Why Detroit Tigers manager AJ Hinch is still friends with fellow cheater Alex Cora

Detroit Free Press

Evan Petzold
 
| Detroit Free Press

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Detroit Tigers manager AJ Hinch is still friends with Alex Cora.

Together, they challenged baseball’s integrity: Hinch was the manager and Cora was his bench coach with the 2017 Houston Astros, a team encompassed by a detailed sign-stealing plot and World Series championship. The players, along with Cora, devised a scheme to decode signs with replay monitors and bang on a trash can to signal incoming pitches to batters.

Simply put, they cheated.

“I would imagine there aren’t too many people who know how he and I feel more than he and I,” Hinch told a small group of reporters Thursday.

[ How A.J. Hinch is owning Astros scandal: ‘Part of my story, not Tigers’ ]

They were exiled from MLB for a season for their actions — or inactions — and were fired before the 2020 season. Hinch says they supported each other throughout their year-long bans, which concluded after this year’s World Series.

On Oct. 30, Hinch returned to baseball as the Tigers’ manager. On Nov. 6, Cora returned to his old job as manager of the Boston Red Sox. A month ago, they were out of the game and without much knowledge of what would happen next. Now, they’re back.

“I’m happy for him,” Hinch said. “I don’t want to say we have a bond based on a bad circumstance — bad actions, quite honestly — but we’ve supported one another.”

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Both apologized during pre-hire interviews with their respective owners and general managers. Tigers owner Christopher Ilitch and general manager Al Avila said Hinch showed enough remorse to warrant his hiring. Hinch and Cora apologized during their introductory news conferences, as well. And they’re both ready to move forward.

Hinch, 46, and Cora, 45, spoke during their suspensions, and they communicated through their hiring processes. They have maintained a strong relationship, even though Cora is considered one of the ringleaders of the plot; Hinch — despite smashing two video monitors — was judged by baseball as not having done enough to stop him.

[ Explaining Detroit Tigers manager A.J. Hinch’s role in Astros cheating scandal ]

Their conversations over the last 10 months will remain private, Hinch said.

“But I support him,” Hinch said. “I think he’s one of the better baseball minds I’ve been around in my career in any capacity.”

They face similar challenges in their return to baseball, and not only because of the blemish of what happened three years ago. Hinch’s new team hasn’t hade the playoffs since 2014 and went 23-35 in 2020.

Meanwhile, the Red Sox finished 24-36 in 2020, a rapid fall from winning the World Series in 2018, Cora’s first year as manager. The Red Sox have the talent and financial capability to improve quickly, but it’s Cora’s job to see the process through.

Hinch will try to do the same for the rebuilding Tigers.

They are slated to return to the same field Feb. 28 in Lakeland, Florida, for a spring training game. And when the regular season comes around, they won’t have to wait long to meet again. 

The Tigers and Red Sox will clash in Boston on May 4-6.

“We’re both going to walk through this re-entry similarly because of our past,” Hinch said. “Certainly, if I’m happy for myself getting another opportunity, I’m certainly happy for him to get another opportunity.”

Evan Petzold is a sports reporting intern at the Detroit Free Press. Contact him at epetzold@freepress.com or follow him on Twitter @EvanPetzold.

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