Thousands of fans stand during the National Anthem prior to the start of the Reds Opening Day game against Philadelphia Monday, April 4 at Great American Ball Park in Cincinnati. NICK GRAHAM/STAFF

Ask Hal: Pulse of baseball remains strong

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 have memories of Sparky Anderson turning in his lineup card with a smile and today I see a stressed-out face when Bryan Price turns in his lineup. Which is more battle-tested? — DAVE, Miamisburg/Centerville/Beavercreek.

A: Actually, Bryan Price smiles when he turns in his card because his lineup is full of good hitters and scores a lot of runs. The frowns come when he has to go to the mound in the fourth inning and take out his starting pitcher. And it was the same with Sparky Anderson, known as Captain Hook for quickly removing his starters. Any stress involving Price involves hoping and praying his pitchers can keep baseballs from limping out of Great American Small Park.

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Q: How do the attendance numbers today compare to the attendance numbers in the 70s and 80s? It seems like football and basketball have become more popular than baseball. — RYAN, Dayton.

A: While the NBA and NFL have increased tremendously in popularity over the years, the prevailing theory that baseball is dying is a misnomer. From 1970 through 1976 the average attendance at a baseball game was about 15,000. In the 1990s it was 25,000. Since 2000 it has been slightly above 30,000. And before 2000, every game was not available on television as they are now. And don’t judge the game’s popularity these days by all those empty seats you are seeing in Great American Ball Park. That’s merely a reaction to the team’s rebuilding. Fans still want to see winners. Now.

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Q: Is it true there is a Broadway play about the Cincinnati Reds center fielder? — BRAD, Mountain View, Hawaii.

A: You are referring to the hit musical Hamilton at the Richard Rodgers Theatre, a show that won 11 Tony Awards last year. I attended, believing it was the story about a kid who runs across the grass without bending the blades, robbing hitters of base hits and getting robbed of a Gold Glove award. Alas, it was a story about some really old guy who had something to do with founding this great nation. Boring.

Q: Those defensive shifts MLB teams put on these days always seem to be against left-handers. Does any team shift against right-handers? — LARRY, Piqua.

A: Yes, all the time. I saw the Colorado Rockies put three infielders to the left side of second base against Adam Duvall. And I saw the Reds do the same thing against Edwin Encarnacion. There is one major difference. When teams shift against a left-hander, they put the second baseman 30 or 40 feet into right field. When they shift against right handers, all three infielders stay on the dirt. They can’t put one of the infielders in short left field because the throw to first would be too long and too late. Shifts sometimes work when the hitter doesn’t put the ball in the seats, where no defender can stand.

Q: Why do starting pitchers take so long to get ready, up to 20 minutes, when relief pitchers take only five minutes or so? — GREG, Beavercreek.

A: It’s all about timing. A starting pitcher has as much time as he needs because the game is not underway and he can warm up at his leisure. Relief pitchers are usually called upon in an emergency situation when trouble surfaces and they have to get ready in a hurry. If you watch, a relief pitcher who knows he has a whole inning to warm up before he comes into a game, like a closer, takes his good ol’ time, too.

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Q: What do you think about Bronson Arroyo as a set-up guy in the eighth inning with his funky stuff, followed in the ninth by somebody throwing 95 miles an hour? — AL, Centerville.

A: If Arroyo pitched the eighth and a hard thrower like Michael Lorenzen or Raisel Iglesias pitched the ninth, they would be facing different hitters, so the difference in speed would not matter. Manager Bryan Price likes the current makeup of his bullpen, as he should because it has been so good. I’d love to see Arroyo stick around as a roving minor league pitching coach, but he probably doesn’t want to do that. When his days are done, the laid-back guy probably will pack up his guitar and retire to a life of no-stress leisure.

Q: When I watch Raisel Iglesias it takes me back to my youth watching Tom Hall pitch in relief for the Reds, two diminutive guys who threw/throw very hard. Do you see the resemblance? — RON, Jamestown

A: Tom Hall was known as ‘The Blade’ because he was so skinny — 6 feet, 150 pounds. Iglesias is a bit meaty at 6-2 and 188. Hall, a left-hander, was 10-1 with a 2.61 ERA for the 1972 Reds. While primarily a relief pitcher (40 appearances) he also started seven games. Like Hall, Iglesias has started games in his career. Yes, both throw very hard for their statures, but it is all about arm strength and mechanics. Hall was traded to the Mets early in 1975 for some pitcher named Mac Scarce, who made himself very scarce, never appearing in a game for the Reds. Let’s hope they don’t make the same mistake with Iglesias.

Q: Baseball teams can draft high school graduates and college players who have completed three years, so how about two-year junior college players or players who flunk out of school? — DENNY, Huber Heights.

A: The draft rules are clear. A high school player has to have graduated and not yet attended a college or junior college. Players in four-year colleges must have completed their junior or senior years. Junior college players may be drafted at any time. Players who flunk out of college may be considered a big risk, but they can be drafted after what would have been their junior or senior years, thus preventing any skulduggery.

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