Apologetic AJ Hinch takes blame for Astros' cheating scandal: 'It happened on my watch'

Former Houston Astros manager AJ Hinch took responsibility for his role in the team's sign-stealing scandal during an apology-laden interview that aired on MLB TV on Friday evening.

"I still feel responsible and will always feel responsible as the man out front," Hinch said. "As the leader, I was in charge of the team. I put out a statement [after being suspended by MLB commissioner Rob Manfred and fired by Astros owner Jim Crane] to apologize. But there is something different to doing it on camera and putting a face to an apology, and saying I'm sorry to the league, to baseball, to fans, to players, to the coaches. I was the man out front and I felt like it's my responsibility to put my voice out there and tell a little bit of the story."

Hinch was interviewed for about 25 minutes by veteran baseball writer Tom Verducci in a conversation taped from Hinch's home outside of Houston. He was contrite throughout the interview, usually steering Verducci's questions back to his belief that he should have done more to stop a scheme that the commissioner's report called "with the exception of [then-Astros bench coach Alex] Cora, player-driven and player-executed."

"It happened on my watch," Hinch said. "I'm not proud of that. I'll never be proud of it. I didn't like it. But I have to own it because [I was] in a leadership position. And the commissioner's office made very, very clear that the GM and the manager were in position to make sure that nothing like this happened. And we fell short."

Verducci began by asking Hinch to recount the events of Jan. 13, the day the commissioner released his report detailing the findings of a three-month investigation of allegations that stemmed from a report in The Athletic built on on-the-record information from former Houston pitcher Mike Fiers. Manfred announced the season-long suspensions of Hinch and former Astros general manager Jeff Luhnow that day. Shortly after the report was released, Houston owner Jim Crane announced that Hinch and Luhnow were being fired.

"I felt responsible from the beginning, so I knew there was going to be punishment," Hinch said. "As a leader, I knew that punishment was going to happen. I didn't know to what extent.

"When I got the news that it was a full year, that was a tough blow. That's taking me away from the sport that I love, the sport that I've been around for two decades. After that, when I met with Jim and subsequently lost my job, that created a whole other part of the day that I didn't anticipate."

Hinch confirmed that while the Astros' sign-stealing system was being used, he twice damaged the monitor being used near the team's dugout with a bat. However, while that seemed like a clear sign to his players that he didn't approve of the situation, he still can't quite explain why he failed to call a formal meeting to try to halt the practice.

"I did [damage the monitors]," Hinch said. "And I didn't initiate, or didn't endorse [the scheme]. But I was the manager. I think there is a responsibility when you're in a position to end it. My mindset at that point was to demonstrate that I didn't like it.

"In hindsight, I should have had a meeting and faced it face-forward and ended it. Leadership to me is often about what you preach, the pillars of what you believe in. Leadership is also about what you tolerate. And I tolerated too much."

Hinch said that he heard the banging of the trash can that was used by the players to communicate signs to the batter at the plate during the time the system was in place. Yet he didn't step in to put a stop to it.

"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 that I've continued to think about 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."

Other highlights from the interview:

  • Hinch said that he did not read the memo sent out by the commissioner's office late in the 2017 season that spelled out penalties for the use of technology to steal signs, but added, "That doesn't mean [the sign stealing] was right."

  • When asked about the general lack of contrition demonstrated by Astros players, who have largely remained silent on the scandal, Hinch said, "Anyone involved is going to have to address it as he sees fit." Hinch echoed comments from Manfred on Thursday that it is likely the players will have an opportunity to address the scandal when spring training begins.

  • Hinch declined to criticize Fiers for his role in breaking the scandal, saying, "I wish I would have had an environment and a culture that was better for him to have come to me in real time. I wish I could have done better, to maybe get that nudge to make better leadership decisions."

Verducci asked Hinch to address internet-driven theories that the Astros were still stealing signs into the 2019 season, through the use of a buzzer-based system. Manfred's report cleared the Astros of those charges. During Houston's American League Championship Series victory over the New York Yankees last October, rumors of whistling from the Houston dugout to transmit intercepted signals prompted Hinch to address the concerns in a news conference, which he began by saying, "In reality, it's a joke."

"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 knew you mentioned about the emails and the texts and the messages [examined during the investigation] and I believe it."

Near the end of the conversation, Hinch stated that he hopes to manage again and that he considers himself a better leader now than he was in 2017. However, he realizes that any decision to bring him back into baseball is out of his control. He is eligible to return to baseball after the World Series ends in October.

"I do [want to manage again]," Hinch said. "It's up to other people to determine whether I'm the right fit, but I love managing. I love players. I love the competition."

Hinch repeated throughout the conversation that if there is anything he regrets, it's that he didn't do more.

"I should have had a more forceful interaction at the appropriate time, which would have been right when I found out." Hinch said. "When I look back at all the different things I've had to do through the course of my career, playing, managing, front office, so many crisis or big moments that feel like it's the moment for leadership, I feel good about them. In this one, I feel like I fell short."
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