OBSERVATIONS: There Are No ‘Fat’ Heads on the Reds Roster

By Hal McCoy

UNSOLICITED OBSERVATIONS from The Man Cave, watching the Cincinnati Reds get two hits over the last six innings and still beat the
Cubs, 6-5, and wondering if we’re seeing Team Destiny.

—NO BIG HEADS: Pulitzer Prize columnist Jim Murray, my Patron Saint of Words, typed this 62 years ago, in 1961.

“The Cincinnati Reds are too hot not to cool down. On the other hand, they’re like a snowball rolling downhill. You better stop them quick or they’ll get too big for you.”

Murray is no longer with us, but if he were still putting together words like no other sports writer ever did, he could use that same paragraph to describe the 2023 Reds.

For the most part, the young Reds are as green as a stack of cucumbers, but don’t show it. They stick together with the consistency of Gorilla Glue and a Three Musketeers approach of “One for all and all for one for one.”

With their unexpected success, one might think that rookie Elly De La Cruz, Matt McLain and Spencer Steer might suffer from swollen heads, but they all still wear the same size hats.

TJ Friedl belongs in that category, barely above rookie status. Outside of Cincinnati he is somewhere between anonymity and obscurity.

So it was neat to see him on MLB-TVs Intentional Talk, wearing a red tee-shirt that said, “Stay Strong.”

He has had to stay strong. He has made it the hard way. He didn’t get a scholarship, so he was a walk-on at the University of Nevada-Reno. And he was not drafted. But after the 2016 draft, the Reds signed him and he received $732,500, the largest signing bonus ever given to an undrafted free agent. Then he spent five years in the minors.

Friedl, a second cousin to University of Kentucky basketball coach John Calipari, taught himself to play the ukulele last year.

They call a hitter who specializes in singles a banjo hitter. Maybe a guy who beats out 10 bunts is a ukulele hitter.

—SWITCH IT UP: There is no doubt Elly De La Cruz, a switch-hitter, will hit home runs from both sides of the plate in one game. They’ll come as soon as he learns how to hit down-and-away breaking pitches so he doesn’t have to resume his seat in the dugout rather than triumphantly tour the bases

So who do you think has the most games with home runs from both sides of the plate in a single game? My instant answer? Mickey Mantle? No.

Mantle did it 10 times, but there are four players who did it more. And the two tied for first at 14 times would not be answered correctly by a baseball geek on Jeopardy.

They are Mark Teixeira and Nick Swisher. Carlos Beltra had 12 and Eddie Murray 11.

Pete Rose did it twice, both during the infancy of his carer, once in 1965 once in 1966.

—QUOTE: Hall of Famer Chipper Jones on switch-hitting: “You know, it takes a lot of work. It takes twice as much work to be a switch-hitter as it does to be one-sided. I can’t imagine walking up to the plate and facing a Kevin Brown or a Pedro Martinez righty-on-righty, or a a Randy Johnson or a Cliff Lee lefty-on-lefty. I thank God every day my dad made me turn around in the backyard and bat both ways.”

—ELLY ON THE TELLY: Speaking of switch-hitters, MLB-TV host Greg Amsinger and former MLB GM Dan O’Dowd watched a replay of Elly Del La Cruz’s bullet train home run against the Dodgers Sunday and engaged in this exchange:

AMSINGER: “The sky is the limit for this kid.”

O’DOWD: “Above the sky. Did you see how fast his hands are?” (Almost quicker than the naked eye and on the basepaths he seems faster than a bullet train. With four hits Sunday, Elly was hotter than a blacksmith’s belt buckle.

And before the home run, Dodgers fans were chanting, “Over-rated, over-rated.”)

—WHY NOT CINCY?: The Cleveland Guardians traded Aaron Civale, a good middle-of-the rotation pitcher, to the Tampa Bay Rays for their No. 4 prospect, first baseman Kyle Manzardo, their second-round pick in 2022..

So do you think the Reds could have acquired Civale for their No. 4 prospect, third baseman Cam Collier, Cincinnati first-round pick in 2022?

—POKEY OR POKEMON?: They played the 13th annual Hall of Fame Classic at Doubleday Field in Cooperstown, an old-timers game, and former Reds shortstop Pokey Reese was Player of the Game.

Pokey went 4 for 4 as his team, Team Bert (managed by former pitcher Bert Blyleven) defeaed Team Kittie (manager by former pitcher and Reds pitching coach Jim Kaat), 8-3.

Reese ripped a long single to right-center (a double back in his day), to drive in the game’s final two runs.

It was Pokey Reese who once said to me, “You know (Reds general manager) Jim Bowden is lying when his lips are moving.” I asked Pokey if he wanted that off the record and he said, “No, I want to be traded.”

At the end of the season he and pitcher Dennys Reyes were traded to Colorado for pitchers Gabe White and Luke Hudson.

—IT WAS CLOSE: Homer Bailey can rest comfortably. His record is safe. Bailey is the only MLB pitcher in history whose team (The 2018 Cincinnati Reds) lost 19 of his first 20 starts. Bailey was 1-14 that season.

Kansas City’s Jordan Lyles had a chance to tie Bailey Saturday night. The Royals had lost 18 of his 19 starts this season. But the Royals beat Minnesota, 10-7, and Lyles (2-12) got the win.

—INTENTIONAL WALK TALK: Hard to fathom, but Reds manager Lou Piniella ordered Chicago Cubs star Andre Dawson intentionallly walked five times in one game, a record that still exists.

The fifth one came in the 16th inning and it loaded the bases. Dave Clark then singled for a 2-1 walk-off win.

After the game, Piniella said, “How many times did we do it? Five? Oh, my God. But the situations warranted it.”

Dave Clark was not from the Dave Clark Five singing group, but he was ‘Glad All Over.’

—BIG, BAD BOB: Rickey Henderson, the world’s best base-stealer, even before they made the bases bigger than a MyPIllow, was reknowned for not knowing names, not even some of his teammates.

But he knew Bob Boone’s name. Boone, a former Reds manager, was a catcher for the Anaheim/Callifornia/Los Angeles Angels in 1982. He nailed Henderson three times in one game. He picked him off first in the first inning, caught him trying to steal in the second and caught him trying to steal in the sixth.

And that’s the year Henderson set the all-time single-season record with 130 steals.

Henderson, who retired with 1,406 thefts, tried to steal 34 times against Boone and was caught 15 times.

—QUOTE: From Rickey Henderson, who always referred to himself in the third person: “I’m not a bad guy. I don’t think any of my teammates think I’m a bad guy. I feel Rickey Henderson is a great guy. Rickey Henderson is a performer. I give entertainment.”

—TAKE THE MONEY AND GO: Geesh, how bad did the New York Mets want pitcher Max Scherzer to go away and take his mitt with him? They traded him to the Texas Rangers, but they are still going to pay him $35 million. The Ranger only have to pay $22.5 million of the $57.5 million left on his contract.

Wonder how much of Justin Verlander’s similar contract will the Mets munch on if/when they trade him?

—PERPLEXNG STAT: With one of baseball’s highest payroll and lineup stuffed with offensive weapons, how can this be?

The San Diego Padres are 0-10 in extra-inning games and 6-18 in one-run games. GM A.J. Preller doesn’t need a barber. He is tearing his own hair out.

—NO TINY TIM: Former Philadelphia Eagles middle linebacker Tim Rossovich was six degrees north of nuts.

He once challenged a guy to a race and drank a quart of motor oil to get ready. He once stripped naked, covered his entire body with shaving cream and ran up and down a Philadelphia thoroughfare. He once set himself on fire and walked into a party that he was not invited to attend.

When he was at USC, he took a shower, then climbed outside to stand naked on an eight-inch ledge. When the Dean of Students asked why he did it, Rossovich said, “It was a windy day and I thought it was a good way to dry.”

But he was good. In a game against the Atlanta Falcons he made 16 straight tackles. Before each play, he looked across the Falcons line and said, “I love you guys, but I gott mess you up.”

Everybody knew who exactly was “messed up.”

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