The hiring of A.J. Hinch took baseball fans by surprise. The Arizona Diamondbacks named him their manager in May of 2009 despite the fact that he had no experience ever managing a team and despite the fact that he was just 34 years old.
“This obviously is an unconventional hire,” Arizona general manager Josh Byrnes said at the time of Hinch’s hiring. “A.J.’s leadership qualities, understanding of player development and organizational perspective are all key factors in his appointment. I am confident that he will set high standards and instill a spirit of collaboration in his new position.”
Instead, both Hinch and Byrnes were shown the door last week after the “unconventional hire” went just 89-123 n his first season and a half. For many D’backs fans, they finally got what they were looking for.
A.J. Hinch joined Gambo and Ash on KTAR in Phoenix to discuss whether he was surprised by his firing, what he could have done differently to avoid it and whether his players respected him in the clubhouse.
On life lessons learned in the days leading up to his firing:
“It’s such an emotional couple of days on a lot of levels for a lot of people. Hey, it is what it is and in the sports business, it’s a reality. I learned, firsthand, what accountability is in a team sport and I take my full blame for my part and move on. I have a lot of respect for the Diamondbacks organization. It’s the only organization I’ve known since I stopped playing. They gave me a lot of opportunities in multiple roles and now I’ll move on.”
On whether he was caught by surprise:
“I was not naive in the sense that there was a lot of talk, a lot of scrutiny, a lot of things being said. As much as you try to stay above the fray, you’re obviously aware. I talk to the media multiple times every day, I’ve got a lot of family that read way too many articles and tell me about it. Ultimately, I was very aware of the hostility in and around our organization. That being said, I never stepped foot into Chase Field wondering if that was my last day. I never anticipated getting a phone call asking me to come down to Chase Field to get the news.”
On why hostility existed:
“I don’t think we won enough games. (Host: Is it that simple or was it something beyond that?) I think it was that simple. Anybody involved at this level in making decisions about a team and being on the team and leading a team, whatever role you have in professional sports, there is an incredible amount of competitiveness in all of us. … I want to make sure and get the point across that all the desire was about getting better results and getting wins. That’s where fans get frustrated, that’s where executives get frustrated and that’s ultimately where coaches and players get frustrated.”
On whether he would have done anything differently:
“Every night after a game, whether it goes in your favor or whether it doesn’t, you replay it 100 times and think about what you could’ve done better. When I accepted the job last May, it certainly was a surprise to a lot of people. And it was a surprise to me and I wasn’t planning for this. I didn’t really build a career toward becoming a major league manager and here was the opportunity and I said ‘Yes.’ I was grateful for the opportunity and thankful for the support I was given at the beginning. The mistakes that I made certainly are noted. You get a result-oriented business or result-oriented sport, you’re reminded every night by the win and loss columns, whether you feel like you did it right.”
Is there a specific example where things might have gone differently?:
“The tough balance is going to be in handling players where there is a lot of popularity around a player, a lot of expectation around a player and then gauging their performance level and how long do you stick with them? How long do you stick with the bullpen in trying to find a different answer every night this year? How long do you stick with a guy who is one swing away? I loved putting Mark Reynolds in the lineup every night and I don’t regret that one bit. The Tim Lincecum three-run home run was the highlight of a homestand one time here in the middle of a slump. Handling players, getting people to calm down, I wish I would’ve been able to do that quicker last summer and been able to move on. … For the first part of my tenure, it wasn’t about the baseball. It was about my age and my inexperience as a manager and the hostility on our team.”
On acknowledging that his players weren’t responding to him and why they weren’t:
“I want to clarify something about that. I do believe that they didn’t respond to me consistently, enough. Often times, a man in my position, whether you’re new at the job or a long-time manager, when stuff is going awry and chaos ensues and the team is underperforming, there’s no other place to look than the manager. The manager protects his players, he protects the integrity of the roster, he’s going to protect his own situations. … You end up taking a lot of bullets and that’s the nature of the job. I think it’s a very important ingredient of the job. I was willing to do that and I’m still willing to do that. Why they didn’t respond to me consistently enough, I’m not sure.”
On whether he had control of the clubhouse:
“I don’t buy the respect issue, the did I have the clubhouse or not? Let’s just call it like it is. We didn’t win enough games. I’m the manager, I’m responsible. I don’t feel like I did the job that I should’ve done. Whether I needed more time or not wasn’t my decision, and we move on.”