DETROIT — The Tigers introduced A.J. Hinch on Friday as their 39th manager in franchise history, following the retired Ron Gardenhire. Here are a half-dozen questions coming out of Hinch’s introductory Zoom conference along with general manager Al Avila and chairman/CEO Christopher Ilitch.
1. Did the Tigers get a break on Hinch when the rival White Sox hired Tony La Russa as their manager on Thursday?
Hinch said Friday he knew the White Sox were interested in him, but that he never interviewed with them. He did not go into why, but he said he was focused on the Tigers once he arrived in Detroit on Wednesday.
“When the World Series ended, Al called,” Hinch said. “I got on a plane not really knowing what was next, if I was going to interview [with the White Sox] or not, and I never interviewed. I’m not sure what their thought process was, but when I got here, I was solely focused on the Tigers.”
2. How much of an issue was the Astros’ sign-stealing investigation and Hinch’s ensuing suspension from MLB?
It was important enough that the Tigers and Hinch not only discussed it during the interview process, but they referred to it in the press release announcing his hire. Hinch discussed it during Friday’s Zoom conference, and he said he’ll talk to his players and coaches about it.
“Those are tough conversations,” Hinch said, “and I will have them one by one, [and] I will have them as a team. There’s a clear message that’s part of my story and part of my career. It’s not a part of the players that I’m going to be managing. I’m sorry that they’re going to have to deal with it and that we’re going to have to talk about it, but that is our reality, because wrong is wrong, and it was very wrong. And I’ll make sure that everybody knows that I feel responsible, because I was the manager and it was on my watch, and I’ll never forget it.”
3. How are Tigers players, some of whom competed against Hinch’s Astros teams, reacting to the hire?
It’s tough to gauge every opinion so quickly after a hire. But Tigers pitcher Matthew Boyd, the team’s player representative and one of the leaders of the club, said he’s excited and that other players he has talked with share the sentiment.
“Everything I hear about him, from people who played with him and people who know A.J., is nothing but the best,” Boyd said. “He’s a winner. It’s exciting to know he’s going to be at the helm leading the team. We’re really excited. It’s pretty exciting that we have a guy with as much experience as A.J. leading us, and I’m really glad.”
Boyd faced the Astros on July 29, 2017, in Detroit, beating them with three runs allowed over 7 1/3 innings, but he hasn’t pitched in Houston since ’15. He said in January that it’s not his place to worry about the sign-stealing question, saying it’s out of his control, and he referred back to that on Friday.
“Everybody makes mistakes,” Boyd said. “I’ve made some mistakes in my life that I regret. But that doesn’t define who we are. It’s how we grow from it that defines us. He has apologized for it. He has expressed remorse, and that’s all you can ask for. I’m excited to play for him.”
4. Who will be on Hinch’s coaching staff?
Neither Hinch nor the Tigers discussed that Friday, but it’ll be a big topic in the coming days. Hinch will have the authority to build his own staff, but the Tigers will have some veto power. Two coaches who could be retained are Josh Paul, who joined Gardenhire’s staff a year ago as a quality-control coach before becoming bench coach for interim manager Lloyd McClendon, and third-base coach Ramon Santiago, whose grasp of analytics and infield instruction has made a strong impression on the Tigers.
Pitching coach Rick Anderson and hitting coach Joe Vavra, both longtime coaches under Gardenhire, appear likely to move on. McClendon and first-base coach Dave Clark, both of whom have worked under multiple Detroit managers and interviewed for the manager job last month, could pursue other opportunities.
Don’t expect a reunion between Hinch and Don Kelly, who served as Hinch’s first-base coach in Houston in 2019. Kelly is currently the Pirates’ bench coach and is reportedly a candidate for the Red Sox managerial opening. He probably won’t leave his hometown of Pittsburgh for a lateral coaching move to Detroit.
5. Does Hinch’s hiring mean any change of direction for the Tigers’ long-term plan?
The Tigers are still committed to building a contending team through player development, then complementing that core with free agents and trades. That’s a big reason why Hinch, who helped build a championship club in similar fashion in Houston and has a background in player development, appealed to Tigers officials. But the hire also reflects the sense of urgency Avila has discussed since the season ended.
Ilitch said the hire reminded him of when the NHL’s Detroit Red Wings hired head coach Scotty Bowman to lead them to the Stanley Cup.
“When that team was at a certain point as an organization, we felt we had to go out and get a very accomplished, successful manager or coach to lead that team. And I think this team is similar,” Ilitch said. “We’re still developing, there is work to be done, I think our fans realize that, but I do feel that we’re starting to see a lot of positive signs for this organization. There’s a lot of talent coming up through the system, and I think A.J. is exceptionally well positioned to help us grow and ultimately become highly competitive.”
6. What was Hinch’s shining moment with the 2003 Tigers?
Well, Hinch played only 27 games on a team that went 43-119. Statistically, his biggest impact was a go-ahead two-run home run as part of a five-run fifth inning to send the Tigers to a 6-2 win over the Blue Jays that June 30 at Comerica Park. But when asked what he remembers about that team, Hinch talked about the end.
“I remember the dogpile on the last day of the season because we didn’t lose 120 games,” Hinch said. “That was something that was very important to us as a team. We didn’t want to set any records. You know, 119 just seemed better than 120 on that last day.
“But what I remember, the symbolic part of it is, that’s a low part in the franchise, and a storied franchise. This English D, it was here before us, it’s going to be here after us. It matters to a lot of fans and a lot of people around the state of Michigan, around the country. And that was really the beginning of what was next for Tigers baseball, and that was a really, really good run of very difficult teams to beat.”