Ask Hal: Is Reds rookie Jonathan India the real deal?

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 halmccoy1@hotmail.com.

Q: Can you believe that in this day and age that the New York Yankees still have a policy saying no facial hair and no hair below the collar? — DAVE, Miamisburg/Centerville/Beavercreek.

A: No, I can’t. It seems you can’t be a major league pitcher without a Gabby Hayes or Rutherford B. Hayes beard. As strong as the players union is, if a Yankee takes his case to flaunt whiskers to the union, he would win. The Cincinnati Reds had that policy and even traded pitcher Jim Kern because he wouldn’t comply. It stayed until 1999 when outfielder Greg Vaughn challenged it and owner Marge Schott relented. Vaughn and his beard were mightily intimidating.

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Q: Is Jonathan India the real deal, the next Joe Morgan or Brandon Phillips or Ron Oester? — ARLEY, Middletown.

A: The sample size is minuscule so far, but what you see is what you get and you see a lot. You see early maturity, unmitigated hustle, a willingness to sacrifice himself to play the game the right way and a defensive dandy. Let’s not hang Morgan or Phillips on him yet. Let him win Rookie of the Year first, which he says is his goal. You have to love a guy who shoots high.

Q: Uniform No. 14 is synonymous in Cincinnati with Pete Rose, but what Reds’ players wore it prior to him making it famous? — JR, Oxford.

A: Actually, Rose came close to making No. 27 famous. That’s the number he wore in spring training of 1963 and in an exhibition game in Indianapolis. But when Rose arrived at Crosley Field for Opening Day, No. 14 was hanging in his locker. And he wore it forevermore. From 1963 on, the number was worn only by Rose, except for 11 games in 1997 when his son, Pete Rose Jr., wore it. Finally, in 2016, it was officially retired. Names before Rose to wear No. 14 in Cincinnati: Tommy Harper, Curt Flood, Don Zimmer, Rockey Bridges, Chick Hafey and Paul Derringer.

Q: Since the Reds always play players with long-term contracts regardless of disastrous results, where can they hide Joey Votto in the lineup? — BOB, Washington Twp.

A: You can hide a player in any spot in the batting order. They always come to bat. And why would they hide Votto? Did you watch the San Francisco series and those two home runs Votto hit. Have you watched him hitting hard line drives so far this season? Votto is far from finished. He may no longer be an MVP, but he is still a VUP (Very Usable Player).

Q: Wade Miley, Tyler Mahle and Lucas Sims all work quickly with no spitting, scratching, rubbing or pacing between pitches, so can you recall other Reds pitchers who moved the game along quickly? — GREG, Beavercreek.

A: The master was Tom Browning, who worked so quickly that batters didn’t have time to adjust their batting gloves and shove down on their batting helmets. And teammates on the field love it. They have to stay alert and have no time to calculate their batting averages in their heads.

Q: Why do players think they have to wear their jewelry on the field? — ED, Kettering.

A: Because bling is the thing. They don’t have to wear it, they want to wear it, want to flaunt it. Pitchers are the worst offenders. It seems a bit distracting that after every pitch a pitcher has to tuck his 21-carat rope necklace back inside his jersey before the next pitch. Diamond earrings are a thing, too. There have been games delayed while a player hunts for his dislodged earring after a slide into second base. I am watching for the first NHL player to skate on the ice wearing a gold chain around his neck.

Q: It seemed that most major league teams used to use high draft picks on high school players, but now it seems the majority are college players and why is that? — MIKE, Fairborn.

A: College baseball has become excellent and sophisticated. Players learn fundamentals and are more advanced. High school players have to spend more time in the minors while they mature and learn the nuances of the game. College players reach the majors more quickly than high school players. And the No. 1 answer? Always the money, follow the money. Organizations save money by having colleges develop players instead of teams having to spend it on keeping high school players in the minors for a longer time while they mature and develop.

Q: Who was the worst player to try to interview and who was the best? — BILL, Kettering.

A: Pete Rose was, and still is, the best. Ask him one question, open your notebook and he will fill it up with great stuff. And it didn’t matter if you were from the New York Times or the York Yokel, he gave the same time and same answers. The worst are so many, the ones who give nothing but boring overused cliches like, “I was just trying to hit it hard and put it in play.” Well, duh.

The most difficult players I encountered were Barry Bonds, Jeff Kent and former Reds pitcher John Denny, who once punched a baseball writer. Those guys thought baseball writers and IRS auditors were one and the same.

QUESTION OF THE WEEK

Q: Who was the most unappreciated player on The Big Red Machine? — ALAN, Sugarcreek Twp.

A: Think about it. When The Big Red Machine is talked about, who is talked about? It’s Pete Rose, Johnny Bench, Tony Perez, Joe Morgan, Dave Concepcion. Notice somebody missing? It’s George Foster. The BRM didn’t really start humming until manager Sparky Anderson moved Pete Rose to third base and planted Foster into left field. Foster and his back beauty bat became lethal weapons. Foster was an integral part of that team’s success, but he usually is an afterthought in BRM conversations and to me he should be right at the top of the list.

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