By Hal McCoy
UNSOLICITED OBSERVATIONS from our own little slice of paradise, St. Simons Island, where I ate enough seafood to qualify as a crustacean.
—A EULOGY: Call this an obituary, if you must, but I’m calling it a positive eulogy.
When this baseball season began, every baseball pundit between Boston and Seattle predicted the Cincinnati Reds once again would finish last and lose 100 games.
Instead, for 161 games the Reds were not only relevant, they came within one loss of qualifying for the playoffs. If that isn’t a major accomplishment, then there isn’t a bseball in an umpire’s pouch.
This team was greener than the felt on a pool table. At times there were as many as seven rookies in the lineup.
Due to a plethora of injuries, the team used 65 players, 40 pitchers. Along the way, they lost starting pitchers Nick Lodolo, Graham Ashcraft, Hunter Greene and enough reliief pitchers to fill a small Vietnam village.
They lost Matt McLain ands Jonathan India for long periods. Manager David Bell, taking more criticism than a crooke politician, played mix and match as if it were a board game.
And still, they were right there. When a team loses 79 games, each loss is important. But the Reds-killer was the 13-12 loss down the stretch to the Pittsburgh Pirates when they led, 9-0, in the third inning and 9-1 heading into the sixth.
It happens. And it did. But the team won 83, 20 more than anybody expected. One more win and we’re talking about the first team to lose 100 and finish last to qualify for the playoffs.
This team was like Paul Masson saying, “No wine before it’s time.” The 2023 Reds arrived before their time and darn near pulled off a baseball miracle.
Nothing in baseball (or life) is guaranteed, but Reds fans can safely say, “Wait ’til next year.”
—REAL FIELD OF DREAMS: If you are in Asheville, N.C., a required stop for baseball fans is McCormick Field, cut out of the side of a mountain and built in 1924, the nation’s oldest minor league ballpark and the prototype for quaintness.
The right field wall is 300 feet from home plate and 36 feet high. It’s the maximum height MLB allows because no wall can be higher in pro ball than the 37-foot tall Green Monster in Boston’s Fenway Park.
It is home to the Class A Asheville Tourists and owned by Ohio Governor Mike DeWine’s family. Governor DeWine’s son, Brian, is the team’s president.
To walk on the field is to walk on dirt on which Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Ty Cobb, Jackie Robinson, Roy Campanella, Willie Stargell, Roberto Clemente and a litany of major leaguers once played.
The New York Yankees stopped at McCormick on a barn-storming tour in 1931. His first time up, Gehrig hit a ball over the center field wall. His first time up, Ruth lofted a majestic sky-scraper over that 36-foot high wall in right field.
It is a real-life Field of Dreams and if you listen closely when the park is empty, you can hear the whispers of Ruth, Gehrig and Cobb.
—QUOTE: From Babe Ruth when he saw McCormick Field for the first time: “My, my, what a beautiful place to play. Delightful. Damned delightful place.” (It was also reported that Ruth played that game with a belly ache from eating too many hot dogs. Wonder how Ruth would have done in a hot dog eating contest with Joey Chestnutt.)
—JOE VERSUS TED: Every baseball fan worth a stadium hot dog knows about Joe DiMaggion’s 56-game hitting streak.
It began on May 15, 1941. What fans don’t know is that on that same date, May 15, 1941, Boston’s Ted Williams started his own hitting streak. Day-by-day, Teddy Ballgame matched Joltin’ Joe hit for hit. His and DiMaggio’s streaks reached 23 straight games before Williams went hitless in game 24.
But like the Energizer Bunny, DiMaggio kept going and going and going.
—QUOTE: From Hall of Famer Joe DiMaggio: “I can remember when I was a rookie and a reporter asked me for a quote and I didn’t know what a quote was. I thought it was some kid of soft drink.” (Yeah, Joe. It’s called Yankee Cola or Coca Clipper.)
—A TRICK QUESTION: Bob Feller always asked a trivia question and only Bob Feller would think of it.
“Was there ever a game in which every hitter finished a game with the same batting average with which he started the game?”
The answer? Yes. On Opening Day of 1940, Bob Feller pitched a no-hitter against the Chicago White Sox, so every batter started the game hitting .000 and finished the game hitting .000.
One of my favorite lines written about Bob Feller was typed by baseball writer Jim Schlemmer of the Akron Beacon Journal.
Feller was hit by a line drive in the groin area and Schlemmer wrpte: “Feller was hit where only a feller could be hit.”
—QUOTE: From Hall of Fame pitcher Bob Feller: “I’d rather beat the New York Yankees than throw a no-hitter.” (Feller pitched three no-hitters and 12 one-hitters. And one of those no-hitters was against the Yankees.
—SILENCE, PLEASE: For new Denver Broncos coach Sean Payton, it was open mouth and insert clipboard.
Before the season and his first game as Broncos coach, Payton said of the previous Denver coaching regime, “It might have been one of the worst coaching jobs in the history of the NFL. That’s how bad it was.”
Then Payton’s version of the Broncos played the Miami Dolphins last week and lost 70-20, one of the worst beatings in NFL history.
The 0-3 Broncos missed 24 tackles, which led some to believe that the Broncos quit mid-game.
—NO GLOVE, PLEASE: Baltimore’s Brooks Robinson, ‘The Human Vaccuum Cleaner,’ died this week. I always thought, to be fair, he should have played third base without a glove.
—THE VAGABONDS?: When the Oakland A’s move to Las Vegas, a foregone conclusion, they should change their name to the Las Vegas Vagabonds.
It will be the franchises’s fourth move. They began as the Philadelphia A’s, then were the Kansas City A’s, then were the Oakland A’s.
They are running out of cities to which they can flee. They can run, but not hide their yearly ineptitude.
—TOWER OF BIG BEN: Why are the Jacksonville Jaguars London’s team? On Sunday, the Jags play in London for the 10th time. And this season, they are staying in London to play two weeks in a row.
When Ben Roethlisberger was quarterbacking the Pittsburgh Steelers it would have made sense for the Steelers to be London’s team. Y’know, Big Ben.
—QUOTE: From former Pittsuburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger: “You have to be able to step up when your name is called.” (By the time they call out Roeth-lis-ber-ger, you already are two steps behind.)
—WHAT’S YOUR NAME?: Always wondered, why can’t Auburn make up its mind on a nickname? Are they the Tigers or are they the War Eagles?
And it’s the same with Gonzaga. Are they the Zags or the Bulldogs?