Ask Hal: Pitch counts have changed the game

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 can it be that Arisides Aquino is designated for assignment and not one of the other 29 teams show any interest, yet three weeks later he is again in the Reds starting lineup? — DAVE, Miamisburg/Centerville/Beavercreek.

A: If you were the GM of those 29 other teams, would you want a guy who was 2-for-41 with 23 strikeouts? Not a chance. So the Reds were able to keep him and assign him to Louisville. That enabled them to call him back and, shazam, a two-run double, a three-run home run and a solo home run in two games. If anybody tried to figure out baseball, they’ll drive themselves daffy.

Q: Were the Cincinnati Reds once expelled from the National League and if so why? — GREG, Miamisburg.

A: Indeed, on October 6, 1880, the National League kicked the Reds out of the league for selling beer at the park and for renting their park for amateur play on Sundays. The Detroit Wolverines took their place and the Reds had no team in 1881. They joined the new American Association in 1882 and won the championship. As for the beer sales, it is unclear whether they were selling Hudepohl or Burger.

Q: At what point did the 100-pitch count become the governing rule for starting pitchers? — DAVID, Lexxington, Ky.

A: That’s one of life’s great mysteries. For the first 100 years of the game, starting pitchers worked until they were thoroughly pooped. In the 1960s, Mets manager Gil Hodges became the first to keep count of pitches. Baseball people are great imitators, and everybody began doing it. In 1988, STATS, Inc. began tracking pitches and somewhere along the line 100 pitches became the magic number, no matter how good a pitcher was throwing, no matter his record, no matter his size and weight, no matter his style of pitching,, We’ll never again see a Tim Wakefield of the Pittsburgh Pirates throw 172 pitches, as he did with his knuckleball in 1993.

Q: Will there ever be a real no-hitter in baseball again, a no-hitter thrown by one pitcher? — RICHARD, Tipp City.

A: This goes back to the pitch count, the 100-pitch wall. It is a reaction to Clayton Kershaw being pulled while pitching a no-hitter and Hunter Greene being pulled while pitching a no-hitter. And the first no-hitter this year was a five-pitcher combination by the New York Mets. Reid Detmers of the Angels pitched a solo no-no. And there will be more one-man no-hitters. Be patient.

Q: With the cutting of the minor leagues by MLB, is college baseball able to fill the void in small towns? — JIM, San Marcos, Calif.

A: While 41 minor league towns had teams yanked away by commissioner Rob Manfred and MLB, there are still plenty of minor league teams. Most teams were eliminated in small towns that don’t even have colleges. While college baseball is played at a high level in a lot of places, most of it is in bigger towns with minor league teams. Historically, attendance is negligible at college games and probably won’t take the place of missing minor league teams. While Dayton still has the Dragons, it is worth it for fans to take in Wright State or University of Dayton games. They know how to play the game ,and the price is right (free at UD, $5 at Wright State).

Q: With the passing of Joe Pignatano, do you have any Piggy stories you can share? — STOCC, Miamisburg.

A: You certainly like the obscure. Pignatano spent most of his short career as a back-up catcher. He and Bob Uecker had a lot in common. Pignatano was even a back-up catcher for the 1962 expansion New York Mets, losers of 120 games. Fittingly, on the last at bat of his career, the last game of the ‘62 season, he hit into a triple play. Later he became a bullpen coach for the ‘69 Miracle Mets. Did he tend to the relief pitchers? Well, yeah, but he also tended daily to a tomato garden he planted in the bullpen and kept all the tomatoes for himself. But that’s not why they called him ‘Piggy.’ That was just part of his last name.

Q: One thing that kept me connected to baseball as a kid was collecting baseball cards. Did you collect cards and was there a player whose card you had to have? — TIM, Xenia.

A: I sure did, hundreds of them. Shoe boxes full. Every time I had a nickle, I hustled to Helsel’s Square Deal Grocery for a pack. And I chewed that awful gum. I was obsessed with getting the card of my favorite player in 1954, Cleveland third baseman Al Rosen. I never got one ... because there wasn’t one. Rosen wasn’t in the Bowman’s 1954 set. And, yes, my mom threw them all away when I went to Kent State.

Q: How long are the Reds going to keep manager David Bell? — PACEY, Middletown.

A: I get this one nearly every day and it comes from the frustration of watching daily defeats. I can’t fault Bell. The Reds nearly made the playoffs last year and finished over .500, then the front office yanked the chair out from under him by purging the roster and providing him with a Triple-A roster, at best. But it is disconcerting to listen to the poor guy after games and hear him constantly say, “We battled, we didn’t give up, we were in the game.” Or, about his pitchers who fail: “He’s been so good for us and he has had success.”

Q: We know you like a good cigar, so which former players would you like to enjoy a cigar with? —GREG, Beavercreek.

A: I could fill an old Pullman railroad parlor car with my choices and fill it with smoke. But my top pick is a guy I already share cigars with, and that’s former pitcher Jose Rijo. We got together for a couple of days recently, and he came armed with a fistful of Big Papi brand cigars and we quickly destroyed them. Rijo has carte blanche in the Padron warehouse in Miami. He took me to it once, and we walked out well-stocked with Padron 1964s.

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