When pitchers and catchers report Feb. 11 for the start of spring training for the Houston Astros, the tandem that build a perennial championship contender won’t be there.
General Manager Jeff Luhnow and manager AJ Hinch were fired Monday by Astros owner Jim Crane after Major League Baseball issued its findings from an investigation into the team stealing signs during the 2017 World Series season. The league suspended both Luhnow and Hinch for the 2020 season, but Crane determined the violation merited something more severe.
Like Crane’s decision, the reaction from local Astros’ fans was immediate and harsh.
“It’s part of the game, stealing signs,” Rick Nallia said. “It’s part of the game because I coached Little League for a lot of years, and I didn’t videotape it, but I went to every game and watched how they called their pitches. I think it’s part of the game, and if anyone picks up your signs, it’s your fault. At the end of the day, players still have to make the plays.”
Scott Brown, an Angleton attorney and Astros season ticketholder, believes Major League Baseball’s punishment is excessive.
“Devastating is an understatement,” he said. “I know the MLB wants to keep the integrity of the game, but sign-stealing has been a part of the game since it was created. Just seems to be harsh and punitive. We still have the best team in baseball, I think. Astros fans need to keep their heads up and it doesn’t diminish the 2017 championship.”
Steven Schenck of Lake Jackson, who moved to Texas in 1981, said getting caught doing something innate to professional baseball is where the Astros went wrong.
“What I know about it, of course, it’s going to come down on the manager because he controls the players and everything that goes on in the organization,” Schenck said. “Other teams have done the same thing, but they just got caught at it. They got fired because of their position and that’s just the way it is. For some, it takes away the human part of the game and it becomes more of a technical game, but I don’t blame them.”
Mark Holian, general manager for Gulf Coast Auto, whose team has a close relationship with some Astros players, remains positive that good things will still come for the team this year.
“I’m sure this has been weighing on all the players’ minds, coaches’ minds, ever since it came up, and I bet there’s a sense of relief that it’s over and behind them,” Holian said. “If they all knew the truth, they knew what would happen to Hinch.
“I think if they channel their energy the right way, they still have one of the top two or three teams in the league. They can go out and prove something next year, but it also could go the complete opposite way. It’ a tough call.”
Thomas Friudenberg believes the team should replace Hinch with a former MLB manager who spent most of his playing career with Houston.
“There’s probably a lot to the story we don’t know about because Jim Crane made a sudden move to fire them,” Friudenberg said. “He needs to go out and hire Brad Ausmus.”
In addition to the suspensions, MLB fined the Astros $5 million and docked them their first- and second-round draft picks in the 2020 and 2021 MLB drafts.