Ask Hal: Are Joey Votto’s better days behind him?

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

When an ambidextrous pitcher comes in from the bullpen shouldn’t he be allowed eight warm-up pitches with each arm? — DAVE, Miamisburg/Centerville/Beavercreek.

A: Pat Venditte is the only ambidextrous pitcher in the game and one Bay Area newspaper actually called him Amphibious in a headline when the San Francisco Giants acquired him. A pitcher coming in from the bullpen is allowed eight practice pitches, no matter which hand he uses or if he drop kicks it homeward. Venditte can throw four with each hand if he prefers or six right handed and two left handed, whatever combination he wants, but only eight. Being totally ambidextrous is extremely rare. Only one percent of the population can write legibly with both hands. And some of us can’t write legibly with either hand.

»MCCOY: Reliable Reds pitching takes day off in loss to Brewers

Q: Do you think Joey Votto’s better days may be behind him? — KEITH, Brookville.

A: All one has to do is flip over Votto’s baseball card and read. Yes, he has had better days, much better days, all behind him. There is no doubt that right now he is looks as helpless at home plate as a guy trying to eat peas with a knife. He leads the league on called strike threes and leads the league in complaining to umpires about those calls. He used to foul off those close strikes, now he gapes at them. Age might be a factor and although he could bounce back to have a good season, his days of MVP-caliber hitting are probably behind him. And that does not bode well for the Reds.

Q: Does Joey Votto have it in his contract that he doesn’t have to hit lower than third in the batting order because with his lack of production since the middle of last season on any other team he would bat seventh or eighth? — DALE, Centerville.

A: If that was the case I am certain it would have been in his contract that he never had to bat leadoff. But it’s not because teams never put those type of clauses in contracts. There is no doubt right now that he is a rally-stopper in one of the most important spots in the batting order (second). It is a perplexing problem for manager David Bell. Out of respect for what Votto has done Bell probably is hesitant to move him down. But until Votto resuscitates his offensive approach, if the Reds hold any hope of achieving .500, it would suit the team to drop him lower in the order. Wouldn’t Jose Iglesias be a perfect No. 2 hitter based on what he is doing this year. Why not flip-flop Votto and Iglesias. That’s why I write and Bell manages.

Q: Which MLB catcher was the first to wear bright fingernail polish and how did Johnny Bench avoid this dreadful strategy? – RON, VANDALIA.

A: This one isn’t listed in Baseball Reference. Catchers are using nail polish to brighten their fingers so that pitchers can more easily see their signals. Bench avoided this because in his day catchers used white adhesive tape. Nail polish was first used by Russell Martin when he was with the New York Yankees in 2011. He started with white polish but filched his girlfriend’s orange polish out of her makeup kit. Like everything else in baseball, copycats surfaced quickly and most catchers worry about messing up their nail polish when blocking balls in the dirt.

Q: Former pitcher J.R. Richard once appeared to be the next Nolan Ryan with better control and a breaking pitch that seemed to die at home plate but he quickly disappeared, so what happened? — DOUG, Kettering.

A: This is one of baseball’s tragic stories. When James Rodney Richard pitched for the Houston Astros in the 1970s he was feared by batters league-wide because of how hard he threw and because of his devastating slider. From 1971-80 he was 107-71 with a 3.15 earned run average and twice led the league in strikeouts. While playing catch on the sidelines in 1980 he suffered a stroke that required surgery to remove a blood clot in his neck. He was 30, the peak of his career, but the stroke ended it. A few years later Richard was found living in a cardboard box under an expressway bridge in Houston.

Q: I have a question out of left field and it is has any major league team ever started all left handers at every position? — CHAMP, Sugar Hill, Ga.

A: If you mean a batting order the answer is, yes, many times. If you mean left handed throwers the answer is never. It is a question out of left field because left field is one of the positions a left hander can play, along with center field, right field, first base and pitcher. Traditionally, only right handed throwers play third base, shortstop and second base, with a rare left hander at catcher. As a left hander I feel prejudice. I always wanted to play shortstop in Little League but my coach said, “Go play first base and you’re lucky I play you there.”

Q: Are Reds fan overdosing on free pizza and how long do you think the free pizza gimmick will last? — GARY, Oslo, Norway.

A: LaRosa’s gives free small pies to any fan with a ticket to a game in which Reds pitchers strike out 11 or more opponents. What irks me is that if the Reds are down 9-1 but have struck out 10, fans are chanting, “Pizza, pizza, pizza,” hoping for that 11th strikeout and free pizza. They should require the Reds to win the game AND strike out 11 or more. With the way major league hitters strike out every other at bat, they also should lift the number to 15. But I guess Reds fans need something to cheer about.

Q: What is the craziest Joe Nuxhall story that you can tell? — MO, Murrayville, Ga.

A: My favorites are not printable in a family publication. One I do like is that Nuxhall loved deviled eggs, as did his manager, Fred Hutchinson. They were always in the clubhouse after games. One night when Nuxy was knocked out of a game early he went into the clubhouse and ate a dozen deviled eggs, all of them. When Hutchinson came in and saw the empty dish he was incensed. He immediately imposed a new rule: No eating by players until AFTER the game.


Q: How much longer can the Reds afford to keep Turner Ward as hitting coach when it seems he has been a total failure? — JIM, Dayton.

A: I checked the statistical sheet and couldn’t find Ward’s batting average or a single at bat. Where does he bat in the order? A hitting coach can only advise and suggest, he can’t lug the bat up to home plate for the hitter. Has he been a failure with Jose Iglesias or Eugenio Suarez? Hey, maybe he is so busy with Joey Votto that he has no time for anybody else? When a team begins blaming a hitting coach for its problems that team probably is in last place. Yeah, I know.

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