Culture / Sporting Life

Firing Jeff Luhnow and A.J. Hinch Seems Insane — Jim Crane Does What Robert Kraft Never Would do With Bill Belichick

Cheating's Wrong, But This Punishment Still Feels Excessive and Mostly Hurts Astros Fans

BY // 01.13.20

The investigation’s findings are beyond damaging, the additional fallout almost unfathomable. Jeff Luhnow and A.J. Hinch, the architects of Houston’s first major sport championship team since the 1995 Rockets, are gone in one fell swoop, fired by Astros owner Jim Crane before most baseball fans could even begin to digest the findings delivered in Major League Baseball’s electronic sign stealing probe.

Give Crane this. The ultimate self-made business tycoon  has never been afraid to cut his losses. In this case, he’s also cutting out his wins.

Luhnow and Hinch are the leaders of a winning culture (no matter how twisted you think it was in the end) that brought the ultimate prize to H-Town. Yes, the Astros’ 2017 title is now tainted historically. But the magic and the moments of the run coming after Hurricane Harvey will never be forgotten, or less cherished, by anyone in Houston who actually was touched by both.

If you don’t understand that truth, you’re not a real Houstonian.

Luhnow’s commitment to analytics and his process brought young stars like Carlos Correa, Alex Bregman and Yordan Alvarez to Houston and turned a once lost Gerrit Cole into the most dominant pitcher on the planet. Hinch steadied a roster full of big personalities and always made the players feel like they had an ally, allowing them to produce under pressure.

In many ways, Luhnow was the brain of the Astros and Hinch was the heart.

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Both gone.

“I felt with what came out in the report, they both had responsibilities,” Crane said in a news conference at Minute Maid Park also shown live on the team’s website. “Neither one of them started this, but neither one of them did anything about it.”

Hinch went as far as smashing a few of the video monitors used in the scheme, but he never outright demanded that his players stop a practice orchestrated by his bench coach (and the current Red Sox manager) Alex Cora. As for Luhnow, it seems nearly impossible that the paranoid exec (maybe rightly so after the Cardinals computer hacking) would not be aware of something this major going on in his organization.

Still, wouldn’t MLB’s mandated one-season suspensions for Luhnow and Hinch been enough? You have to think that being sidelined for practically an entire  year with the credibility stain and salary loss would have made both men see the error of their ways.

Are Jeff Luhnow and A.J. Hinch really completely unsalvageable?

I can’t believe that — and here’s betting that some other organizations will grab them after their suspensions are up.

Crane deserves some credit for standing up for the strength of his convictions. These firings work against his best interests in many ways. But Crane pulled the trigger anyway.

“I have higher standards for the city and the franchise, and I am going above and beyond MLB’s penalty,” Crane said. “We need to move forward with a clean slate.”

The Astros best chance to keep building a dynasty going forward — and making two World Series in three seasons, winning one and losing the other in Game 7, is as big a dynasty as you may be able to get in the game today — is with Luhnow and Hinch at Minute Maid Park.

These next hires could define Crane’s tenure as Astros owner and should not just be automatic lower-salary promotions from within. (I also really want to read A.J. Hinch’s book someday — and not just because this Stanford man has read a few.)

This is a crucial time and potential turning point in the Astros’ existence. Cole is in pinstripes, making the Yankees the World Series favorites. George Springer and the Astros are in an arbitration fight and the tone setting outfielder seems no closer to signing a longterm deal to stay in Houston. Yordan Alvarez and Kyle Tucker could be the last true impact players the farm system produces for a while.

The lost draft picks (no first and second round picks in 2020 and 2021 as part of MLB’s cheating sanctions) will not help a system already weakened by smart win-now moves.

Yes, the Astros are wrong for cheating. Just like the Red Sox and Cora are wrong for cheating during their 2018 World Series championship run. But who outside of Los Angeles and New York is really feeling sorry for the Dodgers and Yankees, two teams with more money than God who possess all sorts of inherent competitive imbalance advantages under baseball’s flawed economic system?

Bill Belichick
Bill Belichick coached on through cheating scandals.

Bill Belichick built one of the NFL’s all-time legendary careers with a little cheating along the way. It’s easy to argue that The Greatest Show on Turf Rams were much more damaged by the Patriots’ secret tapings than the Dodgers and Yankees were by the Astros’ sign stealing, trash can and all.

Jim Crane should get some kudos for doing what Patriots owner Robert Kraft never would with Belichick.

Still, it seems insane that Jeff Luhnow and A.J. Hinch both got fired with such apparent little second thought or hesitation.

This is one bizarre Houston sports world.

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