Ask Hal: Should the Reds move the fences back at GABP?

Credit: David Jablonski

Credit: David Jablonski

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: As a traveling baseball writer did you ever face the frustrations of flight delays, making hotel bookings or struggle to find cabs? — DAVE, Miamisburg/Centerville/Beavercreek.

A: While traveling with the Cincinnati Reds for 37 years, I was a fortunate guy. There were a few flight delays. Richard Lewis, a friend and travel agent, made all my airline and hotel bookings and knew how to give me enough time to go from city to city. I had one major incident. A flight from St. Louis to San Diego was canceled. No other flight to San Diego got me there by game time. So I hopped a flight to Los Angeles and rented a car. I drove to San Diego and almost made it when the rental car blew a tire a couple of miles from the stadium. I abandoned the car and summoned a cab and made it within a half hour of the first pitch. Alas, the Reds lost.

Q: Can anything be done to extend the dimensions of the bandbox known as Great American Ball Park? — ARLEY, Middletown.

A: They moved the fences in at Detroit’s Comerica Park, that’s easy. But if they did it at GABP it would be like Volunteer Stadium, home of the Little League World Series in Williamsport, Pa. They moved the left-field wall back in Baltimore’s Camden Yards. And, yes, they could remove several rows of seats in the left field and right field bleachers in GABP and remove the grassy knoll behind the center field wall. To me, though, the dimensions are part of the stadium’s charm. And remember, it benefits the Reds as much as the opposition because the Reds play there 81 times a year. Let’s leave it alone and continue to add to a pitcher’s misery.

Q: Is it random when umpires check a pitcher’s glove? — JOHN, Pendleton, IND.

A: It isn’t just the glove. They check hands, arms, neck, hair and belt buckle. They always check a relief pitcher’s hands when he comes in to make sure he didn’t get a manicure in the bullpen instead of warming up. The rest of the time it is random and an umpire can and does stop a pitcher on his way to the dugout at any time, even if the pitcher is in a hurry to reach the bathroom.

Q: Until this year, I had never heard the phrase sword pitch, so what is it? — DeVAUGHN, Memphis, TN.

A: Since the Three Musketeers never played baseball, it is certain the term never came from them. It is not a pitch; it is a swing — an ugly embarrassing half-swing. It is when a batter is completely fooled and makes a half-effort stab at the ball. Hence, sword. But I wish broadcasters would keep the term sheathed.

Q: What are your thoughts on the sudden retirement of MLB umpire Angel Hernandez? — MARK, Cocoa, FL.

A: To most managers, players, and fans, he was no Angel. To them it is, “What took so long?” It shows how strong the umpire’s union is in that MLB could not get rid of the most controversial umpire ever. He worked for 33 years but was never promoted to crew chief. He was not chosen to umpire a World Series since 2005. He only worked 10 games last season due to a back injury but missed 162 calls, more than 16 a game, according to Umpires Auditor. He worked the 2018 American League Division Series and had three calls at first base reversed. It is curious that he retired mid-season and cited the often-used reason, “To spend more time with my family.” After 33 years and a $400,000 salary? It reminds of when former President Harry S. Truman was asked if he played baseball and he said his eyesight was too poor to play, “So they made me an umpire.”

Q: When was the last time the Reds executed a suicide squeeze play, at least 20 years ago? — JACK, Miamisburg.

A: Most Reds fans believe the last suicide squeeze was executed by Methuselah when he was a teenager. Not so. On May 12, 2018, with Billy Hamilton on the run from third base, Alex Blandino dropped a bunt, a big run in the Reds 5-3 win over the Dodgers. On Sept. 8 of the same year, Phillip Ervin pushed one up the first base line to score a run. And on June 16, 2016, Ramon Cabrera executed a perfect suicide squeeze to score Eugenio Suarez in the 11th inning of a game in Houston, an insurance run in a 4-2 victory. So it is in the Reds’ arsenal and could re-appear any day now.

Q: What do you think of the commercial where the Reds players say, “David Bell doesn’t yell at us, it’s not whether we win or lose but if we gave it our best effort?” — JACK, Hamilton.

A: After seeing Bell go face-to-face with umpires and seeing him amputate a chair in the dugout, I find it difficult to believe that he doesn’t at least let out a screech occasionally in a player’s ear. And I know those who played for Lou Piniella or Jack McKeon or Davey Johnson would never say it because they’d be lying. As far as the commercial’s message, I see nothing wrong. All a manager can ask is maximum effort and the results are out of his control.

Q: What are the cards that players have in their back pockets that they look at during the game? — HARRY, Dayton.

A: A friend asked me if they are the player’s baseball card with his picture on it that he admires. No … or least I don’t think so. They are cheat sheets put together by the analytics folks telling the outfielders where to play each hitter based on statistics and scouting reports. I’ve often wondered how they get so much information jammed on a card the size of a wedding invitation.

Q: Is Albert Belle getting a Hall of Fame snub because of his attitude with the writers? — PHIL, Canton, OH.

A: Maybe the writers are confused and think he is two players. He first went by Joey Belle and then switched to Albert Belle. But a Belle by any other name was still a nasty guy with the media. His answer to that was, “I talked to the writers. They just didn’t like my answers.” But there are players in the Hall of Fame who didn’t get along with the writers. Belle’s numbers? Definitely Hall of Fame caliber and he always got my vote for his 12-year career, mostly with Cleveland — .295 average, 381 homers, 385 doubles and 1,239 RBI.

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