Culture / Sporting Life

A.J. Hinch Deserves a Standing Ovation in His Astros Return — and the Grace of His Replacement is Shining Through

With the World Series Winner Back and Certain to Get a Huge Ovation, Dusty Baker Shows How Good of Guy He Is

BY // 04.12.21

A.J. Hinch is going to get a huge reception from Houston Astros fans when he gets introduced before Monday night’s game. A standing ovation. Lots of love. The whole works. There’s a good chance the clapping for Hinch could send a minor earthquake through Minute Maid Park. If you do not understand why — or question if Hinch should receive such a welcome back — you were not around Houston in 2017.

Anyone hurt by Hurricane Harvey gets it. Anyone who grasps what those Astros meant to this city understands.

Hinch helped bring Houston some of its greatest sporting moments in the last 30 years. The electronic sign stealing scandal — in a sport where a pitcher who puts trash cans on his cleats then gets embroiled in allegations that he may have cheated too — cannot change that. The love for A.J. Hinch in Houston is real. And deserved.

Should Hinch have done more to prevent the Astros from stealing signs than smashing a monitor or two? Without a doubt. Hinch has acknowledged this failing himself, which is part of what makes his case much different than that of former Astros general manager Jeff Luhnow.

Hinch and his wife Erin truly made themselves part of the Houston community during Hinch’s five seasons as the Astros manager. They built a real life here, championed causes they believed in and stood for general decency. Like many of those largely good guy 2017 Astros.

“The Houston fans have been incredible to me — both before the sign-stealing, after the sign-stealing. When I was the manager there, now that I’m not the manager there.” — A.J. Hinch


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Hinch turned himself into a great manager in Houston, too. Anyone still holding the decision to pull Zack Greinke from Game 7 of the 2019 World Series (besides Zack Greinke himself) against Hinch is completely missing a much larger point. Those Astros are never in Game 7 of the World Series, eight outs away from winning their second world championship in three years, without Hinch at the helm. And there’s no guarantee they win it if Hinch stays with Greinke for another inning or brings Gerrit Cole in.

A.J. Hinch made sure to examine his new World Series ring after getting it at the 2018 Astros opener.

The guy with a psychology degree from Stanford gave the Astros’ still-then-young stars belief. He worked on their confidence as much as their batting stroke — and the results were often glorious. Everyone credits Hinch for sticking with George Springer in that 2017 World Series, refusing to drop him in the batting order despite the howls of concern.

But what about Hinch never freaking out about Alex Bregman’s 1 for 32 start in the Big Leagues? Many of the Astros’ franchise cornerstones benefitted from having Hinch as their manager. Now, Hinch wasn’t perfect in this regard. He never seemed to embrace Kyle Tucker, no matter how much the talent jumped out. But there are few managers who do a better job of creating an environment where great players can relax and play great.

A.J. Hinch was a more important crutch than that trash can to the championship Astros.

A.J. Hinch’s Comeback

Now, he’s coming back as the manager of the rebuilding Detroit Tigers, having served his one year suspension from baseball for the sign stealing scandal quietly. It’s a moment — and Hinch seems to know it.

“The Houston fans have been incredible to me — both before the sign-stealing, after the sign-stealing,” Hinch tells the Detroit beat writers on a Zoom Sunday. “When I was the manager there, now that I’m not the manager there. The Houston fans have been tremendously supportive to me and my family.

“You know, it’s home for me. And that city matters to me. The fans have been tremendous. And obviously, it’ll be very emotional when I see ’em.”

For all involved. Hinch’s replacement in Houston deserves credit for the way he’s handling this return, too. Dusty Baker is only upping his already beyond solid good guy bonafides by advocating for Astros fans to cheer for Hinch.

It would be easy for Baker to be resentful of the manager he’ll be compared to — at least unless (or until) he wins the Astros another World Series. Instead, Houston’s baseball lifer essentially extended a welcoming hand to A.J. Hinch.

“AJ did some great things here for this team, for this organization and this town,” Baker says. “He paid the price for whatever happened here. And I think they oughta embraced him like he deserves to be embraced.

“But he is on the other team and a lot of these guys played for A.J. And I’m sure they have a great relationship with him much like I did with the players when I went back certain places.”

A.J. Hinch is coming back. To roaring cheers. As it should be.

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