OBSERVATIONS: Ryan Freel never had a clean uniform

By Hal McCoy

UNSOLICITED OBSERVATIONS from The Man Cave, wondering out loud if the University of Dayton, Wright State and Xavier all could end up together at the First Four in UD Arena. As Dana Carvey, playing The Church Lady on Saturday Night Live would say, “Well, isn’t that special?”

—It is no shocker that Ryan Freel’s favorite player was Pete Rose. If Rose was Charlie Hustle, then Freel was Charles Hustle.

Like Rose, Freel was full bore, full throttle and full speed ahead on a baseball field. Also like Rose, Freel never finished a game without his uniform needing a laundromat and a seamstress.

“Fans like that style of baseball,” Freel told me. “It doesn’t take talent and you don’t have to be a superstar to play the game hard. It’s all about your heart and where your heart is.”

Most of the time, Freel had the fans holding their heart in their mouths.

Freel played for the Cincinnati Reds from 2003 to 2008 and was a fan favorite for his all-out hustle, a guy who feared no wall and feared no onrushing teammate while chasing line drives.

In 2007, he and outfielder Norris Hopper had a train-wreck collision in right center field, earning Freel a ride to a hospital in an ambulance.

Freel made the most stupendous catch I ever saw in 48 years of covering baseball. It was August 8, 2006, with a full house of 42,316 in Great American Ball Park against the St. Louis Cardinals.

It was the third inning with the Reds leading, 2-1. The Cardinals had the tying run on second with Albert Pujols at bat. And here is how Marty Brennaman described it:

“There’s a drive to deep right center and this game is. . .did he catch it? He caught it.” Indeed, Freel fled toward the wall. With his back to the infield he laid out flat and snared it before belly-whopping to the ground. The standing ovation lasted all through the next hitter’s at bat. The 
Reds won the game, 10-3, and Freel had three hits and scored three runs.

It always appeared that Freel talked to himself on the field and I asked him about it and he introduced me to Farney.

“He’s a little guy who lives in my head who talks to me and I talk to him,” said Freel. “Everybody think I talk to myself, so I tell ‘em I’m talking to Farney.”

Freel would have celebrated his 46th birthday this week, but he took his own life 10 years ago. He once told me he had suffered 10 concussions and that was no surprise, the way he played hell bent for election.

After his suicide, it was discovered the concussions led to chronic traumatic encephalopathy, the first MLB player to be diagnosed with CTE.

—People keep asking, who is at fault for what is happening in baseball right now?

My answer: Who locked out the players? Who waited more than a month before responding to the players’ first proposal? Who postponed spring training? Who canceled the first three regular season series?

Answer: Management, management, management, management.

And why does management cry poverty when MLB grossed $10.7 billion the year before the pandemic hit? Meanwhile, the average major league salary in 2021 was $4.17 million, down 6.4% since the all-time high in 2017.

Question: Who do fans pay to see, some fat cats in their office swivel chair or some sleek (for the most part) athletes on the field?

—QUOTE: From former baseball commissioner Fay Vincent: “It’s essential. If you don’t love baseball, you shouldn’t be in it.” (Are you listening, commissioner Manfred?)

—Somebody dug deep for this one, but it is out there that last season in Division I college baseball, when a player bunted the ball toward third base, the batting average on those bunts was .533.

A female reader likes the bunt and Jennifer Danielole Campbell e-mailed me this message: “. . .Laying down a bunt can make the difference in winning or losing. A power hitter laying down a bunt with the infield pulled back can be a huge surprise.”

Then she went to Hollywood to say, “It’s like that movie, ‘Mr. Baseball.’ Tom Selleck’s character was brought in as a power hitter and he finally started doing it (bunting) and it caught the defense by surprise when he laid down a bunt.”

Hey, wait. Tom Selleck is great as Police Commissioner Frank Reagan on Blue Bloods. Let’s start a ground swell to make him baseball commissioner.

—Pete Rose was banned for life by MLB for betting on baseball and on his own team to win. Atlanta Falcons wide receiver Calvin Ridley was suspended for one year for betting on NFL games, including his own team to win.

Something smells rotten in Denmark, also in Sweden and Norway, with the disparity.

MLB and the NFL are seemingly more lenient these days because both are in cahoots with casinos and gambling web-sites. It smells to much like hypocrisy.

Consider this, though. Ridley made bets worth $1,500 and it cost him $11 million, his salary for 2022.

And how about this one? Washington Commodores’ strong safety DeShazor Everett remains on the roster even though he has been charged with involuntary manslaughter.

Everett was roaring along at 100 miles an hour in a 45 miles an hour zone, racing a teammate, when he lost control, hit several trees, then flipped. His passenger, his girl friend, was killed.

That he remains on the roster is not a good look for a franchise already heavily embroiled in sexual harassment charges. And when they re-named the Redskins to the Commodores, Lionel Richie was not Dancing on the Ceiling All Night Long.

—So Aaron Rodgers got what he wanted all along, a fat contract extension from the Green Bay Packers. With all his attention-grabbing, his ‘Hey, look at me and pay attention to me,’ the Packers are giving a 38-year-old quarterback a four-year $200 million deal.

Rodgers gave the Packers the whine and the Packers gave him the cheese.

—Love this from Scott Russell’s thoroughly irreverent but highly entertaining book, ‘The Final Odyssey of the Sweet Ride,’ that features the craziness of former pitcher Bill “Spaceman” Lee.

While sitting one day next to Ted Williams, only the greatest hitter ever to excavate the batter’s box with a pair of cleats, Lee said to Teddy Ballgame:

“You know, you’re the luckiest s.o.b. in the world because you’re right-eye dominant. Ted, since you bat left handed, your right eye is on the pitcher and your big bleeping horn of a nose isn’t blocking your vision.”

Amazingly, Williams did not punch Lee in his nose. He actually believed him.

—QUOTE: From Bill ‘Spaceman’ Lee after listening to a long-winded wind bag: “I can’t ever wear glasses again because that guy talked my ears off.”

—The web-site 24/7 came up with its top ten most heated college sports rivalries. Eight were football matchups and two were basketball.

The University of Texas made it twice, both in football — No. 5, Texas-Oklahoma and No. 9, Texas-Texas A&M. The two basketball rivalries were No. 2, Duke-North Carolina and No. 10, Kentucky-Louisville.

And No. 1? No debate, no question, no hesitation. . .Ohio State-Michigan football.

The others: No. 3, Auburn-Alabama; No. 4, Army-Navy; No. 6, Florida—George; No. 7, Ole Miss-Mississippi State; No. 8, Florida State-Miami.

They could have included any Notre Dame game because fans either love the Irish or hate ‘em.

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