How Detroit Tigers manager A.J. Hinch is owning Astros scandal: 'Part of my story, not Tigers'

Evan Petzold
Detroit Free Press

A.J. Hinch's name has become synonymous with a few unsettling words in the baseball world: sign-stealing, cheating, suspension and scandal. But his name also is attributed to more pleasant moments, such as wins, postseasons and championships.

The Detroit Tigers hired Hinch on Friday, just three days after the end of Hinch's year-long MLB suspension for his role in the Astros' cheating scandal in 2017, the year the franchise won its first World Series.

"I understand how wrong it was," Hinch said Friday. "I'm sorry for that. I've said that before. I'll say it again. I'll continue to say it. I won't forget the feeling that I've had throughout the past year as I've navigated this with my family."

[ Astros hiring A.J. Hinch should be a home run. But it isn't. ]

A.J. Hinch was suspended and then fired on Jan. 18 by the Astros for his involvement in the 2017 cheating scandal.

Following its investigation, MLB ruled that Hinch didn't do enough to stop the actions of bench coach Alex Cora and his players, including Carlos Beltran. They devised a scheme to steal signs with replay monitors, two of which Hinch smashed, and they banged on a trash can to cheat by signaling breaking balls to batters.

The 46-year-old Hinch is in a new atmosphere, but his lack of definitive leadership three seasons ago hasn't been forgotten.

"Wrong is wrong," Hinch said. "And it was very wrong. I'll make sure everybody knows that I feel responsible because I was the manager. It was on my watch. And I'll never forget it."

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When Tigers owner Christopher Ilitch and general manager Al Avila confronted Hinch about the cheating scandal during the interview process, he gave them a phrase that he wants to resonate in the organization.

"That's part of my story," Hinch said. "It's not the Tigers' story."

Hinch's view of the situation won the Tigers over, giving Ilitch and Avila enough confidence to believe the issues won't happen in Detroit. 

They're giving Hinch a clean slate.

[ Explaining A.J. Hinch's role in Astros cheating scandal in 2017 ]

"There was never a doubt in my mind of his character, honesty," Avila said. "He's one of the better guys you're going to meet in the game or life in general. One mistake does not determine a man."

As Ilitch put it: "The way he expressed himself was exceptionally sincere. I felt it. He spoke from the heart. This was a man that had learned and grown from the experience, and that resonated with me. ... I sat through all the interviews and meetings with A.J. when he came to meet with our ballclub, and I can say I was impressed in all respects, but especially how I believe he has grown from this experience in a positive way. ... Our town, our ballclub, our organization, we have high expectations. I believe to more core that A.J. is going to conduct himself beyond the appropriate manner."

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Hinch's suspension, handed down in January, barred him from "performing any services or conducting business" for any MLB team, and he was not allowed in stadiums or other facilities across the majors and minors.

But Hinch was able to apologize and make amends to many in the industry.

And he will have individual and team conversations with coaches and players as he transitions into his role as the Tigers' manager.

"There's a clear message," Hinch said. "That's part of my story and 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. We're going to have to talk about it."

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