According to both Eliot Asinof’s book Eight Men Out and its subsequent film adaptation, White Sox third baseman Buck Weaver is the tragic protagonist of the “Black Sox” scandal.
Aware of his teammates’ plan to throw the 1919 World Series, Weaver declined to join the scheme. Instead, he played his heart out. He went 11-for-34 with four doubles.
But in the harsh mind of commissioner Kenesaw Mountain Landis, Weaver’s on-field integrity didn’t matter.
Weaver refused to snitch on his seven teammates, and, as such, was banned from baseball for life.
A century later, baseball found itself with another World Series scandal on its hands. A report that came out in early 2020 revealed that the Houston Astros relied on an illegal sign-stealing scheme during their 2017 World Series run.
When asked how much the Astros’ cheating scandal has affected baseball, ESPN’s Jeff Passan answered, “In the same way PEDs did: not very much … the people who executed [the scheme] or didn’t stop it are almost all back. AJ Hinch and Alex Cora are managing again.”
Whether this is intentional or not, comments like Passan’s lump Hinch’s conduct in with that of his team. But there’s good reason to believe this does not make sense. The former Houston manager made mistakes, but he is not deserving of your boos.
Baseball commissioner Rob Manfred’s report on the sign-stealing scandal states that “Hinch neither devised the banging scheme nor participated in it.” It explains that Hinch was suspended, however, because he failed to rein in his players.
The report’s affirmative statement of Hinch’s innocence is notable. Manfred could have simply written that “there was not sufficient evidence” that Hinch participated in the scheme. But the commissioner did not. He clearly found Hinch’s claim of innocence credible.
Some might argue that Manfred did believe Hinch was guilty, and was simply trying to keep the scandal from destroying too many reputations. But there’s little reason to think that Hinch would be the beneficiary of such calculations. Acclaimed manager as he is, Hinch is not an iconic elder statesman of the game like Joe Torre or Dusty Baker. Furthermore, Manfred did not play cover for marketable stars like José Altuve, Carlos Correa and Alex Bregman. If he didn’t protect their reputations, why would he protect Hinch’s?
As for Hinch’s actual conduct, Manfred’s report notes that, to his credit, Hinch broke the TV monitors his players were using to steal signs on two different occasions. Hinch also expressed his opposition to the way the replay room was used in the scheme.
Manfred, however, saw Hinch’s response as insufficient. He notes, for instance, that Hinch didn’t come up with a strategy for stopping the sign-stealing, or at least seek guidance from upper management on how to do so.
Upon being suspended, Hinch was fired by the Astros. This move was justified. No one has a right to be a major league manager, and if you can’t stop your team from cheating, you are not fit for the job.
Hinch, it seemed, didn’t want to be the bad guy who got in the way of a popular scheme, devised in part by his popular bench coach. That level of timidity is inexcusable from a major league manager. But ineptness and timidity are not the same as immorality. Being a flawed manager does not make you an enemy of the integrity of baseball.
Hinch’s conduct in the aftermath of the scandal has reflected well on his character. Unlike other members of the Astros, who’ve been flippant when asked about what happened, Hinch has been humble and candid. When asked whether he thought the 2017 World Series win was tainted, he said the following:
"“It’s a fair question. And I think everyone is going to have to draw their own conclusion.“I hope over time and the demonstration of the talents of this team and the players, the careers that are being had—these are 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.”"
In other words, yes, Hinch believes on a certain level the title is tainted. But he hopes that the players he clearly still cares for can use the rest of their careers to statistically and morally redeem themselves. Now, as the manager of the Detroit Tigers, Hinch can put his supportive character to better use. He can put his motivational and managerial skills to the test for a team of true underdogs; a team that (hopefully), has no plan to rely on rule-breaking.
So boo the Astros all you like, but hold off on AJ Hinch. If you can’t bring yourself to do that for him, at least do it for the ghost of Buck Weaver.