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There's no fun watching A.J. Hinch sweat during MLB's sign-stealing investigation

·MLB columnist
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SAN DIEGO — This is no fun, judging which is casting the greater shine, A.J. Hinch’s wedding ring or his forehead.

It’s no fun, noting his grip on the microphone stand, writing that down, because now the knuckles on his left hand are shining too.

His voice is breathier, or maybe it always had a thready finish, but because he stands accused of this thing, of riding a rigged system to a championship, it plays that way in your ear.

“I know you’re probably expecting this,” he says regarding the sign-stealing allegations, “but I can’t comment on it. It is an ongoing investigation. What I can say is I’ve committed my time and energy to cooperate with MLB. … And now we’re waiting with everything in their hands.”

The light is harsh. The cameras practically brush his eyelashes. The lady to his left stares at him, taps at a machine, stares again, taps, recording his words. Dozens wait for him to slip.

He’s good at this on most days, because he doesn’t hate this. He doesn’t seem to hate the people hired to ask the questions, not like some of the others who have the same job. He likes talking the game. He’s smart. He’s charming. It’s hard not to think about the guy who helped Houston heal after the flood, who toured temporary housing while holding the hands of his daughters, who won with humility and lost with dignity, who always said the right thing, who gave a crap about the bigger issues and said so, even when it was his own organization that needed the correcting.

And he’s even good at it Tuesday evening, when the untouchable topic is his place in all of this, assuming there is an all of this, which seems undeniable now. He wears a gray-blue blazer, a crisp white shirt and the wedding band that is refusing to yield to the forehead, a 20-minute fight for shimmering supremacy.

It’s not all normal. Not all right. He knows what is happening to his reputation, to his organization’s reputation, out there. He must know the coming weeks, months, however long he must wait, will only further cement conclusions drawn the past weeks. He could explain, maybe, defend himself or come clean, and he says he can’t, because, you know, the investigation, and he has to play by the rules.

His former bench coach, Alex Cora, had come through the day before and said, “Out of respect for the investigation that MLB has and the Astros, I’m not going to answer that question.”

His former player, Carlos Beltran, who already is on the record saying he was unaware of anything untoward, had sat where Hinch was 90 minutes before and said, “Honestly, on Houston’s situation, I don’t have any comment for the respect of the process that is happening.”

How they got here, the three of them and the dozens of others, only they can tell the story. Until then, the story hides in pages of protected interviews and in the consciences of those accused, in the thousands of tiny decisions they made or put off, in the consciousness of an extended baseball family that has yet to rise up to defend itself or come clean.

Houston Astros manager A.J. Hinch speaks during the Major League Baseball winter meetings, Tuesday, Dec. 10, 2019, in San Diego. (AP Photo/Gregory Bull)
Houston Astros manager A.J. Hinch speaks during the Major League Baseball winter meetings, Tuesday, Dec. 10, 2019, in San Diego. (AP Photo/Gregory Bull)

Until then, A.J. Hinch breathes as deep as he can and holds on to that microphone and says he understands the curiosity. He looks up and sees a crowd he surely expected and tries a smile and says, “Not sure I’ve ever been more popular.”

“I know there’s still going to be questions,” he says. “I hope there's a day where I'm able to answer more questions, but I know today's not that day. I know it will disappoint some people. It will not stop all of you from asking questions about it, but I can assure you I'm not going to answer questions about the ongoing investigation.”

This is no fun, thinking this is the man at the center of the scandal, that if the Houston Astros wired their stadium for illicit purposes, this is the man who either allowed it or was comically unaware. In an organization widely detested for what is perceived to be arrogance, and surely a good measure of that was petty jealousy, A.J. Hinch was Marilyn Munster.

He is reduced to the guy who holds a short, evasive press conference on the second day of the winter meetings, who steers away from the guard rail into the lake.

“This is a very complicated and very involved process,” he says. “I have a lot of respect for the process. MLB is doing it. If I told you how much time I spent with MLB and the investigation, I know we're not going to wrap this up in a 20-minute news conference here. So I will decline comment.”

He is the guy who is compelled to insist his relationships within baseball continue to be “great,” and who adds, “I stand behind who I am,” and grants, “It’s uncomfortable,” and concludes, “I’ve been good.”

This is no fun, thinking about what’s next, because the game waits and suffers, and what is harshest is not even the shine, but the reflection.

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