The Real McCoy

Hall of Fame baseball writer Hal McCoy shares his thoughts on the Cincinnati Reds
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McCoy: Christmas for Billy Hamilton is batting leadoff

When Billy Hamilton walked into the clubhouse Friday night and saw the lineup board, he wanted to jump and click his heels — something he can easily do.

Instead of finding his name at the bottom of the batting order, ninth, he was back at the top, batting leadoff for the first time since late April

“It was like Christmas for me when I came in and saw the lineup,” said Hamilton. “I was messing with (manager) Jim Riggleman and I asked him, ‘Did your hand slip? What happened? Did you mean to put me there?”

It was no slip of the pen. Riggleman says it is time.

After spending most of the season near or below the Mendoza Line (.200), Hamilton entered Saturday’s game against the San Francisco Giants with a nine-game hitting streak. And he is hitting .288 over his last 15 games, bumping his average to .238.

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“With so many guys out of our lineup ( Joey Votto, Scott Schebler, Jesse Winker, Adam Duvall) I felt like it is a good time to go ahead and try it again,” said Riggleman. “My hope is that he stays there. I thought about it a couple weeks ago, but I didn’t want to put him at leadoff and then take him out again. I’d like to leave him there for a while.

“That’s the place where he can help the ball club the most,” Riggleman added. “His play in the last month or so indicates that now is the time to do it. We certainly need it now.”

Hamilton has checked the lineup card day after day after day hoping to see his name at leadoff. After all, batting ninth behind the pitcher is somewhat embarrassing.

“It is so good to be back up there and I have to prove I want to be there and deserve to be there,” said Hamilton. “I take pride in it and I’m happy to get the chance again to be up there where I belong and where I want to be.”

AS HE SPOKE, HAMILTON was patting a raggedy black glove, a glove without his name stitched on it. The rest of the gloves in his locker all have ‘Hamilton’ stitched on the thumb.

He loans out the newer ones to guys like Dilson Herrera, infielders who are being tested in the outfield and need gloves.

“Not my gamer, not my baby,” said Hamilton. “They can’t use my baby. I’ve had it for six years and it’s old and I love it so I have to keep it. Guys ask me, ‘This is the major leagues, why don’t you have your name on it?’” 

That’s because Hamilton was a shortstop at Class A Dayton when they decided to switch him to the outfield and told him to get an outfielder’s glove.

“I was in spring training and I didn’t know anything about outfelders gloves,” he said. “When the glove company came to our camp, it was one of their last stops and they asked me what size I was looking for. I said I didn’t know and they had this glove. I tried it on and liked it, it fit good. They told me it was a glove everybody tried on so it was already broken in. I said, ‘Perfect it’s broken in and I don’t have to do anything with it. I’ll take it,’ and I’ve had it ever since.”

PUTTING HAMILTON BACK in the leadoff spot isn’t classified as experimentation, but a lot of what Riggleman does these days can be called experimentation. He hates to admit it, but he sees the standings and knows the Reds are on a treadmill to nowhere.

So Riggleman is looking for his own Ben Zobrist, a player that Chicago Cubs manager Joe Maddon plays here, there and everywhere.

“We’d prefer not to be where we are in the standings and not be in this situation,” said Riggleman.

As he talked, he was watching the New York Yankees play the Toronto Blue Jays on his office TV set and said, “I’m watching the Yankee game and they have a guy in right field who has never played a game in right field (Neil Walker). And they are tryng to get a wild card spot and they have Walker in right where he has never played. He is out there out of need.”

And then he referenced Ben Zobrist.

“A lot of teams now have a guy like Zobrist, a guy who can go in there anywhere,” he said. “It is nice to have somebody who can cover a lot of different spots. We may find that we have somebody like that if we play around with it a little bit.

“We’d like to know that we can put some other people at shortstop,” he said. “That’s Jose Peraza’s job, but he does a great job and doesn’t even get an inning off, never mind a game. We’d like to know that we could put Brandon Dixon at short or put Dixon at third and Eugenio Suarez at short.

“We giving (infielder) Dilson Herrera some more time in the outfield — he is in left field tonight,” said Riggleman. “Stuff like that.”

IT IS A SMALL SAMPLE SIZE, but Jonathan India, the Reds No 1 draft pick in June, is off to a snail’s pace at Class A Dayton. Through 15 games he is hitting .189 with 16 strikeouts and recently stumbled through a 1 for 20 slump.

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