It's been pretty easy to forget about Jeff Luhnow and A.J. Hinch, who are approaching the 90-day anniversary of their one-year ban from Major League Baseball and subsequent firing as general manager and manager, respectively, of the Houston Astros.
Since then, their former players were turned into virtual piñatas, first for a hungry media, then for jeering spring training fans all seeking some semblance of justice for their sign-stealing scheme. A few wayward Grapefruit League pitches found flesh. New manager Dusty Baker and GM James Click tried to move on.
And then a global pandemic cast baseball almost completely from public view, with little time to ponder whether the game will be played at all, let alone wonder what the fate of its scalawags might be.
It was confirmed this week that Luhnow and Hinch's 2020 suspensions will expire as the season does, even if no baseball is played. That's not surprising, given that they already were out anywhere from $2 million to $5 million in salary, even before owner Jim Crane decided to fire them. They were already two months into their sentences before baseball shut down spring training and delayed the season. Their bans were set to end at the conclusion of the 2020 World Series, an event that may not exist. But a season is a season, a year a year, as the players who will receive a year of service time regardless of whether they throw a pitch or take an at bat were pleased to recently discover.
Manager A.J. Hinch led the Astros to the World Series last year. (Photo: Shanna Lockwood, USA TODAY Sports)
No, the long-term fate of Hinch and Luhnow lies not in the semantics of their ban but the mercy of their brethren.
In theory, nothing's stopping Luhnow – proud patriarch of Codebreaker – and Hinch – who dared the world to find dirt on the Astros, only to end up deepest in the mud – from finding jobs in 2021. They will be free men.
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Whether they should ever work again in baseball – or at least serve in any "control" capacity – is another issue.
Time has not been kind to either figure. Further reporting only deepened Luhnow's complicity. Hinch's claim that he smashed a TV monitor to send a message to his cheating players did not find corroboration in the 2019 clubhouse.
And the COVID-19 scourge has upended the world at large, let alone the very small place baseball occupies within it.
What appetite will there be to rehabilitate and amplify shamed and easily replacable figures?
In the near term, not much.
When baseball returns, don't expect Luhnow and Hinch to be back with it. MLB's sentence was just a year on paper. There should be sufficient distate for the de facto ban to last much longer.
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