Q: If you were a betting man, would you wager that the Reds will make the playoffs this year? — DR. GREG, Beavercreek.
A: The only betting I do is on myself at the blackjack tables. And since I wrote about recently that the Reds will make it, I won’t renege. But those two losses at home to St. Louis lessened my optimism, I’m still with them, mostly due to their weak opponents down the stretch. They should win the majority of those games, but it concerns me that they have to continue to run mystery men to the mound.
Q: What would be the plus and minus of the Reds batting Will Benson at leadoff? — BEN, Red Bay, AL.
A: That’s an astute observation. Benson is a well-rounded hitter with power and speed. He has a .369 on-base average, second on the team behind Spencer Steer. He has taken 37 walks and stolen 15 bases. He has been productive batting ninth and eighth, but he could be more productive leading off. But the only manager to ever take my suggestion was Lou Piniella in 1990 when I suggested he bat Barry Larkin leadoff. How’d that work out?
Q: Does anybody choke up on the bat anymore, especially with two strikes? — JACK, Miamisburg.
A: Choking up on the bat has gone the way of stirrup socks and vest-top uniforms. Players want to grip-it and rip-it for home runs, seeking high velocity bat speed, high launch angle and distance. Joey Votto does choke up with two strikes at time. Believe it or not, Barry Bonds choked up at all times and said it gave him bat control and by moving up on the handle it could more easily make contact with the barrel. Remember Bucky Dent of the New York Yankees hitting the famous home run against the Boston Red Sox to win the pennant? He choked up on that homer. Noted choke artists in the past were Ty Cobb, Nellie Fox, Rod Carew and Hunter Pence. As Edith Bunker sang it, “Gone are the days.”
Q: When a player or manager is ejected, do they get fined and how much? — ART, West Chester.
A: With every ejection comes a dip into the ejectee’s wallet. The fines are never disclosed, though they usually start at about $500. A lot of it depends upon how demonstrative the manager or player is what he does after he is ejected. And suspensions can be given, too, if the player or manager comes in contact with the umpire, uses excessively vile verbiage or spreads equipment all over the well-tended grass.
Q: What kind of wood are the players required to use in their bats? — NADINE, Englewood.
A: While it looks as if some players are using balsam, nobody uses that flimsy wood. Most players use maple bats because the wood is dense, powerful, durable and packs a punch. Twenty years ago, most players swung ash bats. They are more flexible and increased bat speed. But usage of ash is down to about 10 percent of the players. I’m just glad MLB doesn’t use aluminum bats with their awful ‘ping’ sound and no crack of the bat. I was playing softball when aluminum bats first appeared but I stubbornly continued to use a wooden bat. And why don’t you ask me these questions at dinner?
Q: How long do you stick with Elly De La Cruz in the lineup while his average drops like a rock? — KEVIN, New York, NY.
A: There is no doubt De La Cruz has more strikeouts than bees in a hive, but he does create buzz and evokes havoc on the basepaths, when he can get there. And, yes, he is hitting far below .200 since the All-Star break and his last home run is a distant memory. But the kid is 21 and still learning. He has been better lately at laying off low and inside pitches in the dirt. Despite all that, he has superstar written all over him. He just has to learn to read it.
Q: I’m getting tired of managers relying on analytics and will they ever get back to just using their heads and gut feelings? — SCOTT, Springfield.
A: The best managers use a combination of both, use the numbers fed them but still rely on what they are seeing and how they feel about certain situations. The robot managers stick totally to analytics and, oh yeah, robots make mistakes, too. Analytics will never completely go away because if they are used the right way they can help.
Q: What’s the best prank you saw pulled on players in the clubhouse? — JIM, Cincinnati.
A: Johnny Bench had a steel cage about the size of small cardboard box with a small, barred window on one side. Rookies were told that Bench’s pet mongoose was inside, and it was dangerous. What actually was inside was a stuffed toy animal. Rookies were invited to peek in the window. When they did, Bench sprung a trap door and the ‘mongoose’ was ejected into the air. Several rookies needed a cardiologist immediately.