Astros stars letting others take blame for player-driven sign-stealing scheme

Tim Brown
MLB columnist
Jose Altuve, the star Astros second baseman who was American League MVP in 2017, avoided taking any responsibility on Saturday for the sign-stealing scandal that led to the suspension and firing of manager A.J. Hinch. (Photo by Tim Warner/Getty Images)

When A.J. Hinch took a baseball bat to at least one of those television monitors, as one source said he did, maybe this was the day he had in mind.

This was the day he stood alone.

He’d been in the end overrun by his players and members of his own coaching staff and who knows who else, along with his own ambitiousness. That is his to bear.

The Houston Astros went dark one day. Hinch was the man on the top step. He stuck to the shadows like the rest of them, celebrated its bounty like the rest of them, surrendered when the lights came up and was punished for it. 

He’d been tasked with leading them. That room, the one with the players in it, was supposed to belong to him, much as they thought or pretended otherwise. When they won, he won. When they lost, he lost. In those times, and in between, the standards were to be his. If another television monitor arrived the next day and the next and the next, well, there are plenty of baseball bats in the world. 

And when the Astros authored the most devious cheating scandal in a century, when they were found to have rigged the system, he went home. So did the front office guy in the glasses and sport coat and a couple other guys — Alex Cora and Carlos Beltran — who’d not been in Houston for two years. In Houston, on the scorecard, the only visible scapegoat is A.J. Hinch.

“I am deeply sorry,” he’d said in a statement.

He’d made his choices.

Everyone does. Not all of them are good. They don’t all go away. That’s part of the trip. So is the recovery, with enough work. 

Some who played for him believe Hinch was uncomfortable with people being mad at him, a wholly human frailty. Or quality, perhaps. And that it opened a leadership gap just wide enough to squeeze another TV through, length-wise. Another scheme. The commissioner’s report asserted that what happened over those two or so seasons in Houston was largely player-concocted, player-driven, player-executed. That, too, is on Hinch. He was in charge of the players.

Still, Saturday, he should not have stood alone.

The Astros held their FanFest at Minute Maid Park. There were players there. They do not yet have a manager. Instead, he’s the one who’d had to explain this to his family why he’d be home on Saturday rather than at the ballpark, who’ll have to walk into supermarkets and restaurants and field texts from his friends and, yeah, they cheated, and it’d be nice to think the players regret that more than you do, or regret it at least as much as they love that championship hardly anybody believes in anymore. That report had his name in it. He was suspended and then fired. He damn right had it coming.

But what of the rest of them?

They showed up for work Saturday.

They let A.J. Hinch — and sure, Cora and Beltran and Jeff Luhnow, too — wear it.

“The commissioner came out with a report, MLB did their report, and the Astros did what they did,” star third baseman Alex Bregman told reporters, “meaning they made their decision on what they're going to do. I have no other thoughts on it.”

Very tidy.

“There’s a lot of difficulties in life,” Jose Altuve, the 2017 American League MVP, told reporters. “Believe me, at the end of the year, everything will be fine. We’re going to be in the World Series again. People don’t believe it, but we will. We will, like we made it last year.”

Nothing to see here.

Altuve did at least say he feels bad for them. That’ll have to do.

The guy they left out, at the very least, covered for them. Also, covered for a plan that would hold up for as long as it took one person to wake up one fall morning with a conscience. It came apart in November, crashed in January, and if anyone in an Astros uniform other than Hinch is sorry about it, he has yet to speak up.

The game deserves better. The public deserves better. The organization deserves better.

And, you know, in some ways, A.J. Hinch deserves better too.

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