Ask Hal: Hall of Famer answers your baseball questions

Q: Has it ever been disheartening for you to report on Cincinnati Reds games and witness a significant number of unoccupied seats? — DAVE, Miamisburg/Centerville/Beavercreek.

A: I’m certain you are referring to the 29,000 empty seats last Sunday in Great American Ball Park. I mentioned it to Nadine and she said, “It’s Easter.” Then I saw full houses at Philadelphia and Los Angeles and I told her, “It must not be Easter in Philly and LA.” The only seat I wanted occupied was mine in the press box. Attendance is the domain of the marketing department and it’s sad it needs bobbleheads, trinkets and post-game music groups to fill seats.

Q: Why does Reds manager David Bell not let a relief pitcher pitch more than one inning even though he pitches a perfect inning? — PENNIE, Springfield.

A: As an old-schooler, I’m with you on this one. But it isn’t just Bell, it’s new school baseball and rampant. All teams do it because baseball people are great mimickers. Relief pitchers are groomed these days to pitch one inning and then vacate the premises. As an example, last Monday the Reds and Phillies were tied, 2-2. Philadelphia’s Yunior Marte pitched a perfect eighth. Gone. Jose Alvarado pitched a scoreless ninth with two strikeouts. Gone. Then the Phillies put in Connor Brogdon, historically as wild as the beasts of Borneo. True to form, he walked the first two before giving up a grand slam to Spencer Steer. And the boos in Citizens Bank Park could be heard in Slaughter Beach, Delaware.

Q: In their prime, if Eric Davis, Deion Sanders and Elly De La Cruz ran a 100-meter race, who would win.

A: Don’t blink or you would miss that race. I never saw anybody go from first to third as fast as Neon Deion. And I never saw a guy steal second, third and home on two pitches the way De La Cruz did. Davis could be a one-man outfielder and cover it from foul line to foul line. It would be a 1-2-3 blanket finish — De La Cruz, Sanders and Davis. But we’ll never know for certain.

Q: Which manager left you scratching your head the most over in-game decisions? — JOHN, Fort Wayne, IND.

A: All 19 had their moments. Yes, I’ve covered 19 Reds managers. The winner, though, is Vern Rapp, who lasted less than a year and for good reason. He ran things like he was coaching a high school team. He hung signs all over the clubhouse wall with sayings like, “When in doubt, slide.” And during games he made notes on a file card to relate to writers after games. It was my misfortune to accidentally inform Rapp that he was fired before the front office told him.

Q: When you were a rookie in 1973, how long was it before you felt comfortable in the clubhouse and was there a writer who made the season easier for you? — LARRY, Dallas, TX.

A: I must admit the first few times I walked into that clubhouse, I was frightened and intimidated to see Pete Rose, Johnny Bench and Tony Perez. Ask them a question? Are you kidding me? Fortunately, a veteran writer and Hall of Famer Earl Lawson of the Cincinnati Post came to my rescue. From the first day he told me, “Kid, just follow me around, keep your mouth shut, and I’ll show you how to do this job.” I did and he did and that’s why I always try to help young writers in any way I could.

Q: Denny McLain won 31 games for the Detroit Tigers in 1968 and will we ever see a pitcher win more than 30 games in a season? — LARRY, Washington Twp.

A: Thirty? Are you kidding me? How about 20? That has become rare. Pitchers these days don’t come close to completing 20 games, let alone win that many. It is the way of today’s game. Starting pitchers go five innings and believe they’ve done their job, time to turn it over to the bullpen. McLain completed 28 games in 1968. Pitchers in today’s game won’t complete 28 games during their entire careers.

Q: What player was your first interview? — ROBERT, Big Canoe, GA.

A: I can’t remember the player, but I’ll never forget the manager. It was Dave Bristol. Gary Nolan was coming off an injury and threw in the bullpen before a game. The Reds won a close game, but my first question to Bristol was, “How did Nolan look?” He gave me a look that singed my eyebrows and said, “We just won a great damn game, and you ask about Nolan?” I slinked away. Years later, I related the story to Bristol, a great baseball guy and greater person, and he laughed and said, “I loved to intimidate young writers.” He certainly was successful in that endeavor with me.

Q: Who was the most superstitious player you ever saw? — RON, Dayton.

A: To some extent, most have superstitions or small peccadillos. The most bizarre to me was one enacted by former Reds relief pitcher Rob Murphy. As a gag one day, he wore his girlfriend’s black bikini panties under his uniform. That night he pitched three perfect innings, so the black panties became part of his uniform the rest of the season. Murphy loved horse racing and owned a thoroughbred named Rosin Bag.

Q: Pete Maravich’s book related how tough his father, Press, was on him, so did your boys have it tough growing up with a Hall of Famer? — DAVE, Springboro.

A: That’s a question for Brian and Brent. Yes, I was too tough and critical of them, more than I should have been. Both were very good baseball players, Brian a catcher and Brent a pitcher/hitter. But covering baseball all summer, I seldom saw them play unless the Reds had an off day at home. But both were star basketball players and I never missed a game. I witnessed Brian scoring 37 points to set a school record. I saw Brent hit a three-pointer at the buzzer to win the league championship. And Brian became a freshman/junior varsity basketball coach and I kept the scorebook for him for every game. But I’ll let them grade me as a dad.

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