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Scarred Tigers manager AJ Hinch on role in scandal: 'Wrong is wrong, and it was very wrong'

Tony Paul
The Detroit News

Detroit — AJ Hinch has said he's sorry, and shown remorse.

And the Tigers have accepted his apology, naming him the franchise's 39th manager Friday. It's Hinch's third managerial stop, after Arizona (2009-10) and Houston (2015-19); he was fired by the Astros amid the sign-stealing cheating scandal that rocked Major League Baseball, which handed Hinch a one-year suspension.

Then-Houston Astros manager A.J. Hinch stands with his team before Game 1 of a best-of-five American League Division Series game against the Tampa Bay Rays in 2019.

The suspension ended after the World Series concluded Tuesday night, Tigers general manager Al Avila called him 30 minutes after the last out, and he interviewed with the Tigers on Wednesday and Thursday. He signed a three-year contract Friday.

Hinch, 46, replaces Ron Gardenhire, who retired late in the 2020 season.

In a press release sent out by the Tigers on Friday, Hinch called the last year "the most difficult of my life" — which also included a bout with COVID-19 in September. He met with reporters over Zoom on Friday afternoon.

"Wrong is wrong," said Hinch, "and it was very wrong."

Hinch, Avila and Tigers CEO Christopher Ilitch were at the press conference at Comerica Park, wearing masks until they spoke.

Ilitch cited Hinch's "wealth of baseball knowledge and experience." Avila cited his "diverse baseball acumen and passion for the game."

Still, tough conversations took place Wednesday and Thursday.

"As I told Mr. Ilitch and Al both, that's part of my story. It's not the Tigers story," Hinch said in his first in-depth public comments about the sign-stealing scandal since before the baseball season. "I understand the question and I understand how wrong it was.

"I'm sorry for that, I've said it before, I'll say it again, and I'll continue to say that. I'll never forget the feeling that I've had throughout the past year.

"I'm sorry today it has to be a topic, and I understand why."

Said Avila: "He convinced me he was ready to lead again and the players will follow."

Hinch was expected to be in play for the White Sox job, a job that seemed more appealing than the Tigers', given the talent they've accumulated. But they shocked the baseball world on Thursday, hiring Hall of Fame manager Tony La Russa, who supposedly retired in 2011. Hinch said he never interviewed with the White Sox.

The other managerial opening, the Boston Red Sox, seem prepared to bring back Alex Cora, who also served a year-long suspension for his role in the scandal from when he was Hinch's bench coach in Houston.

The perception is Cora was among the ring leaders in the sign-stealing operation, and Hinch wasn't actively involved, but also did little to nothing to stop the scheme — which, while sign-stealing long has been a part of the game, went wathe top, with the use of video and banging on dugout garbage cans to tip off the hitters on what pitch was coming. Hinch gave hist most-detailed interview with national baseball writer Tom Verducci in February, and the comments stuck with Ilitch.

"The way he expressed himself was exceptionally sincere, and I felt it," Ilitch said. "He spoke from the heart, and this was a man that had learned and grown from the experience. That resonated with me."

Hinch (Astros, 2017) and Cora (Red Sox, 2018) have won World Series as managers. Hinch becomes the fifth man to become Tigers manager after winning a World Series elsewhere, joining Jim Leyland, Sparky Anderson, Ralph Houk and Bucky Harris.

Hinch won his World Series with former Tiger Justin Verlander as his ace, who was traded from Detroit in the late summer of 2017.

Verlander texted Hinch on Friday morning.

"JV and I developed a great relationship. He's an all-time Hall-of-Famer," Hinch said. "He sent me a message this morning, raving about what Detroit is like when the team is winning, and there's no place like it, he said."

Hinch played briefly for the Tigers in 2003, making him the 16th man to manage the Tigers and play for them. In recent history, that club includes Brad Ausmus, Alan Trammmell and Billy Martin.

tpaul@detroitnews.com

Twitter: @tonypaul1984