In his first media appearance since his team was embroiled in an electronic sign-stealing scandal that threatens to tarnish its 2017 World Series title, Hinch, the Houston Astros’ manager, cited Major League Baseball’s ongoing investigation as the reason he couldn’t address the allegations. He apologized and vowed to give a full accounting of his thoughts at another time.
“What I can say is, I’ve committed my time and energy to cooperate with MLB,” Hinch said Tuesday during his media availability at baseball’s annual winter meetings. “I’ve talked to them a couple of times, and we continue to work with them as they navigate the investigation. And now we’re waiting with everything in their hands. . . . I hope there’s a day where we can answer more questions, but today’s not that day.”
Hinch, 45, looked awkward and sounded pained. “It’s not comfortable,” he said when asked if it was a stressful situation.
Speaking of awkward: Because of a scheduling quirk, Hinch sat in a seat that had been occupied just moments earlier by his good friend and Los Angeles Dodgers counterpart Dave Roberts. As they passed each other, after Roberts’s media session and before Hinch’s, they exchanged a slap on the back and a fleeting hello.
It was Roberts’s Dodgers whom the Astros beat to win the 2017 World Series, winning two of the three games played at Houston’s Minute Maid Park. Roberts was also asked Tuesday about the sign-stealing controversy, and in contrast to Hinch, he answered those questions with long pauses, measured responses and bouts of honesty — interspersed with his own no-comments because of the ongoing investigation.
“If they were using [cameras to steal signs], the line was crossed,” Roberts said. “On the field, as we all know . . . sign-stealing, reading catchers and tipping — that’s all part of the game. But there is a line.”
Asked if he and Hinch had spoken about the matter, Roberts paused and said: “I’ve had a conversation with A.J., yeah. But I’m not going to get into it. . . . He’s still one of my good friends.”
MLB is still interviewing players and other team personnel as part of its investigation, and an MLB official said the goal is to have an announcement on its findings and any disciplinary action by the end of the year — although it might stretch into January.
There is widespread speculation across the industry that MLB will come down hard on the Astros, with penalties including fines, loss of draft picks and lengthy suspensions for those involved in the sign-stealing scheme — including, potentially, Hinch and General Manager Jeff Luhnow. And the punishment could spread beyond Houston, because Boston Red Sox Manager Alex Cora and new New York Mets Manager Carlos Beltran were with the Astros in 2017 and are reportedly implicated in the scheme.
“Any allegations that relate to a rule violation that could affect the outcome of a game or games is the most serious matter,” Commissioner Rob Manfred told reporters last month. “It relates to the integrity of the sport.”
Neither Cora nor Beltran would answer questions regarding the scandal, citing the ongoing investigation.
The scheme was revealed by former Astros pitcher Mike Fiers, who told the Athletic last month that the team was using outfield cameras at Minute Maid Park to steal signs from opposing catchers and signaling the types of pitches to their hitters by banging on a trash can.
Fiers played for the 2017 Astros (although did not make their postseason roster) before leaving via free agency after the season. He now pitches for the Oakland Athletics.
“I applaud [Fiers]. If what we’re reading about was going on, that’s a line that’s been crossed,” A’s Manager Bob Melvin said Tuesday. “. . . There is an investigation going on, and at some point in time there will be ramifications for it.”
The Astros’ cutthroat, data-based approach to player development and strategy — which produced 311 regular season wins and three straight trips to the American League Championship Series from 2017 to 2019 and spawned books about their revolutionary methods — is now suspected of fostering a toxic organizational culture in which a win-at-all-costs mentality supersedes all else.
In October, Astros assistant general manager Brandon Taubman was fired after taunting female reporters during a playoff celebration in the team’s clubhouse. That incident, and the Astros’ bungling of its aftermath, was part of a separate investigation by MLB that could be folded into the one regarding the sign-stealing scandal.
On Tuesday, even after Hinch’s lengthy opening statement, reporters lobbed questions that bumped up against the edges of the sign-stealing scandal. Hinch swatted each one away.
“My comments on sign-stealing, my comments on investigations, allegations, even the principal people we’ve talked about, articles that I know have been written — it all has to wait for another day,” he said. “And I’m sorry. I want to address it and not redirect you guys all the time, but I simply can’t do it.”
Hinch seemed so pained by the sign-stealing questions, he embraced warmly the ones about any other topic — even the Astros’ loss to the Washington Nationals in Game 7 of this fall’s World Series. A question about his controversial decision to pull starter Zack Greinke in the seventh inning with a one-run lead produced a classic Hinch answer — honest and thoughtful and detailed.
“The second-guess was way back when. You always second-guess yourself when it comes to the result that you don’t get,” he said. “When it doesn’t work out, the automatic assumption from all of us is that the other way would have been perfectly fine. But if it hadn’t worked out the other way, and I’d have left Greinke in, I would have been asked the other question: ‘Do you regret not putting [reliever] Will Harris in the game?’ ”
And when his session ended, Hinch rose from the table expressionlessly, avoiding the casual small-talk with reporters that has made him such a popular figure with both local and national media. Flanked by a public-relations official, he stepped out of the TV lights, rounded the corner and headed for the exit, moving at a brisk pace.