Ask Hal: Baseball is filled with silly rules and stats

Hall of Fame baseball writer Hal McCoy knows a thing or two about our nation’s pastime. Tap into that knowledge by sending an email to

Q: How silly is the rule that allows a pitcher to go to his mouth with his pitching hand as long as he wipes it off? — DAVE, Miamisburg/Centerville/Beavercreek.

A: About as silly as seven-inning doubleheaders, a ghost runner on second base in extra-inning games and three-batter requirement for relief pitchers. Joe Garagiola wrote a book called Baseball is a Funny Game. The sequel should be called Baseball is a Silly Game.

Q: Do you think Tucker Barnhart was a better hitter when he was a switch-hitter as opposed to just batting left handed as he is now doing? — ED, Kettering.

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A: No, just the opposite. He is a much better hitter now. And he believes it, too. He only has to work on one batting stance instead of two. That also permits him to concentrate more on handling the pitchers and playing defense. He worked hard in the offseason with a hitting instructor and he looks better at the plate right now than he ever has. He used to be just a defensive catcher who took a bat to home plate for no apparent reason. Now he is a challenge to the opposing pitcher.

Q: Because they couldn’t afford to keep them, other than Trevor Bauer, what players went on to success with other teams? — GREG, Beavercreek.

A: Without perusing every team’s roster, off the top of my aging head I’d start with San Francisco pitchers Johnny Cueto, Anthony DeSclafani and Kevin Gausman. I would add shortstop Didi Gregorius, pitcher Brad Boxberger, catcher Yasmani Grandal, outfielder Adam Duvall, third baseman Justin Turner and second baseman Ronald Torreyes. Some walked away as free agents and some were traded. The thing is, the Reds didn’t get much in return for any of them other than pitcher Lucas Sims in the Duvall deal.

Q: In the American League is it possible for the designated hitter to play defense in the field? — RON, Princeton, W.Va.

A: Yes, it certainly is. A manager may stick his designated hitter into a position on the field, but the moment he does he loses the DH and cannot get it back the rest of the game. That means the pitcher would have to bat — which is what the American League does not want to happen. And I still believe the DH is abysmal. Seeing Wade Miley and Luis Castillo get hits is entertaining as well as shocking.

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Q: What would it take for Alejo Lopez to become the everyday third baseman and sit the high-priced Eugenio Suarez? —DAVID, Dayton.

A: A gun to Bell’s head, a season-ending injury to Suarez or orders from headquarters. It isn’t going to happen. Bell has stuck by Suarez all year despite his .170 batting average, knowing that Suarez will win a few games with prolific home runs now and then. And while Lopez has a great minor league track record, he hasn’t laid down any tracks yet in the majors, other than his one four-hit game. That’s called a minuscule sample size.

Q: The Cincinnati Reds are playing the Cleveland Indians in the World Series, so which team do you root for? —TOM, Denton, Tex.

A: Now you are tugging at my heart strings. I grew up in Akron, 35 miles from Cleveland, and was a diehard Tribe fan as a kid. I maintain that love affair. I’ve covered the Reds for 48 years, so the roots are deep. I would root for a seven-game series, three wins a piece. Then I’d let the chips fall and be happy either way. How’s that for dodging a high hard one?

Q: When Aroldis Chapman was throwing every pitch at 100 miles an hour and everybody was saying, “Wow,” but now it seems every team has a pitcher throwing 100, so what happened? — LAYNE, Enon.

A: Actually, the wow moments were when he was throwing 104 and 105. In recent seasons they are using more precise timing devices. But it is true that pitchers are throwing harder and 97 and 98 is a big ho-hum. You have to throw 105 like Chapman or Hunter Greene to get the wow factor. I read recently that a scientist predicts some pitcher will hit 110. That would be a wow, wow, wow event.

Q: On the cover of your book, your photo shows you throwing what appears to be a left-handed screwball and how many left-handed screwball pitchers made to the majors? — JERRY, Lebanon.

A: I threw ‘ceremonial’ first pitches at different times to Aaron Boone and Barry Larkin. Both accused me of throwing a cutter. That had to be natural because I have no clue how to throw a cutter. As for left-handed screwball pitchers, there were many, including Tom ‘Mr. Perfect’ Browning.

Back in the 1930s, Carl Hubbell was a southpaw magician with the screwball for the New York Giants. Fernando Valenzuela (Remember Fernandomania?) was a practitioner as was Philadelphia relief pitcher Tug McGraw, who not only threw a screwball, he was one. After signing a big contract, he was asked what he would do with the money and he said, “Ninety percent of it I spent on booze and women. The other 10 percent I wasted.”


Q: Why are runners considered in scoring position only at third and second when a runner on first is in position to score, too? — BARRY, Boone County, Ky.

A: You are right. Just another arbitrary baseball statistic. Heck, the way Shohei Otani is hitting, he is in scoring position in the on-deck circle. And tell me Billy Hamilton isn’t in scoring position when he is on first base, whenever he can get there. Unfortunately, baseball keeps more statistics than the U.S. Census Bureau.

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