Former manager says ‘we were wrong’

Former manager says 'we were wrong'

AJ Hinch did not come home seeking sympathy. His Detroit Tigers played a straight doubleheader against the Pittsburgh Pirates on Wednesday afternoon, flew through the night and landed in Houston around midnight Thursday morning. The team is watched in a stretch of 17 games in 15 days. Prized pitching prospects Casey Mize and Matt Manning are injured. So is touted outfielder Riley Greene.

“That’s the big leagues,” Hinch said with a grin.

Hinch de-planned early Thursday morning and drove to The Woodlands, where he still owns a home with his wife, Erin. He slept in his own bed, saw some friends and made it to Minute Maid Park about seven hours before game time. Few managers can match Hinch’s meticulousness and preparation of him. It became a hallmark across five seasons in Houston, a tenure defined by dominance and forever stained by scandal.

Hinch does not shy away from either fact. He lauded the “lot of good” the Astros accomplished under his watch from him — four playoff appearances, two American League pennants and a World Series title. He again confronted the mistakes that mar it all.

Given the opportunity, Hinch didused any thoughts of absolution or, as one reporter put it, “vindication” for his 2017 team following last month’s unsealing of a letter from commissioner Rob Manfred to New York Yankees general manager Brian Cashman.

The letter detailed the Yankees’ sign-stealing scheme during the 2015 and 2016 seasons — one that in no way approached the level of Houston’s trashcan banging operation.

“I didn’t really think anything of (the letter) to be honest,” Hinch said. “I lived it. I don’t really need anyone to rehash it or talk about it or ask me questions about it. It’s an era that all of us are well aware of. I still consider our mistakes.

“I’m sorry for being involved at all in any capacity. I should have been a better leader to the fans, players, coaches, organization and baseball. I’ve continued to apologize. I don’t need a Yankees letter to make me feel anything.”

Astros owner Jim Crane fired Hinch and general manager Jeff Luhnow in Jan. 2020 amid the fallout from Houston’s electronic sign-stealing scheme — one Hinch disapproved of but did nothing to stop. Major League Baseball’s investigation found Hinch destroyed one of the monitors disseminating the opposing catcher’s signs during the 2017 season, but he took no other meaningful action.

“Right is right. Wrong is wrong. We were wrong,” Hinch said earlier Thursday on SportsTalk 790, the Astros’ flagship radio station. “We should move on from that and realize that we’re going to have to wear it for years to come because of what we did. It’s not about what anyone else did. It wasn’t about the Yankees, it wasn’t about anyone else.”

Manfred’s letter to Cashman came on Sept. 14, 2017 — one day before the commissioner issued a more direct warning for teams to cease electronic sign-stealing. The Astros continued their scheme, nonetheless.

The Yankees illegally used their dugout phone and replay room to decode signs, but at the time, the act was “not expressly prohibited by MLB rules as long as the information was not communicated electronically to the dugout,” according to a league statement last month .

Manfred’s letter to Cashman detailed a “material violation” of rules governing the replay room, but provided few specifics. The Yankees were fined $100,000 — a previously unreported amount — and were not found to have cheated after their warning.

That the Astros and Boston Red Sox continued sign-stealing schemes after the Sept. 15, 2017 edict drew the league’s ire. Boston was penalized for lesser violations during the 2018 season. The Astros jettisoned Hinch and Luhnow, paid a fine $5 million and lost their first and second-round draft picks in both 2020 and 2021.

“Own your mistakes and then learn from it, be better from it, and try to prove over the course of your behavior the next decade of your career or however long we do these things that you’ve become a better person and a better leader ,” Hinch said.

Hinch is trying to accomplish it in Detroit. He led the Tigers to a surprising 77-win season in 2021, bringing a bevy of expectations into 2022. Top prospect Spencer Torkelson cracked the opening day roster. The team spent in free agency, signing shortstop Javier Baez and starter Eduardo Rodriguez to massive contracts.

The season’s first month did not match the hype. The Tigers limped into Houston at 8-15, devoid of offense and with numerous injuries. Hinch did not indulge any of the excuses. He knew the task before him on Thursday — taming a lineup of Jose Altuve, Alex Bregman and Yuli Gurriel, men with whom he made memories and made mistakes.

“It’s always odd to look across the field and see them in a different uniform,” Hinch said.

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