Ask Hal: Who is the best lefty starter of all time?

Credit: Harry Hall

Credit: Harry Hall

Q: Can you recall any specific instances of a player suffering a career-ending injury during a game you covered? — DAVE, Miamisburg/Centerville/Beavercreek.

A: Just one close call. It was in old San Diego/Jack Murphy Stadium in 1994 and Tom Browning was pitching for the Reds. He threw one of his screwballs and even though the press box was on the third level, we could hear a crack like a telephone wire snapping. Then we heard Browning’s scary scream. He broke his arm. He did come back, but he was never the same and I shall never forget the snap and the scream.

Q: Who was the best left-handed starting pitcher of all-time? — JAY, Englewood.

A: That’s a subjective question and I saw so many in my career — Sandy Koufax, Steve Carlton, Randy Johnson, Tom Glavine, Clayton Kershaw. And as old as I am, I never saw Carl Hubbell, Lefty Grove, Warren Spahn, Eddie Plank or Whitey Ford. Twist my arm and kick me in the shin and I’ll say Sandy Koufax, nicknamed “The Left Arm of God.” He was a strikeout machine, more strikeouts than innings pitched, won three Cy Young Awards, pitched four no-hitters and a perfect game and it was curious how many opposing hitters came up with the flu or a migraine headache on the days he pitched. And Randy Johnson is a close, close second.

Q: What is the Cincinnati Reds record while wearing those black City Connect uniforms? — JOHN, Murray, KY.

A: So far it is a bit of a black mark against those black duds. They are only worn at home on Friday nights and last season the Reds were 5-6 in them. In the six losses, they were beaten by an average of 2 1/2 runs and I’m trying to recall what teams scored a half run against them. So far this season, they’ve worn them once (April 5) and lost to the New York Mets, 3-2, and the Mets were 1-5 at the time, another black day for the Reds. They did beat the Angels 7-1 on Friday night.

Q: What were the best and worst ballparks for you to work in during your half century as a baseball scribe? — GEORGE, Morton Grove, IL.

A: Houston’s Minute Maid Park wins the best by a landslide. A writer walks into the main entrance and is 30 steps from the press box door. The press box is low, close to the field and spacious. And there is a private media elevator that transports the writers directly to mansion-sized clubhouses. The worst is a park fans love, and rightly so. But for the media, Chicago’s Wrigley Field is a Nightmare on Addison. It is everything Minute Maid isn’t. Start with long ramps to and from a cramped press box, so tight you risk tromping on toes and tripping entering and leaving your seat. And the visiting clubhouse? I’ve been in bigger elevators and reachable after a climb of steep stairs.

Q: In all of sports, if you could change one rule, what would it be? — KEVIN, Centerville.

A: In tennis, I’d eliminate the double fault because that’s what I did a lot. But let’s stick to baseball and get rid of the rule that goes against everything baseball is about … putting the free runner on second base to start every inning of an extra-inning game. Why should a guy who made the last out the previous inning get free passage to second base. He didn’t earn it. It’s strictly a gimmick, a bad gimmick. What’s wrong with playing extra innings the way the first nine were played? It’s like putting a wide receiver on the 20-yard line with no defender to start an NFL overtime game.

Q: Outside of the Tony Perez trade, what is the one Reds trade that happened during your coverage that you’d like to have back? — JOHN, Fort Wayne, IN.

A: I didn’t make the trade, so I can’t take it back. But almost on the same level as trading Perez to Montreal for Woodie Fryman and Dale Murray was trading Paul O’Neill to the New York Yankees for Roberto Kelly. O’Neill became a Yankees star and won more World Series rings than he had fingers. Kelly was a two-year dud in Cincinnati. The only reason O’Neill was traded was because manager Lou Piniella wanted O’Neill to hit home runs, but O’Neill preferred hitting line drives, of which he was proficient.

Q: Whatever happened to pitchers preferring scuffed baseballs that have been in play rather than wanting a pristine ball for every pitch? — BILL, Rabbit Hash, KY.

A: That one leaves me perplexed, too. If a ball gets scuffed or cut, a wise pitcher can make it dance the Chubby Checker twist on the way to home plate. I once asked Tom Seaver that question and he said, “Some pitchers say they can’t control a scuffed or cut ball.” I saw Cincinnati’s Frankie Montas walk four Seattle Mariners in the first inning and he couldn’t control brand new, unused baseballs.

Q: Is Albert Belle being snubbed by voters for the Hall of Fame because of his personality because he seems to have the credentials? — PHIL, Kettering.

A: Yes, his numbers are Hall of Fame quality. He never came close to the 75% of the votes to make it and was lopped off the ballot. Now is in the hands of a committee. In 1995, Belle hit 50 homers and 50 doubles, an MLB record. But he had so many warts. He feuded with fans. He was suspended for using a corked bat, he battled alcoholism. And he probably lost votes because he was hostile toward the media and once said, “I talked to the media. They just didn’t like the words I gave them.” Maybe the voters were concerned because first he was Joey Belle and then he became Albert Belle.

Q: Why do teams have to have five or six starters and baby them by only pitching them five or six innings when generations ago teams used a four-man staff that completed games and pitched 300 or more innings? — VICTOR, Knoxville, TN.

A: It is the gradual evolution of the bullpen. The theory today, right, or wrong, is that a starting pitcher, if effective, can go through a batting order twice. Then his stuff diminishes, and a hitter has seen him twice. So managers begin their parade of one-inning relief pitchers, most of them throwing 98 to 101 miles an hour or the possessor of a nasty trick pitch like a cutter, splitter or change-up. And yet the headscratcher remains … why so many injuries to starting pitchers?

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