On Monday Detroit Tigers manager A.J. Hinch returned to Houston's Minute Maid Park for the first time since being fired as Astros manager during the sign-stealing scandal that roiled baseball not so long ago.
Prior to the first pitch of the game (DET-HOU GameTracker), the Astros honored Hinch with a video tribute, and the limited number of fans in attendance gave him a warm ovation:
Astros with a video tribute to their former manager A.J. Hinch, who returned to Houston today as the Tigers manager. Astros fans gave him an ovation at the end.— FOX Sports: MLB (@MLBONFOX) April 13, 2021
(via @brianmctaggart) https://t.co/OWkEsa5t5A
Hinch also got a chance to reconnect with some of his former charges/colleagues from during his time in Houston:
Photos of A.J. Hinch greeting Alex Bregman and Joe Espada during BP a few moments ago. pic.twitter.com/i0HsvqFBNS— Karen Warren (@karenwarrenHC) April 12, 2021
Hinch spent five seasons as manager of the Astros, and over that span he compiled a 481-329 record. He guided Houston to the postseason in four of those five seasons and along the way won the 2017 World Series and the pennant in 2019. Those accomplishments, however, are at least somewhat compromised by the fact that the Astros were using a system at once crude and elaborate to steal signs in illegal fashion from opposing catchers during that time.
While Hinch was not central to the scheme, MLB's investigation found that he was aware of it and didn't do enough to stop it from happening. As a result, Hinch was suspended for the entirety of the 2020 season and soon thereafter Astros owner Jim Crane fired him as manager. "I do believe that we did some good things in Houston," Hinch said before Monday's game (via the Associated Press). "I do believe we were wrong in the behavior and the decisions that we made in 2017, and it's hard to have that cloud over the sport and be responsible for that and be the man that was the manager that it happened on my watch."
He continued: "It's something I take very seriously. I will continue to apologize not only to the Houston fans, but to all the fans around baseball and continue to repeat how wrong it was. And for that, we're going to have to live with that for the rest of our careers. It's part of my story."
Hinch remains beloved in Houston for guiding the Astros to their only championship in franchise history and also leading them to a franchise-record 107 wins in 2019. As he notes, though, the tarnish of the scandal will always be with him and may indeed be the headline of any backward-looking assessment of his managerial career. That's probably the case even if he leads the Tigers to great things at some point.