A.J. Hinch: "As coaches, we tried to act like him;" Midwest City coaches mystified by scandal
A.J. Hinch’s reputation is in tatters across baseball.
The Astros’ manager was suspended, then fired, over the sign-stealing scandal that has tainted Houston’s 2017 World Series championship. All things Astro are stained and corrupted. But only Hinch and general manager Jeff Luhnow lost their jobs.
Hinch conducted an interview with MLB Network’s Tom Verducci that aired Feb. 7. The interview drew both sympathy and scorn from the baseball community – retired pitcher CC Sabathia said at Yankee spring training that Hinch “shouldn’t be managing again.”
The disgraced Hinch, fighting for his career, took responsibility for not stopping the Astros’ cheating, but not enough to make everyone happy. His baseball future is imperiled.
And those who have known Hinch since his youth are completely mystified.
“I mean, truly, I’m at a loss for words,” said Ron Smith, who was Hinch’s quarterback coach at Midwest City High School in the early 1990s, when Hinch was a two-sport star for the Bombers. “I don’t understand how that situation comes around. I’ve read all about it. Like I say, I totally don’t understand. Us that know him well, we have a lot of questions. It just doesn’t sit right.”
The Bombers have a proud athletic heritage, and long-time Midwest City coaches put Hinch at the top of the list in terms of character and integrity.
“A.J. Hinch, as far as I’m concerned, he’s one of the best to ever come out of Midwest City,” said Jerry Long, Hinch’s high school baseball coach, who graduated from Midwest City in 1967 and then coached at the school from 1972-2001. “I would take him as my son in a New York second.”
- Related to this story
- Video: Writers Block - Astros Apology Press Conference
Mike Sherman spent 11 years covering high school sports for The Oklahoman, 1982-93, then returned in 2003 to begin 13-year run as sports editor. That’s a quarter century, and Sherman calls Hinch the most impressive high school athlete he encountered during that time, not in athletic ability, but in the way he presented himself.
Smith compared Hinch’s leadership qualities with Mike Gundy, another former Bomber who excelled in football and baseball.
“Kids followed them when they were younger, because they did it right,” Smith said. “Came early, stayed late. Mike Gundy was one of the hardest-working guys, did everything right, never loafed. Wouldn’t dare ever let a teammate see him loaf. In baseball, Mike was frustrated if you ever missed a sign. A.J. same way. That’s why they’re great leaders. They had the respect of all the players.
“As coaches, we tried to act like him (Hinch).”
Long tells the story of Hinch’s family offering him, at age 16, a car or a backyard batting cage. Hinch took the batting cage.
“He’s the kind of kid, student, that every coach dreams of,” Long said. “I’ve never seen, witnessed, any arrogance. Never seen displayed any attitude. Always been positive, upbeat. Always enjoyed competing.”
Hinch, 45, ranks 17th all-time in major-league managerial winning percentage, minimum 1,000 games. He managed the Diamondbacks for parts of two seasons and the Astros for most of five years. His regular-season record is 570-452. Four Hinch teams made the playoffs, two reached the World Series and Houston won it all in 2017.
The year that now taints his career.
“There’s usually two sides to each story,” Long said. “You hear one side, and sometimes you never get to hear the other side. As far as where he’s at, history proves what kind of young man he is. I personally think he’ll be back in the game. I think he’ll do what he needs to do.”
Both Long and Smith admit bias. They have known Hinch for more than three decades and have nothing bad to say about him.
Smith said he knows he sounds like a parent taking up for his kid. Long has attended Hinch’s World Series games. These are not impartial witnesses. They are coaches who know Hinch best as a teenager.
But they swear by Hinch, a straight-A student at Midwest City, a straight-A student at Stanford. A straight arrow in baseball until the sign-stealing scandal blew, and Hinch admitted that though he twice destroyed the monitor making the sign-stealing possible, he also never sufficiently stopped it.
“Of all the guys that I’ve coached, probably the highest moral character young man in my 43 years,” Smith said. “I just know that all of us who knew him are in shock.”
Berry Tramel: Berry can be reached at 405-760-8080 or at firstname.lastname@example.org. He can be heard Monday through Friday from 4:40-5:20 p.m. on The Sports Animal radio network, including FM-98.1. You can also view his personality page at newsok.com/berrytramel.