Ask Hal: Don’t blame pitching coach for bullpen’s struggles

Reds pitch coach Derek Johnson, right, talks to catch Curt Casali after a mound visit during a game against the Astros on Monday, June 17, 2019, at Great American Ball Park in Cincinnati. David Jablonski/Staff

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Reds pitch coach Derek Johnson, right, talks to catch Curt Casali after a mound visit during a game against the Astros on Monday, June 17, 2019, at Great American Ball Park in Cincinnati. David Jablonski/Staff

Q: Was watching baseball on black and white TV back in the day better without all the overlays on the screen? DAVE, Miamisburg/Centerville/Beavercreek.

A: Watching Howdy Doody and I Love Lucy on black-and-white was fine, but not baseball. They only used one camera from behind home plate and you couldn’t follow the ball. Now they use about a dozen cameras, and they get so close you can count the hairs on the pitcher’s mustache. As for the crawls at the bottom of the picture, they are easily ignored. But I like them because they provide a lot of information. But I do wish they’d bring back the announcers from the black-and-white days.

Q: Is Cincinnati Reds pitching coach Derek Johnson ruining his reputation with this pitching staff, the worst in baseball and does he agree with manager David Bell on relievers, where no one knows their role or when they might be used? — JOHN, Washington Twp.

A: Derek Johnson’s reputation is impeccable, and he is doing excellent work with the development of young pitchers. Bell relies heavily on Johnson’s vast knowledge. With the current make-up of the bullpen, heavily damaged by injury and lack of talent, it is difficult to define roles. As a relief pitcher, though, you shouldn’t need defined roles or know when you might pitch. Just be ready when and where you are called upon. And quit giving up home runs.

Q: Since next year is Joey Votto’s last year of his contract, how does his option year work the following season? — MIKE, Dayton.

A: Votto returns next season at his same $25 million salary. For the 2024 season, the Reds have a $20 million option. If they don’t pick it up, they owe Votto a $7 million buyout. If Votto doesn’t turn his season around quickly this season and have a bounce back 2023, I see no way the Reds pick up that option. It will save them $13 million. If that happens, don’t feel sorry for Joey V. With next year’s salary and a buyout, he will make $260,263,155.00 from the Reds. And that’s not counting endorsements and outside income. To keep himself busy and amused, if he doesn’t go into managing, he could work for Tik Tok.

Q: On a scale of 1 to 10, with 10 being the highest, how would you rate (former Reds GM) Bob Howsam? — DAVE, Hattiesburg, Miss.

A: I’d give him an ‘11.’ For starters, he was the construction engineer of The Big Red Machine. That’s worth a ‘10′ alone. Behind the scenes, he was one of the world’s most considerate human beings. Nearly every day he had flowers sent to the desks of his female employees. He belongs in the Baseball Hall of Fame. I was on the Veterans Committee twice and pushed hard for him, but I always came up a couple of votes short. Why? I have no clue.

Q: Dangling jewelry, pajama pants, pants above the knees, different colored sleeves that are not team colors, shoes every shade of the rainbow and then some, long hairs and scruffy beards — what do you think about all this in baseball? — JOHN, Troy.

A: Every clubhouse used to have a drawing on the bulletin board put there by MLB showing how every major league player should look, how the uniform should be worn. Those were the days when team concept was in vogue. Now, it seems, MLB is trying to cater to the young and the restless and encourages individuality. Wear the uniform any way you want, boycott your barber, frequent your favorite jeweler. I hate it all, especially the baseball pants worn above the knees and the showy jewelry. I know for certain that Bob Howsam, who wanted every player to look identical, right down to black shoes with no logos showing, is looking down wondering why baseball players look so clownish.

Q: The 1990 Reds had the Nasty Boys in their bullpen, so what name would you use to describe the 2022 Reds bullpen? — ALAN, Sugarcreeek Twp.

A: The Nasty Boys (Randy Myers, Norm Charlton, Rob Dibble) and fellow relievers Rick Mahler and Tim Layana got most of the work. Five guys. Tim ‘Big Bird’ Birtsas made 29 bullpen appearances and Scott Scudder was used in relief 11 times. Six others made a combined total of 33 appearances. Contrast that with this year. The season is just half over, and the Reds have used 19 different pitchers in relief, none with any consistency. A name? Do they deserve one that isn’t negative, like Firestarters or The Pigpen or The Disaster Boys or the No Relief Boys?

Q: Is the team captain an outdated concept in baseball? — MARTHA, Clayton.

A: I’d say, yes, it is. It really doesn’t mean much in baseball. It is more like an honorary degree. The last two captains for the Reds were Barry Larkin and Dave Concepcion. And those were given for the longevity they both had with the Reds. But it meant something to Concepcion. He wore that extra ‘C’ on his jersey with immense pride.

Q: In your 49 years of covering the Reds was it common to dine out with players or coaches while on the road and if so, who were your favorites to hang with? — TOM, Denton, Tex.

A: In the interest of objectivity, the BBWAA discourages fraternization with the players, which I ignored a few times on the tennis court. But I did not partake of meals with players, coaches or managers. There were a few times while I was eating breakfast at the team hotel Pete Rose would wander in and plop down at my table. What was I to say, “Hey, Pete, buzz off.” No way. We partook of our omelets, and he dazzled me with his endless supply of stories.

Q: As you know, I live in Norway and wonder if you’ve been to Europe and what was your favorite food and drink? — GEE, Oslo, Norway.

A: Nadine and I have been to Italy, Germany, France, Spain, Portugal and England. This fall we’re going to Hungary and The Netherlands. Memories are plentiful, especially Normandy Beach, the Venice canals, The Vatican and the Sistine Chapel. I love Italian food so any dinner in Rome, Florence and Venice were fabulous. Unlike most, I dislike most German beers. Too strong. I found one I liked in Portugal and, surprise, surprise, I forget the brand.

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