the third.

“There were a lot of ups and downs. [The Lightning] are a very creative, quick-attacking team. I think they got the best of us in some situations, but we fought back and worked our way to a lead with a big power-play goal,” Kings coach Todd McLellan said. “Disappointed at the end that we couldn’t close it out, but fairly good effort.”

WNBA

The WNBA and its players’ union announced an eight-year collective bargaining agreement Tuesday, with increases in player salaries and landmark benefits for motherhood and family planning.

As the WNBA enters its 25th season, the success of the new agreement and vitality of the WNBA depend on persuading companies to invest in the league at a level they have declined to do over the previous quarter-century.

“We are betting on women in a big way here,” WNBA Commissioner Cathy Engelbert said on a conference call.

The top player salary in the league jumps from $117,500 to $215,000, with each team’s salaries capped at $1.3 million. Players also would get full salary on maternity leave, an annual child-care stipend of $5,000 and reimbursement of up to $60,000 in family-planning expenses, such as adoption, surrogacy, egg freezing and in vitro fertilization.

UCLA FOOTBALL

Linebacker Jayce Smalley and defensive lineman Ulysses Aburto joined the team’s recent wave of departures, becoming the 12th and 13th players to leave via the transfer portal.

Smalley, a redshirt sophomore, announced his intentions on Twitter, saying he planned to leave as a graduate transfer with two more seasons of eligibility after completing his undergraduate degree in June. Aburto, a freshman, confirmed his departure in a message to The Times.

Both players were walk-ons but Smalley had been a regular contributor in 2018, making six tackles and one tackle for loss while appearing in eight games as a reserve linebacker and on special teams. Smalley appeared in four games last season and would have had to compete with an influx of freshman linebackers for playing time. Aburto did not appear in a game.

CHARGERS

One year and one day after he caught his final NFL pass, Antonio Gates formally retired Tuesday.

He spent all 16 seasons of his career with the Chargers, finishing with 116 touchdown receptions, the most ever by a tight end.

An eight-time Pro Bowl selection, Gates also made five All-Pro teams and is the Chargers’ franchise leader in catches (955) and receiving yards (11,841). He’s eligible for Pro Football Hall of Fame election in 2023.

“I find it hard to officially put this statement out and retire from the game of football,” Gates wrote on social media. “I never dreamed that I would play this game of football so long or how fortunate I would be to play it with just one organization.”

NFL PLAYOFF SCHEDULE

All times Pacific

Conference Championship

Sunday

Tennessee at Kansas City, Noon, CBS

Green Bay at San Francisco, 3:30 p.m., FOX

Super Bowl

Sunday Feb. 2

TBD vs. TBD, 3:30 p.m., FOX

TODAY’S LOCAL MAJOR SPORTS SCHEDULE

All times Pacific.

Orlando at Lakers, 7:30 p.m., Spectrum Sportsnet, 710 ESPN

BORN ON THIS DATE

1891: Baseball player Ray Chapman (d. 1920)

1898: Football coach Dutch Meyer (d. 1982)

1943: Former Dodger pitcher Mike Marshall

1953: Football player Randy White

1965: Boxer Bernard Hopkins

1969: Hockey player Adam Burt

1969: Former Dodger Delino DeShields

1970: Softball player Michelle Granger

1972: Golfer Yang Yong-eun

1975: Tennis player Mary Pierce

1979: Football player Drew Brees

DIED ON THIS DATE

1968: Hockey player Bill Masterton, 29

1993: Basketball coach Henry Iba, 88

2013: Boxer Chucho Castillo, 68

AND FINALLY

Mike Marshall gets the final out of the 1974 All-Star game. Watch it here.

Until next time...
That concludes today’s newsletter. If you have any feedback, ideas for improvement or things you’d like to see, email me at houston.mitchell@latimes.com, and follow me on Twitter at @latimeshouston. To get this newsletter in your inbox, click here.


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