Ask Hal: Clubhouse Squabbles Rare In MLB

By Hal McCoy

Q: How frequently do shouting matches or physical altercations occur among teammates within the dugout or clubhouse? — DAVE, Miamisburg/Centerville/Beavercreek.
A: A baseball team is like a family and, actually, players spend more time with teammates in the summer than with their families. So like a family, there are disputes, arguments, shoving and wrestling matches. Most happen in the privacy of the clubhouse. Once in a while a camera catches a dugout skrimish like the one between Jeff Kent and Barry Bonds. But they are rare and most players just get along. Of course, there was the infamous Lou Piniella-Rob Dibble clubhouse squabble, which I inadvertently started.

Q: During your career, who was the best baseball commissioner? — GEORGE, Morton Grove, IL.
A: There have been five— Bowie Kuhn, Peter Ueberroth, Bart Giamatti, Fay Vincent, Bud Selig and Rob Manfred. Kuhn negated the Cincinnati Reds trade of Dave Revering and $1 million for pitcher Vida Blue, saying it was not in the best interest of baseball. Ueberroth was in the front door and our the back before we knew him. Giammati and Vincent botched the Pete Rose situation. For some of the silly rules Manfred imposed he should be made to sit in traffic on Broadway. Selig hid his head in the sand during the steroid era, but he won me over when I announced my retirement and he invited me into his office to congratulate and thank me for my service to baseball. Winner: Selig.

Q: If you as a relief pitcher come into the game in the sixth inning with two outs and retire the batter, then go back out for the next inning and give up a home run to the first hitter, can the manager take you out or does the three-batter minimum still apply? — BILL, Monterey, KY.
A: No, it doesn’t apply. A relief pitcher only has to face three batters in the same inning. There is no carryover. The pitcher could be removed after the home run if it came in the next inning. It is one of Manfred’s Mad Moves. And if I were the pitcher, that home run would have come to the first batter I faced, not the next one.

Q:They always say the strike zone box on TV is not accurate and why is it not when we put a man on the moon over 50 years ago? SCOTT, Springfield.
A: That box is, indeed, inaccurate or the home plate umpire misses way too many calls. I say the box is inaccurate. It is one size fits all and baseball players come in all shapes and sizes. Forget technology. There is too much of it in the game already. Just get rid of it. To me, it is just distracting and causes too many fans to swear at at the umpires.

Q: When Matt McLain and Noelvi Marte return, why not move Elly De La Cruz to the outfield where he can run down long fly balls, leap over the fence to make great catches and gun down base runners instead of making so many errors at shortstop? — GREG, Beavercreek.
A: You are preaching to the press box. I have advocated that since spring training and it makes so much sense. McLain is a natural shortstop and would be much better defensively than De La Cruz, who leads the league’s shortstop in errors. Many natural shortstops have moved from shortsto to the outfield — Eric Davis, Mickey Mantle (started his career as a shortstop), Robin Yount, Fernando Tatis Jr., Ian Desmond. Shortstops invariably are the best athletes and the switch usually is smooth.

Q: What’s with the sliding mittens and I can’t imagine Pete Rose flying head first into a base wearing snow mittens? — RORY, Dayton.
A: Just another baseball gimmick somebody fostered. The mittens extend several inches beyond the fingers, giving the sliding base-runner extra reach. Sounds to me as if it is an unfair advantage and should be outlawed. The last time I saw mittens like that Nadine was pulling a pot roast out of the oven.

Q: When the book, Charlie Hustle, talks about Pete Rose and his attorney meeting investigator John Dowd at a Catholic high school in Dayton, which one was it? — BILL, Bethel.
A: A reliable source once told me it was Chaminade-Julienne. Was that fair to Rose? He isn’t Catholic. But religion was not on the agenda. It was all about his baseball gambling and, of course, despite Dowd’s evidence, Rose continued to deny, deny, deny at the meeting.

Q: What’s the deal with the trend of a starting pitcher going only two or three outs in the first inning and then getting pulled? — RICHARD, San Diego.
A: On those days, that isn ’t a starter. It’s a relief pitcher and they call it a Bullpen Day. Teams do it on days when all of their regular five starters aren’t available. Most relief pitchers these days only pitch one inning so on Bullpen Days you see enough relief pitchers to wear a path from the bullpen to the mound. Pretty boring, isn’t it?

Q: Have you ever thrown out a first pitch before a Reds game and was it a strike at 90 to 100 miles an hour? — TIM, Xenia.
A: Upon my ‘retirement’ as a traveling beat writer in 2010, I threw a first pitch to Barry Larkin. He accused me of throwing a cutter. It was not a strike and it was timed with an hourglass. I also threw out a first pitch at a Dayton Dragons game and one at Tampa Bay’s Tropicana Field when Lou Piniella was the manager. Amazingly, no scouts offered me a contract.

McCoy: Red Sox Take The Series

By Hal McCoy

For most of this season, after the Cincinnati Reds lost a game, pitcher Nick Lodolo arrived in the Nick of time to put the team on a winning track.

When he started Sunday afternoon’s game against the Boston Red Sox, he was 5-1 after the Reds lost the previous case.

But on this day, it was not the case. Lodolo’s five-game winning streak over his last five starts came to an end, a 7-4 Red Sox victory.

Lodolo uncharacteristically walked four in 4 2/3 innings, all four on full counts, all four on close-call fastballs.

Why not curveballs, his best pitch?

Lodolo did not reveal the reason during his post-game media interview, but manager David Bell did during an interview with Bally Sports Ohio.

“I’m sure Nick didn’t say anything about it (he didn’t), but he began the game with a pretty good-sized blister on his index finger,” said Bell. “I thought he did a pretty good job considering he didn’t have his best pitch. And yes it is a bit of a concern.”

Lodolo pitched with a skin-toughener on the finger, approved by the umpires, and did throw some breaking pitches, but they didn’t have their normal bite.

The loss was Cincinnati’s sixth in their last eight games and Boston’s seventh win in eight games.
The Reds lost the series, two games to one after winning the first game and have lost three straight series. Boston has won four straight series, including against the powerhouse Philadelphia Phillies and the powerhouse New York Yankees.

The Red Sox pasted four runs on Lodolo in a controversial fourth inning, puncuated by a two-run home run from Connor Wong that pushed his hitting streak to 13 games.

The inning began when Lodolo walked Rafael Devers on a close 3-and-2 pitch, a pitch both Lodolo Bell both thought was a strike.

Lodolo’s next pitch was to Wong was a 94 miles an hour misplace fastball and Wong drove it 395 feet into the left field seats.

Romy Gonzalez doubled and Dominic Smith also walked on a controversail full count. Bell expressed his displeasure to umpire Todd Tichenor and was ejected.

Ceddanne Rafaela grounded to shortstop, a double play ball. But the Reds got only the force at second because second baseman Jonathan India’s relay throw sailed high, wide and ugly over first baseman Jeimer Candelario’s head and Gonzalez scored.

Jarren Duran then doubled home Rafaela and it was 4-0 and the Reds were scrambling the rest of the way.

Of the close calls on his 3-and-2 walks, Lodolo said, “I thought I got him (Devers), but you still have to play the game. Was Wong’s home run the first pitch? Yeah, I kind of yanked the heater. He elevated it and yanked it.

“It was a rough inning,” he added. “There definitely were some walks that I thought were there (strikes). Stevie (catcher Tyler Stephenson) did as well. At the end of the day, you have to play the game still. I wish I had done a better job of that in the fourth.

It was a bullpen day for the Red Sox and relief pitcher Zack Kelly started. He came into the game with nine straight hitless innings and gave up no runs and one hit for his 2 2/3 innings.

Seven pitchers followed him and the Reds were able to score one run against the second pitcher, Brennan Bernardino in the fourth and three against the fiffh pitcher, Brad Keller in the sixth.

The Reds scored a run in the fourth on a double by Elly De La Cruz and a run-scoring single by Candelario. India doubled with two outs, putting runners on third and second. But slump-encased Will Benson flied meekly to right.

The Red Sox scored three runs in the sixth after Buck Farmer retired the first two. When David Hamilton doubled, stand-in manager Freddie Benavides brought in Brent Suter.

Jarred Duran singled and former Reds minor-leaguer Rob Refsnyder clubbed a home run and the Red Sox were in command, 7-1.

The Reds tried to get back in it with a three-run rally in their sixth. Stephenson produced a run-scoring single that scored Spencer Steer. Stephenson took third on India’s infield hit.

With runners on third and first and no outs, Benson struck out and is 0 for 21.
Benson acts as if he doesnt know the difference between the batter’s box and a cereal box. He might do just as well if they put a cardboard cutout of him at home plate. It might draw a walk.

Santiago Espinal kept the rally going with a run-scoring single and Stuart Fairchild singled home another run and it was 7-4.

But with runners on second and first and two outs, T.J. Friedl lined to center en route to a 0 for 5 day.

The Reds matched Boston in hits, 10 apiece, but Cincinnati couldn’t produce enough clutch hits when opportunities arose.

The Reds put a runner on with two outs in the eighth and De La Cruz singled with two outs in the ninth, his fifth hit in the last two games

But Boston closer Kenley Jansen ended it on a weak fly ball by Candelario, Jansen’s 15th save in 16 chances.

OBSERVATIONS: How To Fix A Broken Game

By Hal McCoy

UNSOLICITED OBSERVATIONS from The Man Cave, wondering how many times a guy scores from third base on a nubber in front of home plate that the catcher picks up?Just asking for Jake Fraley.

—An Open Letter To Commissioner Rob Manfraud:

It is well-accepted by so many of we grizzled old baseball lovers that some of your implemented rules are regarded as coming from the House of Stupidity.

The ghost runner. Yech. The three-batter minimum for relief pitchers. Yech.

So me and former Cincinnati Reds general manager Murray Cook are suggesting a major, major change.

What bothers us is that you keep expanding the playoffs so that it is coming close to a time when every team will get a Participation Trophy.

It is now a game of a few teams having a lot and most teams having nothing. That means teams under .500, at .500 or just over .500 make the playoffs. It makes the regular season nearly meaningless.

So here’s the deal, Commish:

Add one franchise to each league so that there are 16 teams in the National League and 16 teams in the American Leaague. Divide each league into two eight-team divisions.

At the end of the season, the two division winners play each other, best of seven, for the league pennant. The two winners meet in the World Series.

And while we’re at it, eliminate interleague play. The National League plays only NL teams and the American League plays only AL teams.

That means when the World Series is played, like the old days, the two teams will not have played each other, returning mystique to the Fall Classic.

We know it won’t happen. It makes too much sense. We figure to further speed up the game, your next moves will be three balls for a walk, two strikes for a strikeout and two outs per half-inning. Oh, and five-inning games, of course.

—PHIL MURPHY?: When Hall of Fame shortstop Phil Rizzuto was 16 and in high school, he played for a semi-pro team to make a few bucks. He used an assumed name, Phil Murphy.

His team played against the Kansas City Monarchs and the New York Black Yankees of the Negro Leagues and Rizzuto faced Satchel Paige and played against Josh Gibson.

“Our manager put some balls in an ice box and we’d use those when the other team batted and the ball wouldn’t go as far,” said Rizzuto. “When we batted, he slipped the normal balls into the game.”

When the 5-foo-6 Rizzuto was 16, he tried out for the Brooklyn Dodgers and manager Casey Stengel told him, “You’re too short, kid. You ought to go out and shine shoes. You can go sit in the stands and watch the game, but you’ll never be a big league ballplayer.”

Casey went down swinging on that scouting report.

—FRIENDS TO THE SAME END: Hugh Casey began his career with the Brooklyn Dodgers as a starter, but mid-career he was turned into a relief pitcher. . .and some say the best during his time. In nine years he was 75-42 with a 3.42 earned run average and 54 saves.

When Branch Rickey signed Jackie Robinson as the first Black player, the Dodgers trained in Havana, Cuba to avoid the hassles Robinson would encounter if they held spring training in the segregated south.

Casey met and befriended writer Ernest Hemingway and the two were inseparable when Casey wasn’t at the ball park.They both ended their own lives with shotgun suicide

—CAP IT OFF: Willie May is rightfully accepted as the best all-around player in baseball history, right?

By the numbers, though, Henry Aaron was the best righthanded hitter ever, maybe the best from both sides. No other player had more than 700 homers, more than 3,000 hits, more than 2,000 RBI and more than 2,000 runs.

Aaron was neither flamboyant nor outspoken and once said to the great Louisville columnist Dave Kindred, “I did everything Willie ever did, but my cap stayed on.” Said Kindred, “He did not smile.”

Incredibly Aaron and Mays were nearly teammates on the New York Giants. Aaron nearly signed with the Giants before opting for the Boston Braves.

“I had the Giants’ contract in my hand, but the Braves offered $50 a month more,” said Aaron. “That’s the only thing that kept Willie Mays and me from being teammates. . .$50.”

Why in the name of Dusty Rhodes wouldn’t the Giants find $50 a month for Aaron? What an outfield that would have been.

—ALMOST A RED: Hall of Fame third baseman Ron
Santo played 14 years for the Chicago Cubs. If he loved money or wanted to be a catcher, he would have played for the Cincinnati Reds.

When he was a high school senior in Seattle, every team in baseball made him an offer. The Reds made the highest bid, an $80,000 bonus. But they wanted to make him a catcher and start his minor-league
career in his Seattle hometown.

The Cubs, after orgiginally promising him a $50,000 signing bonus, reneged and low-balled him at $20,000. Nevertheless, he signed with the Cubs because he had established a close friendship and loyalty with Cub’ bird dog scout Dave Tacher.

Why not the Reds? Said Santo at the time, “They wanted me to start my career in my hometown (Seattle) and I’d rather not play in my hometown because playing at home is a lot of pressure.”

—JUST THREE WORDS: Former Reds manager Dave Miley was a man of few words and had a three-word mantra that rings so true about major league baseball: “Winning is hard.”

That completely sums up the whole process, doesn’t it. He could have added three more words: “Losing is easy.”

—PLAYLIST NUMBER 65: I’m not a big fan of this song, but because of what Jeimer Candelario is doing for the Cincinnati Reds, I’ll mention The Candy Man by Sammy Davis Jr.

Purple Rain (Prince), Like A Rolling Stone (Bob Dylan), Be My Baby (The Ronettes), Hey Jude (The Beatles), I Just Want To Be Your Everything (Andy Gibb), Let’s Get It On (Marvin Gaye), Another One Bites The Dust (Queen).

Lady (Kenny Rogers), Centerfold (J. Geils Band), Ebony And Ivory (Paul McCartney & Stevie Wonder), Billie Jean (Michael Jackson), You’re So Vain (Carly Simon), Because I Love You (Stevie B.), I Swear (All-4-One), It’s All Comng Back To Me Now (Meat Loaf).

 

 

McCoy: Reds Awful On The Basepaths in 4-3 Loss

By Hal McCoy

The Cincinnati Runnin’ Reds ran themselves out of a baseball game Saturday afternoon in Great American Ball Park.

Three base-running blunders and a throwing error turned into a messy 4-3 defeat to the Boston Red Sox.

Two runners ill-fatedly tried to score from third on infield grounders and were thrown out at home, one was picked off second and a throwing error all led to the team’s 14th loss in 20 one-run games.

On this day, the Reds’ instincts were their worst instincts.

Bally Sports broadcaster Barry Larkin was succinct and direct after the game when he said, “When you are ahead 3-0 and need to tack on runs, these things just can’t happen. They just can’t. If you want to win and not just compete, you have to tighten these things up.”

And with the sloppy performance, the Reds flopped back into last place in the National League Central.

Amazingly, the Reds put runners on base in all nine innings, but what they did when they were on was two steps below awful.

They only scored via home runs, a first-inning two-run rip by Spencer Steer and a solo shot by Elly De La Cruz in the third that gave them a 3-0 lead.

Boston’s Dominic Smith homered off Reds starter Frankie Montas in the fifth and the Red Sox crept to within 3-2 on back-to-back doubles by Wilyer Abreu and Connor Wong in he sixth.

The Reds were 32-1 this season when leading after six innings, but the Red Sox slapped a second loss on that record by scoring two runs in the eighth against relief pitchers Justin Wilson and Lucas Sims.

The inning began with a slow roller to third baseman Jeimer Candelario and he threw the ball away giving Ceddanne Rafaela an infield hit and an error that placed him on second base.

Jarren Duran singled him to third. Rob Refsnyder, a former Reds minor leaguer, pinch-hit and poked a first-pitch single to right to tie it, 3-3, as Duran scampered to third with no outs.

Sims replaced Wilson, who had given up three straight hits, and Sims struck out Connor Wong for the first out. Rafael Devers lobbed a shallow foul ball down the left field line.

After a long run, Stuart Fairchild made the catch as Duran tagged and fled homeward. Fairchild’s off-balance throw was off-line and Duran scored to make it 4-3.

And the running ruinations?

In the fifth inning, the Reds had runners on the corners with one out. Candelario grounded to short and T.J. Friedl tried to score from third. He was out by from here to the Kentucky shore.

In the sixth inning, the Reds once again had runners on the corners with one out. This time Nick Martini nubbed one about eight feet in front of the plate.

Jake Fraley bolted homeward as catcher Connor Wong captured the ball, turned back to the plate and waited to tag Fraley, who was out from here to eternity.

The faux pas in the sixth wasn’t over. On the Martini-
Fraley play, De La Cruz advanced to second. Then he wandered too far off the base and was picked off, caught in a rundown, to end the inning.

The Reds faced Boston closer Kenley Jansen in the ninth. He has blown one save all year. . .and it nearly became two. With one out, Fairchild, the master of robbing hitters of home runs, drove one fenceward to center. Boston center fielder Duran turned the table upset down on Fairchild by leaping above the wall to snag the would-be tying home run.

The 36-year-old Jansen then gave up a two-out single to Friedl, the potential tying run, but De La Cruz hit a lazy fly ball to left to end it.

Jansen is 14 for 15 in save opportunities this season and owns 434 career saves.

The Reds literally littered the bases with runners but could only score on home runs.

The homers came in the first and third, but the Reds had action in every other inning.

—Luke Maile drew a two-out walk and stole second in the second inning. But Will Benson, 0 for 18, struck out.

—Jonathan India singled with one out in the fourth, but Martini flied out and Maile grounded out.

Then game the baserunning gaffes in the fifth and sixth.

—De La Cruz singled with two outs in the seventh, his third hit, but Candelario grounded out.

—Fraley singled with one out in the eighth and took second on India’s grounder, but Martini struck out.

The Reds were 0 for 5 with runners in scoring position and stranded eight. . .plus the three who were wiped off the bases.

Reds starter Frankie Montas pitched six innings and gave up two runs and five hits, while walking one and striking out four.

Despite throwing only 72 pitches, 52 strikes, manager David Bell removed him after six and a 3-2 lead, but the base-running and bullpen turned victory into defeat.

 

McCoy: Some Stuff On S.J. Jackson And R. Jackson

By Hal McCoy

UNSOLICITED OBSERVATIONS from The Man Cave., shaking my head over the plight of the National League, where only four of the 15 teams were over .500 entering the weekend. The Cincinnati Reds are in last place in the NL Central, but only 1 1/2 games out of a wild card berth. Go figure.

—WAS IT SO, JOE?: One of the saddest baseball stories ever written was that of Shoeless Joe Jackson. He was one of the Eight Men Out, one of eight members of the Chicago Black Sox banned for life by commissioner Kennesaw Mountain Landis for throwing the 1919 World Series to the Cincinnati Reds.

Jackson originally took a $5,000 bribe from first baseman Chick Gandil, the ring leader, but tried to give it back. Gandil wouldn’t take it and threatened Jackson with bodily harm.

So Jackson went to manager Kid Gleason, informed him of the fix and said he didn’t want to play. Gleason said, “You’re gonna play.”

And, oh, did Jackson play. He hit .356 with ten hits, then a World Series record, with a home run. And he played flawlesslly on defense.

Nevertheless, Landis banned Jackson because he knew about the fix, even though Jackson told his manager and tried to return the cash.

One of Jackson’s biggest supporters for re-instatement and consideration for the Hall of Fame was Ted Williams.

Said Williams before his death, “The more I talk about it, the madder I get at the game I love so much. What happened to Joe Jackson wasn’t fair. It is time he be re-instated and be given his rightful place in the Hall of Fame.”

Wonder what Teddy Ballgame thought about the Pete Rose case?

—WHO ARE YOU?: Any idea who this quote from a fellow ballplayer is about?

“He is the player fans come to see because he is so electrifying. You don’t know what he is going to do. He is strong and he can hit one out of the ballpark. And he is so damned fast he is likely to score from anywhere.”

Had to be talking about Elly De La Cruz, right? Well, yes, but not the case here. That was former New York Yankees pitcher Tom Sturdivant talking about teammate Mickey Mantle.

—THE BLACK LEGACY: As a tribute to Rickwood Field’s legacy to the Negro Leagues, where so many Black players performed, the umpiring crew for the San Francisco Giant-St. Louis Cardinals game Thursday night was all Black.

The crew was Adrian Jackson, Alan Porter, C.B. Bucknor, Jeremie Rehak and Malachi Moore. An all-Black crew was a first in MLB history.

Only 11 Blacks have been full-time MLB upmires and the first was Emmett Ashford in 1966, 19 years after Jackie Robinson integrated the league as the first Black player.

Ashford, a flamboyant umpire, worked 20 years, mostly under duress. As Jim Bouton wrote in his then controversial book, ‘Ball Four,’

“Other umpires talk behind his back. Sometimes they’ll let him run out on the field himself while the other three are holding back in the dugout sniggering. It must be terrible for Ashford.”

Columnist Jim Murray once wrote of Ashford’s strike call: His right arm shoots out and in a voice that brings bull moose out of the woods for miles around, he shouts, ‘Steeee-eeee-rike-aaaah.”

—NUXY NEEDED PERMISSION: Speaking of Rickwood Field, after 15-year-old Joe Nuxhall became the youngest player to ever appear in a major league game, the Cincinnati Reds sent him to Birmingham to pitch for the Barons in Rickwood Field.

Before he could pitch there, the Barons had to get a special dispensation from an Alabama child labor law office.

And Nuxy’s son, Kim, said his dad didn’t travel on the road with the Barons, “So he went out to Rickwood to watch the Negro League Birmingham Black Barons. And he saw Satchel Paige pitch.”

—THE AGELESS SATCHEL: And speaking of Satchel Paige, he pitched his next-to-last game in MLB in 1953 for the St. Louis Browns. Next-to-last.

His last game was 12 years later in 1965. He came back to pitch one more game. . .when he was 59 years old. And, incredibly, pitching for the Kansas City Athletics, he pitched three scoreless innings, giving up one hit.

Then he returned to the game room at the local Senior Citizens center.

—JUST REGGIESPEAK?: Everybody knows that Reggie Jackson was a self-centered, attention-seeking, I’m all for me kind of guy.

He’s the guy who told New York writers when he played for the Yankees, “I’m the straw that stirs the drink.” And he said about betting booed, “Fans don’t boo nobodies.”

He also uttered, “I’d rather hit than have sex.” And this one: “The only reason I don’t like playing in the World Series is that I can’t watch myself play.”

So it was man-bite-dog time when Reggie appeared on Fox-TV Tuesday night at the Rickwood Field telecast and said this about Willie Mays:

“He was Baryshnikov and Gretzkey. Great players are five-tool players, but Willie had six tools. . .great baseball instincts. He was the most talented player ever. I used to imitate his walk before games, but I could never imitate him on the field.”

After the telecast, they gave Jackson a lie detector test, but results were not revealed.

There was an at bat when Nolan Ryan and his 101 miles an hour fastball told Jackson, “Next at bat, nothing but fastballs.”

Ryan blew two past Jackson. On the third, the strictly pull-hitting Jackson lined one the opposite way to left field that was caught. The two looked at each other and smiled.

—GUM IT UP: When Phillip K. Wrigley owned the Chicago Cubs, he knew much more about Doublemint gum than double plays.

But somebody whispered in his good ear that pitching was important so he came up with an idea to provide incentive to his pitchers.

He decided to pay each of his starting pitchers $15,000 when nobody else on the team wqs paid more than $10,000.

Did it work? Uh, no. All five finished below .500, the best was Moe Drabowsky at 9-11 and second best was Taylor Phillips at 7-10. And the Cubs finished fifth at 72-82.

So what ol’ P.K. really did was gum up the works.

—AH, SEMANTICS: I’ve quit calling the bathroom the john. I call it the jim. That way I can say I start every morning by going to the jim.

—PLAYLIST NUMBER 63: And on and on and on and on (Don’t Stop Believin’):

Your Love (The Outfield), St. Elmo’s Fire (John Parr), Home (Phillip Phillips), I Won’t Give Up (Jason Mraz), Drift Away (Uncle Kracker), Bad Day (Daniel Powter), You Can Call Me Al (Paul Simon), Summer of ’69.

(Bryan Adams), Open Arms (Journey), I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For (U2), Take The Money And Run (Steve Miller Band), Strange Magic (ELO), When A Man Loves A Woman (Percy Sledge), Maggie Mae (Rod Stewart)

McCoy: My ‘Hate-Love’ Relationship With Willie Mays

By Hal McCoy

It is rare for a song written about baseball to become a standard, as one entitled ‘Talkin’ Baseball’ by Terry Cashman became.

It is about baseball’s Golden Era, the 1950s, and he sings about many of its stars, but its featured lyrics are, “Talkin’ baseball, Willie, Mickey and the Duke, Say Hey, Say Hey, Say Hey.”

Willie, Mickey and the Duke were the three legendary center fielders that played at the same time in New York — Willie Mays for the New York Giants, Mickey Mantle for the New York Yankees and Duke Snider for the Brooklyn Dodgers.

Cashman put Willie’s name first and the ‘Say Hey’ was the nickname New York sports writers called Mays. That’s because Mays could never remember names and greeted most people with, “Say hey.”

And those three center fielders were fantastic, Hall of Famers all, but while Mantle and Snider are legends, Willie Mays was iconic.

Most baseball aficionados agree that Mays was the best all-around baseball player in the history of the game.

Check Baseball Reference’s Willie Mays page. It lists how many categories in which Mays led the league in one category or another. It lists 37 of them. Thirty-seven!

Mays had two 50 home run seasons, he hit 20 triples one season, he won 12 Gold Gloves. He hit 660 home runs. He only won two Most Valuable Players awards and perhaps should have won more.

The significance, though, is that his first MVP was in 1954 and his second was in 1965. That’s a span of 11 years. No other professional athlete won two MVPs that far apart in any sport — basdeball, basketball or football.

Willie Mays passed away Tuesday at age 93 and Ken Griffey Jr., who was Willie’s godson, said it the way I felt it, “When I heard it, my heart dropped to the floor.”

It wasn’t always that way for me.

It was 1954 and I despised Willie Mays. I was 14 and closed-eyes about any player that didn’t wear a Cleveland Indians uniform.

And when Mays made ‘The Catch’ on Vic Wertz in the first game of the 1954 World Series, Mays was a four-letter word in my vocabulary.

Then the years passed and I began to appreciate what Willie Mays was all about and I recognized him for what he was. There are great players and then there are legends.

Mays was on the top of any list of baseball legends. What he couldn’t do on a baseball field was. . .nothing.

A writer once asked him if ‘The Catch’ was the best catch he ever made and he said, “I dont rate ‘em. I just catch ‘em.”

I began covereing baseball in 1973, the last season the aging Mays played, a part-timer for the New York Mets.

I only met him once and that was because of my mentor, Earl Lawson of the Cincinnati Post. Lawson covered most of Willie’s career, but Mays never remembered his name. He called him Scoops.

Lawson introduced me to Mays and we shook hands and I stood in awe, speechless, as Lawson and Mays conversed. I jotted a couple of notes.

But I did tell Mays how much I despised him after ‘The Catch’ and why. He gave me that high-pitched giggle, and said, “Glad I won you over.”

The next day Lawswon I walked into the Mets clubhouse to interview manager Casey Stengel. Mays saw us and said, “Hey, Scoops. Hey, Lefty.” He diidn’t remember my name, but he noticed the day before that I took notes lefthanded.

Mays was flamboyant on the field without trying. He wore his cap a size too small so it would fly off when he whizzed around the bases, “Because fans liked to see my hat fly off.”

His description of himself was simplistic, “They throw the ball, I hit it. They hit the ball, I catch it.”

But there was never anything simplistic about Willie’s majestic talent.

And he was appreciative of what Jackie Robinson, baseball’s first black player, meant for him. He once said, “Every time I look into my wallet, I see Jackie Robinson.”

The St. Louis Cardinals and San Francisco Giants, Willie’s old team, played a game Thursday night at Rickwood Field in Birmingham, the oldest professional baseball field in America.

Mays played on Rickwood for the Birmingham Black Barons of the Negro American League.
As a tribute to Mays, maybe one of the outfielders should have made a basket catch, if they could. Only Mays ever perfected that daring play of catching a fly ball at his belt, as if his glove was a basket.

I never interviewed him or talked at length with him. It was my great loss. I went from despising him to developing a baseball worship of what he was. The best ever. Truly a-Mays-ing.

McCoy: Another Wasted Effort By Greene

By Hal McCoy

It was merely an argument for third place in the National League Central, but both starting pitchers performed as if it were the seventh game of the World Series Wednesday afternoon in PNC Park.

Cincinnati Reds starter Hunter Greene pitched 6 1/3 scoreless, two-hit innings.

Pittsburgh Pirates starter Mitch Keller pitched seven scoreless, two-hit innings.

And neither was rewarded with a win. For hitters on both sides, it was like trying to pick up mercury with tweezers.

The game was decided by one lethal swing of the bat by Pittsburgh’s Bryan Reynolds that resulted in a 1-0 Pirates victory.

With two outs and nobody on in the eighth inning of a 0-0 game, Reynolds picked on an 81 miles an hour change-up from relief pitcher Nick Martinez and drove it 407 feet over the center field fence.

That was it, the dagger that was Pittsburgh’s 22nd victory in its last 35 games against the Reds.

And it gave them the series, two games to one, and was their fourth series win in their last five.

It dropped the 35-39 Reds into fourth place, one game behind the 36-38 Pirates.

Against the Pirates, with Greene pitching, the Reds seem to use balsam bats. In his last six starts agains the Pirates, the Reds have scored five runs, four in one game.

Even though the game was played in unbearable heat, Cincinnati’s bats continue to resemble a cold front

For his 6 1/3 innings over 106 pitches, Greene tied his career-high with nine strikeouts and for the first time this season he didn’t walk a batter. And he retired 14 of the last 15 he faced.

All to no avail because the Reds were mystified by eight-game winner Keller.

While pitching in an 87-degree heat, with the heat index near 110, Greene’s uniform top was sopping wet and after one inning he regurgitated in the dugout.

“I had a bunch of water in my system, I definitely hydrated too much and it was all water when I threw it up,” he said during a post-game interview with Bally Sports Ohio. “You have to be that much more strong mentally on day’s like today.”

And he graciously aimed praise at Keller.

“Mitch was keeping us quiet and he was a good rabbit for me to chase today,” he said. “Obviously, he is a fantastic pitcher and had a great performance today. So basically I was trying to stay with him and stay in the game.”

“We just have to keep going, keep competing and try to come out ahead in the next series,” he said, referring to a three-game series against the Boston Red Sox that begins Friday night in Great American Ball Park.

“I was able to watch two games here before I pitched and when you’re throwing the getaway game, you can pay attention to a hitter’s swings. I faced some of the same guys I faced in the past. It was just being able to move (his pitches) around.”

The Reds never set foot on third base and only two reached second base.

With two outs in the third, catcher Luke Maile became Cincinnati’s first base-runner with a walk and he stole second. But Jonathan India struck out.

Leading off the eighth, Stuart Fairchild walked, Keller’s last batter. Fairchild stole second but relief pitcher Colin Holderman retired Maile, pinch-hitter Jeimer Candelario and India.

Reds manager David Bell made a curious move in the eighth after Fairchild walked. Due up was the team’s best bunter, Jacob Hurtubise. But Bell sent up Candelario to pinch-hit and he flied harmlessly to right on the first pitch.

There were only two other Reds runners. Santiago Espinal led the fifth with a single, the first hit off Keller, but Will Benson popped up, Fairchild grounded to first and Hurtubise fouled out.

India singled with one out in the sixth, but Elly De La Cruz flied to center and Spencer Steer lined to left.

The lower portion of the Reds batting order is an expansive wasteland. Benson is 0 for 12, Fairchild is 0 for 12 and Hurtubise is 0 for 12.

Pittsburgh had only two legitimate scoring scenarios against Greene. They put runners on third and second with two outs in the second and Greene struck out Michael A. Taylor.

Rowdy Tellez nearly homered with one out in the seventh. He trotted slowly
out of the box, admiring what he thought was a baseball disappearing over the fence. It crashed against the top of the wall and the slew-footed Tellez was nearly thrown out at second.

That ended Greene’s day and Fernando Cruz came on. He retired Ke’Bryan Hayes on a fly ball, walked Connor Joe, then coaxed a fly ball to right from Yasmani Grandal.

Cruz has stranded 22 of the 25 baserunners he has inherited this season.

But Martinez couldn’t finish it. Reynolds was 0 for 2 with a strikeout and hit by pitch when he came to bat in the eighth, his 16-game hitting streak an endangered species. But his 10th home run extended hls streak to 17 and was the game-decider.

McCoy: From Despising Willie Mays To Loving Him

By Hal McCoy

UNSOLICITED OBSERVATIONS from The Man Cave, wishing I had been able to cover and write about Willie Mays during his prime.

—TRULY A-MAYS-ING: It was 1954 and I despised Willie Mays. I was 14 and closed-eyes about any player that didn’t wear a Cleveland Indians uniform.

And when Mays made ‘The Catch’ on Vic Wertz in the first game of the 1954 World Series, Mays was a four-letter word in my vocabulary.

Then the years passed and I began to appreciate what Willie Mays was all about and I recognized him for what he was. There are great players and then there are legends.

Mays was on the top of any list of baseball legends. What he couldn’t do on a baseball field was. . .nothing.

Somebody once asked him if ‘The Catch’ was the best catch he ever made and he said, “I dont rate ‘em. I just catch ‘em.”

They called him The Say Hey Kid because he couldn’t remember names and that’s how he greeted most people, “Say, hey.” He wore his cap a size too small so it would fly off when he whizzed around the bases, “Because fans liked to see my hat fly off.”

His description of himself was simplistic, “They throw the ball, I hit it. They hit the ball, I catch.” But there was never anything simplistic about Willie’s majestic talent.

And he was appreciative of what Jackie Robinson, baseball’s first black player, meant for him. He once said, “Every time I look into my wallet, I see Jackie Robinson.”

Willie’s last year was 1973 and he was a part-timer with the New York Mets, his immense talent dwindling away. My first year covering baseball was 1973. I never interviewed him or talked to him.

It was my great loss. I went from despising him to developing a baseball worship of what he was. The best ever. Truly a-Mays-ing.

And now he’s gone. He passed away Tuesday at age 92. They said he died peacefully. He never did anything peacefully on a baseball field.

—A BIGGER HEAT WAVE: With the current heat wave, my great old sports writer friend George Castle from the Chicago-area reminded me of this miserable night in Wrigley Field on July 13, 1995.

At game time (7:05) as the Reds and Cubs took the field, it was 104 degrees with a heat-humidity index of 120.

During the four-game series, more than 700 died from the heat in Chicago.

Jose Rijo, feeling as if he was pitching in his native Dominican Republic, pitched five innings and gave up three runs and five hits. Jeff Brantley pitched the final 1 1/3 perfectly for his 15th save as the Reds won, 11-5.

Barry Larkins contributed a home run, a triple, three RBI and three runs scored.

And I remember vividly, my computer died an inglorious death, probably from the perspiration I dripped on it. I dictated my story off the top of my heat-infected head.

—QUIZ TIME: Name the pitchers who did the following things, which were the most in MLB history: Pitched seven no-hitters. PItched 12 one-hitters. Pitched 18 two-hitters. Pitched 31 three-hitters.

Answer: The same guy did it all. . Nolan Ryan. Wonder if he also threw the most four-hitters?

—WHAT’S IN A NAME: A current trend is for minor league baseball teams to come up with the most ridiculous and humorous nicknames possible, as in:

Carolina Disco Turkeys, Florence Y’Alls, Gastonia Honey Hunters, Binghamton Rumble Ponies, Norwich Sea Unicorns, Jacksonville Jumbo Shrimp, Eugene Exploding Whales, Lehigh Valley Iron Pigs, Hartford Yard Goats, Amarillo Sod Poodles, Montgomery Biscuits,.

Rocket City Trash Pandas, Akron Rubberducks, Burlington Sock Puppets, Savannah Bananas, Traverse City Pit Spitters, Modesto Nuts, Missoula Paddleheads, Fort Myers Mighty Mussels, Lansing Lugnuts, Sugar Land Space Cowboys.

Maybe it’s time for the Dayton Dragons to become the Dayton Air Donkeys (for Wright Patterson Air Force Base) or the Dayton Cash Crunchers (for NCR).

—LACE ‘EM UP: With most of my relatives from West Virginia, I am permitted to repeat what my all-time sports writing hero, Jim Murray, once wrote about Mountain Mama:

“They don’t stare at you in West Virginia if you are wearing shoes. They stare if you have laces in them.”

Or as Rodney Dangerfield said, “A guy in West Virginia mowed his grass the other day and found a car and two couches.”

—QUOTATION DEVICES: What somebody once said:

From magazine publisher Martin Quigley: “In the confrontation between batter and pitcher, it is the curveball that makes the hitter the underdog.” (Nick Lodolo says, “Oh, yeah.”)

From owner Ted Turner when his Atlanta Braves were really bad: “This losing streak is bad for our fans, but we’re making a lot of people happy in other citries.” (Ol’ glass half full Ted.)

From former manager Casey Stengel: “The secret of managing is to keep the players who hate you away from the guys who are undecided.” (What if they all hate you, Casey?)

From former player Dave Winfield: “Tom Cruise only makes one or two movies a year. A baseball player can be a hero or a goat 162 times a year.” (But most of the time, you were Top Gun, Dave.)

—PLAYLIST NUMBER 63: If you haven’t figured it out yet, I love music. And by popular demand (one person), here are my favorite singing groups and singers: Elvis Presley, Phil Collins, Meat Loaf, George Jones, Chicago, The Cars.

I Can Only Imagine (MercyMe), You Might Think (The Cars), New York Minute (Don Henley), Kokomo (Beach Boys), I’m Already There (Lonestar), All She Wants To Do Is Dance (Don Henley), Say Something (Christine Aguilera).

All I Have To Do Is Dream (Elvis Presley), The Grand Tour (George Jones), Lovin’ Her Was Easier (Kris Kristofferson), On Heaven’s Door (Bob Dylan), Do You Love Me? (The Contours), I’m Still Standing (Elton John), Weatherman (Hank Williams Jr.), Hold The Line (Toto).

McCoy: A ‘Nick’ In Time For Reds In 2-1 Win

By Hal McCoy

When it comes to being a stopper, Cincinnati Reds left-hander Nick Lodolo is as reliable as a plug in a bathroom sink.

With the Reds reeling under a three-game losing streak, Lodolo screwed a tight muzzle on the Pittsburgh Pirates Tuesday night in PNC Park, pitching the Reds to a tight-squeeze 2-1 win.

Lodolo was the master with seven innings of one-run four-hit pitching. That not only ended Cincinnati’s losing streak, it lifted Lodolo’s record to 8-2 with a 2.76 earned run average as he scribbles his name on an application to make the National League All-Star team.

It was his fourth win in his last four starts — 25 innings, six runs, 25 hits.

And it enabled the Reds to move back into a third-place tie with the Pirates, both at 35-38, with the final game of the series Wednesday afternoon.

Utility player Santiago Espinal, seldom a starter, cracked a two-run home run in the fifth inning, all the run support Lodolo needed.

The last time the Reds saw Pittsburgh lefty Bailey Falter they scored eight runs and hit four home runs in two innings. . .and lost, 13-12.

This time they got only two runs and seven hits against him over seven innings. . .and won, 2-1.

Lodolo received glossy defensive help to win this one. Jake Fraley made two outstanding plays in right field, Jonathan India made three above-and-beyond plays at second base. Stuart Fairchild made a run-saving catch in center field.

And Spencer Steer, a first baseman in recent games, was in left field on this night and went above the wall to snare a home run away from Michael A. Taylor in the fifth inning.

Espinal, making a rare start at third base, was as smooth as a fine Bordeaux defensively, with the big home run as a bonus.

It was 0-0 in the fifth when India doubled off the center field wall with one out. Espinal then reversed a Falter fastball that narrowly cleared the wall for a 2-0 lead.

When Espinal hit the ball, he dropped his head as he left the batter’s box, perhaps believing he didn’t put enough wood on it.

“When I started running, I saw the ball and I thought, ‘Oh my gosh, it’s gotta go,’” he said during a post-game interview with Bally Sports Ohio.

“I was trying to be aggressive in the count when we had a runner on second base,” he said. “He’s a pitcher who throws a lot of fastballs and I was just trying to be aggressive.”

It isn’t easy for a utility player, a spot starter, to keep an edge with the bat and Espinal acknowledged that.

“The first thing I do is I try to be mentally ready, that’s the most important thing,” he said. “I know I have to do my job, come in every day ready to compete and that’s what I’m doing.”

It didn’t start well for the Reds. They hit into 5-4-3 double plays in the first three innings.

Elly De La Cruz walked with one out in the first. Then it was Jeimer Candelario. 5-4-3 double play.

Steer opened the second with a walk. Then it was Tyler Stephenson. 5-4-3 double play.

Fraley led the third with a single and was caught stealing. Luke Maile singled. Then it was Fairchild. 5-4-3 double play.

Lodolo, though, kept the Pirates silent and was in dire straits just once. With two outs in the third, he gave up a single to Andrew McCutchen and a double to Bryan Reynolds, owner of a 16-game hitting streak.

No problem, no sweat. Lodolo struck out Connor Joe en route to a no-walk, eight-strikeout night.

He retired 11 in a row before Ke’Bryan Hayes homered with one out in the seventh on Lodolo’s 83rd pitch. Then he hit Edward Oliveros with a pitch, Lodolo’s 10th hit batsmen this season.

But he retired the next two flawlessly to end his night with a 2-1 lead.

Fernando Cruz took over for the eighth and issued a one-out walk to McCutchen. Reynolds blasted one to deep center and McCutchen, knowing he was the tying run, zipped around second and was nearly to third when center fielder Fairchild ran it down.

That enabled the Reds to easily double McCutchen off first base.

All that was left was for closer Alexis Diaz to pitch a 1-2-3 ninth for his 16th save in 18 opportunities.

“Stuart is amzing, man, especially defensively he is doing a good job,” said Espinal, who knows sensational defense when he sees it.

And the pitching?

“Lodolo was amazing and Cruz and Diaz helped us get the ‘w’ and we just gotta keep going tomorrow. Lodolo works very fast and is aggressive. I feel like every time he goes out he is going to throw seven or eight innings,” said Espinal

Espinal’s motto is, “Have glove, will play defense.”

“I always have confidence in my glove,” he said. “I feel that’s my priority right now, you know. Every time I take a ground ball (in practice), I take it seriously. That’s what I do, man, that’s what I do. And I work very hard on it. That’s why I’m here.”

And he’s there to hit two-run game-winning home runs once in a while, too.