Ask Hal: ‘Old-school’ managers a dwindling breed

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: I recall a player signing a huge contract and saying he needed the money to feed his family, so does baseball have its own poverty line when it comes to salaries? — DAVE, Miamisburg/Centerville/Beavercreek.

A: I’ll steal a line from Boston writer Leigh Montville, who wrote, “With their first contract, a lot of players make their first purchase a sports car that requires jet fuel.” Of course, a player needs the money to feed his family, no matter how large the contract. A portion, a very small portion, goes to putting food (lots of it) on the table. Players probably believe the poverty line is anything below $563,500, which is the MLB minimum.

Q: It seems as if every manager makes his moves based on computer data, but are there any baseball minds left that use logic, experience and could the Reds drag 77-year-old Lou Piniella back to old-school the team? — STEVE, Clayton.

A: Mike Shildt of the St. Louis Cardinals seems to manage by the seat of his pants, but it is the style these days to manage by keyboard. The Reds are part of that and don’t want oldschool. Piniella was an advisor but quit and said the team didn’t much listen to him. And he said he is finished managing, even though he remains vibrant and in-touch.

Q: Do the Reds' problems (over the years) have a basis in the fact that they have had a series of weak field managers, because I remember teams under Sparky Anderson, Lou Pineilla and Dusty Baker where the teams had great fundamentals and a constant sense of urgency? — MICHAEL, Springfield.

A: It’s the old line about being careful about your wishes. It seemed everybody in Reds Country wanted Dusty Baker fired because they thought he had no sense of urgency in the playoffs. Well, the Reds haven’t had a winning season since they dumped Dusty. Most managers are only as good as their personnel. They’ve only had two managers since Dusty, Bryan Price and David Bell and I’m not sure what you mean by weak. Ask any umpire how weak Bell is.

Q: If David Bell is so hung up on running the Reds via computer models then why does he play Joey Votto on the road with his .081 average and why not just play him at home? — KENNETH, Tipp City.

A: Votto’s road/home splits are bizarre, even during a bizarre season. He is hitting under .100 on the road and close to .400 at home, the widest road/home splits for anybody in baseball. But benching him on the road is a bit drastic because he can become sizzling hot at the drop of a hanging slider. Maybe the he should wear his home uniform on the road.

Q: If a batter hits the ball in the gap, can he carry his bat with him as he runs the bases? — MARK, Austin Landing.

A: There is no rule that says you can’t. Pedro Serrano did it when he hit a home run in the movie Major League. That’s a movie, not real life. During last year’s World Series both Houston’s Alex Bregman and Washington’s Juan Soto carried their bats all the way to first base on home runs and it was frowned upon. You have to believe umpires would pull the ejection button if a player did it on a ball in play, fearing he might skull the shortstop to prevent him from taking a throw.

Q: Who do you think will make the playoffs first, the Reds or the Bengals? — RON, Vandalia.

A: Can I be cruel and say neither in my lifetime? Well, I do turn 80 in October. Actually, the Reds have first shot at it. The Bengals have an outside shot, too. After all, they do play outside. Why didn’t you ask me about the Cleveland Browns?

Q: Could you please provide some bio information on Tommy Thrall, who seems very comfortable in the booth? — JIM, Fairborn.

A: Yes, they have very comfortable chairs in the booth. Seriously, Thrall has slipped smoothly into Marty Brennaman’s chair, a difficult task. Thrall is easy to listen to and very professional. Before getting the Reds gig, he was the play-by-play annoucer for the Class AA Pensacola Blue Wahoos. Thrall grew up in Smithville, Mo., and attended Northwest Missouri State University, where he called football, basketball and baseball games. While in Pensacola he did freelance TV sports reporting and radio play-by play for University of West Florida football and basketball games.

Q: It seems to me the Reds had better won-loss records when the had a no facial hair policy, so do you think it would be worth a try by investing in some razors? — GREG, Beavecreek.

A: The Bob Howsam no facial hair policy only worked because the players adhered to it. I often wondered what Howsam would have done if Pete Rose, Joe Morgan and Johnny Bench grew mustaches and beards. One reason Bobby Tolan was traded was because he grew facial hair. ZZ Top beards are the rage in baseball these days and if the Reds tried to enforce a facial hair policy the players would file grievances because there is no rule against it. It amazes me that the New York Yankees get away with it.


Q: What do players do at the alternate training sites? — DENNIS, Huber Heights.

A: Not sure what all teams do, but I do know the Reds play a lot of intrasquad games and simulated games. Plus players are given personal and detailed instruction. The games, of course, are nothing like the real thing, but with no minor league games it is as close as they can get as they wait their chance because the Reds seem to make transactions nearely every day.

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