By Ross Forman
A.J. Hinch was a card-collecting kid who lived in Nashua, Iowa, until he was eight and then in Oklahoma where, as a senior at Midwest City High School, he was the National Gatorade Player of the Year in baseball. He ultimately went to Stanford and was a third-round pick as a college senior in the Major League Baseball Draft.
Hinch had “a ton of boxes,” filled with cards, “and I still have some of them to this day,” he said of his collection that focused on his favorite teams and favorite players. His collection definitely included the 1980 Topps rookie card of Rickey Henderson (No. 482).
“That (card) was always close to me,” he said.
Ultimately, Hinch lost about half of his collection – to a tornado from Mother Nature, not a whirlwind cleaning campaign by his mother, as millions of others endured over the years.
His mother, in fact, made a large display of all the cards Hinch has appeared on.
Hinch played eight years in the majors, making his debut on April 1, 1998 for the Oakland A’s. His last MLB appearance was on Sept. 24, 2004 for the Philadelphia Phillies. His major league career also included time with the Kansas City Royals and Detroit Tigers. Hinch had a .219 lifetime batting average with 32 home runs.
He didn’t put up great stats as a player, but that’s alright, as he is best known on the baseball field for his after-playing life ... as a major league manager.
Hinch was named manager of the Houston Astros on Sept. 29, 2014, replacing Bo Porter.
In 2017, Hinch led the Astros to a club-record of 50 wins in 74 games and finished the regular season 101-61 while the team won their first division title in 16 years, and first since joining the American League. He then led the Astros to their first World Series victory, defeating the Los Angeles Dodgers 4-3 in the seven-game series.
When the Astros won 5-1 in the deciding Game Seven, it was Houston’s first-ever World Series title – and Hinch moved into the No. 1 spot for most playoff victories as a manager of the Astros, with 14, eclipsing the previous record of 13 by Phil Garner.
“It was the shortest offseason of my career (after the 2017 season), but definitely sign me up for another,” Hinch joked. “It was one of the most unique teams you will ever see, the 2017 Houston Astros. The chemistry, the culture, the guys in the clubhouse … it was great, special.
“Seeing retiring Carlos Beltran get his first World Series ring to the epic performances by the pitching staff to George Springer in Game Seven. There were so many memories that will last a lifetime.”
Hinch added, “We were crazy prepared for everything in the World Series. When I looked at (a lineup featuring Alex) Bregman, (Carlos) Correa, (Justin) Verlander, (Jose) Altuve, (and others being) very calm, it made me very calm. It was just fun to guide a group like this.
“The 2017 Astros could go down as the best Houston Astros team in history.”
Hinch’s managerial resumé dates back to the 2009 season, when he was named manager of the Arizona Diamondbacks during the season, replacing Bob Melvin, even though he had never managed or coached a team at any level. Hinch was only 34 when hired.
Hinch was fired from the Diamondbacks on July 1, 2010.
“I still remember the early-1980s cards, (such as the year) when there was a second photo of the player on the card, in the lower corner. I still remember those (cards),” he said. “There was one card of me when I was playing for the Royals, in about 2001 or 2002, (that stands out). In the photo, I’m tagging out Mike Matheny.That’s one of my favorite cards.”
Hinch’s playing career also included a bronze medal for the U.S. at the 1996 Summer Olympics in Atlanta, and he was named to the 1998 Topps All-Star Rookie Team.
“I sat on the bench a lot (while playing), so I got to watch a lot of games,” Hinch joked when asked why catchers, it seems, develop into exceptional managers.
“The catching position has developed a lot of managers, probably because we deal with pitchers and position players all the time. As catchers, we see the whole field, the whole game is (in) front of us.That’s unique, a benefit. Being a catcher prepares you to be a leader, a decision-maker.”
Hinch also praised several of his past managers for his current gig as a manager, particularly his Oakland manager, Art Howe.
“He was a very good person for me to play for,” Hinch said. “He set the bar for controlling our emotions and being that leader that you need to be in the dugout,” Hinch said.
He also had a stint playing for Charley Manuel in Philadelphia.
“I’ve got some really cool memorabilia in my house, though I’m not one who just gets (memorabilia) from everyone … I have to have a meaningful story.”
Take, for instance, the Derek Jeter-signed bat. Yep, it has a meaningful story to Hinch.
“I like to collect things where I have a story to tell (about the person who autographed the item),” he said.
His collection includes autographed memorabilia of Jason Giambi and Roberto Hernandez, among others.
Another prize piece in Hinch’s memorabilia collection is a Super Bowl-used football, signed by John Elway. He also has a David Shaw-signed Stanford football helmet.
What about relics from the 2017 World Series winners?
Yep, of course he has a team-signed bat and ball.
“There were some photos that stand out, such as one where I’m holding the World Series trophy,” Hinch said. “My favorite picture coming out of the World Series was, after Game Five, of me and Alex Bregman hugging, after he got the game-winning hit. I’ll probably get him to personalize (that photo) and sign it. That was one of my favorite (World Series) moments, photos.”
Ross Forman is a freelance contributor to Sports Collectors Digest. He can be reached at Rossco814@aol.com.