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Hinch finally breaks his silence on MLB’s sign-stealing scandal

A.J. Hinch

(Photo by Will Newton/Getty Images)

In the time that’s passed since Major League Baseball imposed penalties and suspensions on the Houston Astros for their involvement in the electronic sign stealing scandal, various players and executives from around the league have voiced their opinions about the matter.

“As everything’s been coming out, and the more facts that we get, it’s getting frustrating, man, to sit here and know that late in my career I could’ve had a title — maybe ’17 or maybe ’18 — but we got cheated out of it by a team kind of doing something that’s not within the rules of the game,” Yankees pitcher C.C. Sabathia said in January on Showtime.

What had been missing until now was reaction from those directly involved – former Astros manager A.J. Hinch, former Astros general manager Jeff Luhnow, former Red Sox manager Alex Cora and former Mets manager Carlos Beltran.

That changed this week when MLB Network convinced Hinch to sit for an interview that will air on its network Friday night. As you’ll recall, Hinch and Luhnow were both suspended from the game for one year by MLB commissioner Rob Manfred before team owner Jim Crane finished them off later in the day by firing them.

Perhaps the most telling thing Hinch had to say was in response to a question about the legitimacy of the Astros 2017 World Series championship.

“It’s a fair question,” Hinch said. “And I think everyone’s going to have to draw their own conclusion [as to whether the championship is tainted]. I hope over time and the demonstration of the talent of this team and the players and the careers that are being had – we have some of the best players in the entire sport all together on the same team – I hope over time it’s proven that it wasn’t [tainted]. But I understand the question. … Unfortunately we opened that door as a group, and that question may never be answered. We may never know.”

The commissioner’s report noted the 2017 cheating scandal was basically conceived by Cora (Hinch’s bench coach at the time) and Beltran (who was a player) and then carried out by the team.

Hinch knew of the operation and apparently did not support it, but Manfred came down on him because he did nothing to prevent it or stop it.

“I can’t pinpoint what advantages or what happened or exactly what happened otherwise,” Hinch said. “But we did it to ourselves.”

Hinch immediately apologized for his part in the scandal, but as of now no Astros players have done so. That has angered a lot of people in the game and it may have long-lasting implications in the way those players are treated and ultimately viewed.

“I think the jury’s still out on exactly what the Houston players are going to say,” Manfred said this week from the owner’s meetings in Orlando.

Rob Manfred

(Photo by Will Newton/Getty Images)

Of course, the investigation into the 2017 Astros is just the tip of the spear. MLB has also been looking into how complicit the 2018 Red Sox – managed by Cora – were during their world championship season.

Manfred said Thursday that MLB plans on announcing its findings into that part of the investigation next week as spring training camps prepare to open on Wednesday.

“I’m hopeful that I can get Boston done before the camps open,” Manfred said.

If MLB finds the Red Sox were guilty of cheating, its entirely possible the penalties it imposes could mirror what was handed the Astros.

Cora will likely be suspended and the organization could be fined up to $5 million and stripped of future draft picks. Cora’s suspension might even be longer than a year because of his involvement from the start in Houston.

In his decision about the Astros, Manfred did penalize any of players. He said the same would be true with the Red Sox. But if the behavior continues into the future, Manfred said his office would consider sanctioning players.

“We have the right to discipline players right now. I’m absolutely convinced of that fact,” Manfred said. “We made a decision in the Houston investigation that in order for us to get the facts that we needed, somebody had to get immunity.”

Yankees owner Hal Steinbrenner told reporters at the owner’s meetings he believes the game should just focus on moving forward. The Astros defeated the Yankees in the 2017 American League Championship Series.

“Let me just say, when the report came out, I was as upset as anyone,’’ Steinbrenner said  “Certainly, there were direct implications to my organization (and) our 2017 team. “But at some point, I think we all for the sake. …and the good of the game, need to move on.’’

Manfred also said MLB will move to decrease the amount of live video available to teams during games.

“I think you should assume that before the season starts we will have new guidelines with respect to the use of video equipment,” Manfred said. “I think we have too much video available in real time right now.”

Baseball has studied the use of earpieces to diminish the use of hand-delivered signs, much like the NFL currently does. But for now it thinks it would be unfeasible.

“It’s much harder to design an earpiece that would be comfortable for players to wear in lieu of signs,” Manfred said. “It’s hard to be as fast as hand signals.”