Ask Hal: Reds getting good mileage out of rookies

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: If and when you walk away from baseball will you feel the satisfaction knowing that the steroids era was dissolved, the juiced baseballs are no more, the corked bats are a thing of the past, the Houston Astros no longer cheat, and the pitchers are no longer illegally applying sticky stuff to the baseballs? — DAVE, Miamisburg/Centerville/Beavercreek.

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A: I will never walk away from baseball. They will have to pry my cold, dead fingers off the keyboard. And who says all that stuff is a thing of the past? Players are still getting caught using PEDs. We don’t know who corks their bats, how juiced or unjuiced the balls are, or which team(s) might be cheating. We only know this when somebody gets caught. Teams and players are search for an advantage. It’s like former NASCAR driver Richard Petty and former 49ers quarter Joe Montana and many other athletes have said in some form, “If you ain’t cheating, you ain’t trying.”

Q: Rookies Jonathan India and Tyler Stephenson are big contributors this year and can you recall a Reds lineup with a lot of rookies in it? — GREG, Beavercreek.

A: In the 1984 the Reds hired Bill Bergesch as general manager and he tried to make over the Reds with a bevy of young players like Paul Householder, Duane Walker, Kurt Stillwell, Tracy Jones and Kal Daniels. He called them, “Our crown jewels and they won’t be traded.” It almost worked. Eventually they were all traded and Bergesch was fired in 1988, even though the Reds finished second in 1985, 1986 and 1987. As Tom Seaver once said, “There is first place and no place.”

Q: When is the first time you mentioned a pitch count in a story because I don’t recall ever hearing how many pitches were thrown Bob Gibson, Nolan Ryan, Tom Seaver or Steve Carlton. — LARRY, Melbourne, Fla.

A: I can’t recall the first time, but most likely it was in the 1980s when somebody determined that 100 pitches is the danger zone. Former New York Mets manager Gil Hodges was the first to actually chart and count pitches in the 1960s, but it didn’t catch on right away. There were opponents of it. When Jack McKeon managed the Reds in the late 1990s he refused to count pitches or chart them. He used the eye test. He told his pitchers he expected them to pitch until they couldn’t get anybody out and that he would determine when that was. Unfortunately, that didn’t catch on, either.

Q: Does Reds manager David Bell make out his own lineups or is he handed a computer printout from the Analytics Department? — TOM, Beavercreek.

A: Bell makes out the lineup. But he is also handed a large stack of statistics on each hitter to peruse. Then he makes out the lineup according to whether the opposing pitcher is left-handed or right-handed and uses the statistics to see which hitters matches up the best against the opposing pitcher. On some days he would be better served to draw names out of his hat.

Q: Doesn’t the box they use on TV to show the strike zone ignore the fact that the zone is three dimensional and a ball just above the zone in front of the plate could dip into the strike zone? — DENNIS, Huber Heights.

A: Exactly right. Not only is that box inaccurate, it is distracting, and I abhor it. It sometimes makes the umpire look as if he missed a call when he didn’t. And it is the same box for tall hitters, short hitters, crouching hitters and stand-up hitters. It can’t possibly be totally accurate. But then the umpires aren’t always totally accurate, either. It’s called the human element, something they seem intent upon removing from the game these days.

Q: Has MLB instituted the rule that a pitcher must step off the rubber before making a pickoff throw or is it experimental in the minors? — LARRY, Piqua.

A: It was supposed to experimental in the minors last year, but there was no minor league season due to the pandemic. So MLB has instructed umpires in High-A to enforce the rule that a pitcher must remove his foot from the rubber before making a pickoff attempt. That eliminates left-handed pitchers standing flat-footed on the rubber and making a snap throw to first to pick off any snoozing runner. That’s probably only fair because right-handed pitchers have their back to first base and can’t do that. But, hey, we left-handers need a few advantages.

Q: During spring training, Eugenio Suarez talked a lot about hitting 50 home runs and Amir Garrett openly claimed the closer’s spot, but both are struggling mightily, so wouldn’t it be better if they learned the adage, “Speak softly and carry a big stick?” — RON, Vandalia.

A: You can throw in a couple of more adages/cliches like, “Actions speak louder than words,” and “Talk is cheap.” Both raised my eyebrows when they said those things. To use another cliches, “Their words have come back to bite them.” But the season is nearing halfway so there is enough time for them to do better so they don’t have to, ahem, “Eat their words.”

Q: If a runner is on third base and the pitcher commits a balk, does the batter get a run batted in and is it an earned run? — CRAIG, Clayton, N.C.

A: No, no RBI. Baseball rules are strange. If a batter makes an out, a grounder or fly ball and a runner scores from third, he gets an RBI. If he walks or gets hit by a pitch with the bases loaded, he gets an RBI. But no RBI on a balk, wild pitch or passed ball. Whether it is an earned run is dependent upon what happened before the runner got on base and what happens after he scores. As Joe Garagiola wrote, “Baseball is a Funny Game.”

Question of the Week

Q: If baseball decided to permit teams to use cameras or trash cans while a batter is hitting and permitted pitchers to use foreign substances on the ball, who would have the biggest advantage? — BEN, Mainville.

A: Clearly, the pitchers. If a pitcher uses sticky stuff, they can make the baseball dance, whistle and sing Take Me Out to the Ball Game. Even if a hitter knows what’s coming, it is difficult to hit a baseball that comes to home plate shoulder-high and dives to the dirt, which is what pitchers can do with foreign substances. That being said, this new thing of umpires frisking pitchers every other inning borders on the macabre.

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