Hinch on sign-stealing: 'I tolerated too much’

February 7th, 2020

In his first public comments since he was suspended and subsequently fired for his role in the Astros' illegal sign-stealing scheme, AJ Hinch addressed a wide range of topics about his participation in several incidents from 2017 and '18 that eventually led to his termination. 

Speaking with MLB Network's Tom Verducci in an hour-long special that ran on Friday, Hinch repeatedly said that as the manager, he was ultimately responsible for the actions of the team, which included a trash can banging method of sign-stealing that took place in 2017 and was spelled out in detail in a nine-page report by the Commissioner's Office.

The report, released in January, identified the scheme as primarily "player-driven," with help from bench coach Alex Cora, but it also indicated Hinch was at fault for his failure to do anything to stop it. In his interview with Verducci, Hinch agreed he should have done more.

"I wish I would have," Hinch said. "I really do. I think that's a big question that I'm going to process over what's now a season-long suspension. It's something I continued to think about certainly through the investigation, when you have to openly talk about it. I wish I would have done more. Right is right and wrong is wrong, and we were wrong."

MLB opened the investigation last November after A's pitcher Mike Fiers, who was on that 2017 Astros team, told The Athletic that Houston was engaged in an illegal sign-stealing operation throughout that season, including the postseason. He said signs were detected using a camera positioned beyond the outfield wall, and they were relayed to the batter by someone banging on a trash can situated somewhere between the dugout and clubhouse.

Verducci asked Hinch the question that has been brought up more than any other since the Commissioner's three-month investigation drew to a close: Is the 2017 World Series title tainted?

"It's a fair question," Hinch said. "I think everyone is going to have to draw their own conclusions [as to whether the championship is tainted]. I hope over time and the demonstration of the talent of this team and the players and the careers that are being had -- we have some of the best players in the entire sport all together on the same team -- I hope over time it's proven that it wasn't [tainted]. But I understand the question ... Unfortunately we opened that door as a group, and that question may never be answered. We may never know.

"We're going to have to live and move forward, and be better in this sport, but unfortunately no one can really answer that question. I can't really pinpoint what advantages or what happened or what exactly would have happened otherwise -- but we did it to ourselves."

When asked about the allegations that Astros players had worn buzzers under their uniforms as part of the scheme, Hinch said only that he trusted the findings of the MLB investigation.

“We got investigated for three months,” Hinch said. “The Commissioner's Office did as thorough of an investigation as anyone could imagine was possible. I know you mentioned about the emails and the texts and the messages, and I believe it.”

The Commissioner's report said that Hinch twice took a bat to monitors that were used to steal signs, an indication that the manager did not approve of the players' methods. In hindsight, Hinch said, he should have taken further measures to stop what was happening.

"I should have had a meeting and addressed it face forward and really ended it," he said. "Leadership to me is often about what you preach. Leadership's also about what you tolerate. I tolerated too much.

"I wanted people to know that I didn't like it. I should have done more. I should have addressed it more directly. It's complicated when you're talking about a team and all the inner workings of a team. In reality, I just feel like I could have done more looking back. Especially the leader I feel I was in 2019, versus what I was in 2017 and where I've grown. It's always easier to look back and wish you could have done more."

Hinch was terminated by Astros owner Jim Crane on Jan. 13, around 45 minutes before Crane entered the press conference room at Minute Maid Park to address the Commissioner’s report and punishment. Hinch was in the clubhouse at the ballpark when Crane called him to come upstairs to his office, where Hinch received the news that he had been dismissed.

"I was able to have a face-to-face with Jim, both of us being emotional that it had gotten to that point," Hinch said. "Then I had to focus on my family, get my kids out of school before it hit their phones. I didn't want [the news] to pop up on my daughters’ phones at school.

"As a leader you go into this frame of mind, this mode of protection. You want to make sure your coaches know. Make sure your family knows. Make sure my wife and kids know. Make sure the closest people to me know. I was more focused on that. I really didn't even think about me."

Hinch said he hopes Astros fans, and the Astros' detractors, accept his apology as genuine. He also acknowledged that he hopes to manage again someday.

"I want people to know that I care," he said. "That I'm not just blowing it off and shrugging my shoulders and saying I'm upset because I got caught. It's bigger than that.

"For Astros fans, baseball fans, the supporters, the detractors, I just want to be real and be relatable in this situation -- that I made a mistake. I wish I could do it over again ... and I will work tirelessly to restore the integrity that's needed in this game, and the integrity that's already in this game."