Ask Hal: Frustrating to watch Reds attempt to bunt

Hall of Fame baseball writer Hal McCoy knows a thing or two about our nation’s pastime. Tap into that knowledge by sending an email to

Q: With the way players jump from team to team, are you hesitant to purchase your favorite player’s jersey? — DAVE, Miamisburg/Centerville/Beavercreek.

A: The next jersey I buy with a player’s name on it will be my first. I’ve never understood why a grown man would wear a shirt with somebody else’s name on it. As they say, to each his own. I do, though have a collection of MLB hats that includes the Montreal Expos, Seattle Pilots and Houston Colt 45s. But keep a lid on that.

Q: I’ve noticed Jesse Winker bunting against the shift a couple of times lately and wonder why more players don’t do it? — JIM, Leitchfield, Ky.

A: Yes, he did. And did you notice he fouled both off? Folks seem to believe it is easy to bunt a rising 98 miles an hour fastball or a sinking 90 miles an hour slider. It isn’t. It might be a bit easier if they practiced it more, but they don’t. With the shift, it doesn’t have to be a great bunt, Just get it down. They get it down, but they get it foul. It’s frustrating to watch.

Q: Nick Castellanos has the choice of staying with the Reds next season or optout of his contract, so what will it take to keep him for 2022? — RON, Princeton, W.Va.

A: While Castellanos loves it in Cincinnati, love his teammates and is happy, what he wants most is to win. If the Reds can make the playoffs and win a round or two, he might stay. If not, well, his 2022 contract is for $16 million. With the season he is having, he probably can add $9 million more in free agency and land a long-term deal. Can the Reds afford that? Doubt it.

Q: Which catcher do you consider to be the best all-around player, Tucker Barnhart or Tyler Stephenson? — JAY, Englewood.

A: I’d say Johnny Bench, but he is a bit beyond his prime. Barnhart is the veteran with two Gold Gloves. Stephenson is a rookie getting schooled. And to Barnhart’s credit, he is teaching Stephenson all he knows. At 6-feet-4, Stephenson is a bit tall for a catcher and is playing some first base and learning that position on the fly. Barnhart is by far the better receiver. Stephenson knows what to do with a bat. Neither one is a liability behind the plate or in the lineup.

Q: Isn’t it time that Luis Castillo was sent down like everyone else and hasn’t he had enough chances? DON, Riverside.

A: It is so easy to trample somebody with both feet when that person is already down. For one thing, with Jeff Hoffman and Michael Lorenzen on the injured list, the Reds have few options. And everybody does not get sent down. I could see the Reds skipping Castillo a turn, if the opportunity arises, to let him clear his mind and get in a lot of work with pitching coach Derek Johnson. I found it interesting that Johnson considers himself a failure for not getting Castillo untracked, but Johnson can’t go to the mound with Castillo. He has to figure it out himself. Right now, a demotion probably would do more harm than good.

Q: Do umpires still rub up the baseballs with that special mud before each game? – DENNIS, Huber Heights.

A: Yes, it is the home plate umpire’s duty, but he often shifts the task to the clubhouse attendant. The mud, which takes the shiny gloss off the baseballs, comes from the New Jersey side of the Delaware River. A guy named Jim Bintliff gathers 69,000 pounds of the gook and stores it over the winter. He cleans it and strains it and sells it to MLB. Why couldn’t I have come up with that idea. There is plenty of mud on the Great Miami shore.

Q: If baseball is serious about making games shorter, why not restrict the use of Velcro on batting gloves so players can’t adjust them between every pitch? — BRIAN, Bellbrook.

A: Players would just find other ways to fiddle around. Do they take away belts so players don’t continue to hitch up their pants? How about batting helmets that they constantly yank on or push down? Frankly, though, I’d be in favor of banning batting gloves altogether. Ty Cobb, Ted Williams, Hank Aaron and Babe Ruth survived without them.

Q: Who are the three best bunters for hits you’ve covered for the Reds? — DICK, Hendersonville, Ky.

A: The best, by far, was Norris Hopper. He was a master at pushing hard bunts against left-handed pitchers between the pitcher’s mound and first base and beating them out. In 2007, he bunted safely 18 times. Second best was outfielder Dave Collins, the Rapid City Rabbit. He still holds the South Dakota high school 100-yard dash record and used that speed to beat out drag bunts. I only saw Vada Pinson briefly, but he bunted trying for a hit 44 times in his career and was successful 31 times, a 70 per cent success ratio. Pinson is no longer with us, but the Reds should hire one of the other two as a bunting instructor.

Q: If you could change one thing about Great American Ball Park, other than the talent on the field, what would it be? — MARK, Bumpus Mills, Tenn.

A: Although the park us stuffed into what they call The Wedge, a small parcel of land, there has to be some way to move the fences back. There is a reason it is called Great American Small Park. Home runs are like flea market suits, very cheap. When the Reds are in other parks, when long fly balls are hit, the broadcasters constantly say, “That would have been a home run in GABP.” Yes, they would. And they shouldn’t be.”

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