Ask Hal: Are the Reds meeting management’s expectations?

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: When Bob Castellini purchased the Cincinnati Reds he said at his introductory press conference that he was buying the team to win and anything else is unacceptable, so does he have a background in politics? — DAVE, Miamisburg/Centerville/Beavercreek.

A: He certainly wouldn’t say he was buying the team to lose and it would be acceptable. Castellini was a minority owner of the St. Louis Cardinals and from where he sat that team made winning look easy. As he has discovered, it doesn’t come easy. He said he wanted to return the team to the glory days of The Big Red Machine. That’s an impossible dream. And when he fired GM Wayne Krivsky, he said, “We just aren’t going to lose any more.” How’d that work out?

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Q: What were the realistic expectations of the Reds’ front office for this year’s team? — RICHARD, Tipp City.

A: Whatever they were, they haven’t reached them because I’m pretty sure they didn’t expect to battle it out for last in the division again. Nobody in the front office is on record with any expectations, other than to be competitive, whatever that might be. My uneducated guess is that with the additions of Sonny Gray, Tanner Roark, Alex Wood, Yasiel Puig, Derek Dietrich and Jose Iglesias they hoped to at least reach .500 and claw their way out of last place for the first time in five years.

Q: Is Luis Castillo this generation’s Mario Soto, guys who pitch great and lose a bundle of 1-0, 2-1 and 3-2 games because the team doesn’t score runs for them? TINA, Cincinnati.

A: That is a great analogy. Amazingly, Soto and Castillo both are from Bani, Dominican Republic. When the Reds lost 101 games in 1982, Soto was 14-13 with a 2.79 ERA, 13 complete games and two shutouts. In 1983 he was even better with a 17-13 record, a 2.70 ERA, 18 complete games and three shutouts. With run support he could have won 25. And the team finished last that year, too. Eighteen complete games? Are you serious? Castillo isn’t close to being that good, but he feels the same pain.

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Q: Marty Brennaman and Jeff Brantley talk frequently about playing golf, so who was the best golfer on the Reds that you can remember? — RON, Vandalia.

A: You are asking the wrong guy. I was a tennis guy and played nearly every day on the road. Chris Sabo was excellent on the links but several people told me Ray Knight was outstanding. And he should have been because he was married to pro golf icon Nancy Lopez and probably received free lessons. Knight, though, wanted to play tennis and I tried to teach him, but he never grasped the game. I also taught Bill Plummer and Joel Youngblood. All three were on the Big Red Machine, but didn’t play much, and used tennis as a diversion on the road.

Q: What has happened to the Cleveland Indians, who were once 10 games ahead and are now 10 games behind? — JERRY, Lebanon.

A: Two things: the Minnesota Twins, who are playing like the 1991 Twins, who won 95 games, and injuries to the Tribe, especially the pitchers. The Indians were never 10 games ahead this year. They led by one-half games several times early in the season. It looks as if the futility streak continues of not winning a World Series since 1948, when I was 8 years old. When I was 14, I was among 84,587 fans that attended a doubleheader in old Municipal Stadium in 1954 with the Yankees and I snagged a batting practice home run in right field hit by back-up catcher Hal Naragon. The next day, my friend, Jim Ankney, who was an ambidextrous pitcher in Little League, hit the ball down a sewer.

Q: Philadelphia’s Bryce Harper unsuccessfully tried to steal home against the Reds last week so can you recall any Reds player that had a knack for that? — JOHN, Oxford.

A: Stealing home might be the most difficult thing to do in all of sports. It is as rare as a raw steak. Ty Cobb did it 54 times in his career and believe it or not Babe Ruth did it 10 times. Harper’s first career stolen base was a theft of home when he was 19. The Reds? In my 46 years of covering the Reds I can recall only one straight steal of home and it was by Brandon Phillips in 2009 against the Mets. The most famous was before my time, done in 1964 by Chico Ruiz, who did it against the Phillies’ Art Mahaffey and he took his life in his hands because slugger Frank Robinson was at the plate. Ruiz, normally a utility player, received some starting assignments and struggled and then famously said, “Bench me or trade me.”

Q: Is there a limit as to how many coaches a team can have in the dugout because it seems the Reds have a dozen in the dugout? — MARK, Kettering.

A: Yes, it seems as if the Reds have a coach for every player. I wondered about that until I covered the OHSAA state baseball tournament in Akron last week and noticed that even some of the smallest schools, the Division IV schools, had seven and eight coaches. It used to be the manager, the bench coach, the hitting coach, the pitching coach, the third base coach and the first base coach in the majors. That’s the manager and five coaches. Now they have assistants and assistants to the assistants. I can’t find any rule addressing the issue, but if this keeps up they’ll have to build bigger dugouts.

Q: Are the Reds footing the bill for the cost of all those different uniforms they are wearing this year or do they have a partnership to share all those expenses? — KEITH, Brookville.

A: For their 150th year celebration, the Reds are wearing 15 different ‘throwback’ replica uniforms on home weekends from different eras. They only wear them once and the players love them. They don’t have corporate financial support or those uniforms would be marred by advertising logos and they wouldn’t be authentic. The uniforms are sold to fans and the money goes to the Reds Community Fund, which does fantastic work under the leadership of Charley Frank. Fortunately, they haven’t asked us to wear fedoras with press cards tucked in the band in the press box.


Q: If my memory serves me correctly, the home dugout in old Crosley Field was on the third base side, but it was moved to the first base side when they moved to Riverfront Stadium, so why the change? — KEITH, Piqua.

A: There is nothing standard about which side of the field the home dugout is located. Mostly it is how the architect designs the stadium and the home clubhouse behind the dugout is always large and plush to make the home team comfortable. The visiting clubhouse behind the dugout is small and sparse and not-so-comfortable. What I remember most about Crosley Field was that the clubhouse was on the second floor and the players had to climb steps to get to it. It was not air conditioned so the windows were propped open and fans could peer into the clubhouse and see players in the buff if they didn’t cover up with towels.

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