| Detroit Free Press
Watch: Detroit Tigers introduce A.J. Hinch as manager
Detroit Tigers owner Christopher Ilitch and GM Al Avila introduce new manager A.J. Hinch, Oct. 30, 2020.
A.J. Hinch, the Detroit Tigers’ new manager, carries a dirty asterisk and unmistakable stain for his role in his last gig, as the manager of the cheatin’, trash-can bangin’ Houston Astros.
Because he could have stopped it. He should have stopped it. But he didn’t. And that should raise red flags about his leadership abilities.
“That’s part of my story — it’s not the Tigers’ story,” Hinch said, at his introductory news conference Friday. “I understand how wrong it was. And I’m sorry for that.”
[ The AL Central just became the ‘Murderer’s Row’ of managers in 2021 ]
Hinch said he regrets his role in the Astros sign-stealing scandal, and by that, I mean, looking the other way and not doing enough to stop it.
And maybe, he has learned from it and grown from it. Certainly, he has said all the right things after getting banished from baseball for a year for his role in the scandal.
“Wrong is wrong and it was very wrong,” he said Friday. “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.”
[ Explaining A.J. Hinch’s role in Astros cheating scandal in 2017 ]
Let me be clear: Hinch didn’t create this cheating scandal and he didn’t participate in it, according to the MLB commissioner’s report.
In fact, he twice damaged a monitor, trying to show his dislike of the activity. But that’s not exactly the strongest thing he could have done. He could have held a team meeting and demanded that it come to a stop. But he didn’t do that. So in essence, he did nothing.
“I should have done more,” he told the MLB Network earlier this year. “I should have addressed it more directly.”
Hinch came off as sincere and remorseful during Friday’s news conference conference. He didn’t duck questions.
He says he has grown since 2017. “I’m much more confident today than I was in 2017,” he told MLB Network after getting fired. “I didn’t believe that at the time. Otherwise, I would have handled it differently and I should have.”
Having said that, let me say this: I believe in second chances.
Hinch should be held accountable for what he did, more specifically what he didn’t do, but he has served his sentence and the Tigers were free to hire him.
And the Tigers believe he has changed.
“This was a man that had learned and grown from the experience, and that resonated with me,” said Christopher Ilitch, Detroit Tigers Chairman and Chief Executive Officer. “We have high expectations for how we’re going to perform on the field, in terms of wins and losses, but also how we conduct ourselves. And I believe, to my core, that AJ is going to conduct himself in the appropriate manner beyond appropriate manner in all regards.”
Al Avila, the Tigers general manager, echoed those thoughts. He contacted Hinch immediately after the World Series, about “30 minutes” after the MLB suspension was lifted, Hinch said.
“There was never a doubt in my mind of his character,” Avila said. “Honesty, really, he’s one of the better guys that you’re going to meet in the game, or in life in general. I mean, no one mistake does not, you know, determine a man for who he is. But so we had a good history with him already.”
Still, this hire comes with a public relations risk for the Tigers, although the timing of this announcement minimizes it.
If there is blowback, it won’t last long, with a presidential election around the corner. Some Tigers fans have already expressed their disgust on Twitter. But others have already started to wave this away: There are far worse transgressions than stealing signs. And: Cheating has been going on in baseball for years, from performance enhancing drugs to throwing illegal spitballs.
[ Detroit Tigers fans have mixed feelings on A.J. Hinch: Is he a cheater or a winner? ]
If you could take away this cheating scandal, Hinch is a good hire with a great winning pedigree. In many ways, the Tigers would not have gotten the chance to land Hinch as their manager if it weren’t for this scandal. He’d still be in Houston. And if the Tigers didn’t hire him, somebody else would, whether this year or next.
But you can’t ignore the cheating. And I can’t call this hire a home run for that reason.
“This has happened on my watch and I take it seriously,” he told MLB Network. “I want people to know I care, that I’m not just blowing it off and shrugging my shoulders because we got caught. I want my daughters to see me hold up my accountability and take responsibility for being in this position. I want my wife and kids to be proud of how I handled this.”
Back in August, I asked Tigers pitcher Matthew Boyd what he appreciated most about Ron Gardenhire. He said it was the culture Gardenhire created. It was closest team that Boyd had ever been on. Despite the losing, the team never quit fighting and Gardenhire created a welcoming environment that allowed young players to grow and feel comfortable and some started to thrive. That’s hugely important for a young, impressionable roster in the midst of a rebuild.
Now, consider Hinch. He enabled a culture where the players ran amok and devised the biggest scandal since the PED crisis; and he knew about it and didn’t stop it.
I’m not saying this is a bad hire. I think it could end up being a fantastic hire, if Hinch has truly learned from the Astros’ cheating scandal. He is a smart, successful coach with a winning track record, who was aided by managing a tremendously talented roster.
And he said all the right things and struck the right tone on Friday.
As I said, I’m all for second chances.
But if you keep the past in mind — and you have to — this hire comes with a risk, just from the culture he enabled and failed to correct in Houston.
The Tigers are betting he has grown and matured, and that if faced with a dilemma in the future, he will do the right thing.
But can they really know for sure?
Contact Jeff Seidel: firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @seideljeff. To read his recent columns, go to freep.com/sports/jeff-seidel