Ask Hal: Cincinnati Reds are bad, but they’re not quitters

Reds manager Bryan Price argues with an umpire following the ejection of reliever Ross Ohlendorf on May 11, 2016, at Great American Ball Park in Cincinnati. David Jablonski/Staff
Reds manager Bryan Price argues with an umpire following the ejection of reliever Ross Ohlendorf on May 11, 2016, at Great American Ball Park in Cincinnati. David Jablonski/Staff


Q: Are there still any pitchers using the knuckleball and who were some of the best knuckleball pitchers of the past? — WILBUR, Lebanon.

A: It amazes me there are not more practitioners of the flutterball. Hitters hate facing it because it is like trying to hit a butterfly with a rolled up magazine. Catchers hate trying to catch it, too. But it is so easy on the arm that knuckleballers never get sore arms and pitch forever. Hoyt Wilhelm pitched until he was almost 50 and Phil Niekro used the pitch until he was 48, won 318 games (and lost 274) and is in the Hall of Fame. The first to use it might have been Eddie Cicotte of the Detroit Tigers in 1905. Tim Wakefield won 200 games with the pitch, mostly with the Red Sox, sometimes starting on consecutive days. Current Red Sox right-hander Steven Wright just made the All-Star team. R.A. Dickey, now with Toronto, is the only knuckleballer to win a Cy Young Award (2012).

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Q: When teams wear throwback uniforms to turn back the clock, why don’t they televise games in grainy black and white? — DAVE, Miamisburg/Centerville/Beavercreek.

A: Those throwback uniforms often go back before TV was invented so maybe they shouldn’t televise those games. And the throwback uniforms are not authentic. They aren’t made out of heavy, scratchy wool like back-in-the-day. And most modern players wear them with their pants over their shoes like pajamas. No old-timer ever did that. We won’t even talk about the jewelry.

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Q: Wouldn’t you love to hear the broadcasters speak the truth and say Joey Votto and the rest of the Reds have flat-out quit? KEITH, Brookville.

A: No, I wouldn’t love that at all because it is not the truth. And why single out Joey Votto? Because he makes the most money? He and his teammates are not automatons. They are human. They make mistakes. Sometimes when a team isn’t winning they try too hard and make errors and mental mistakes. The Reds aren’t very good. That’s why they aren’t winning. Quitting has nothing to do with it. Players don’t want to lose, don’t want to look bad, don’t want to embarrass themselves, so they don’t quit.

Q: Is it easier to write about the Reds when they are losing or winning? — CRAIG, Dayton.

A: As sports columnist Red Smith, a Pulitzer Prize winner, once said, “Writing is easy; just open a vein and let it bleed on the paper.” For me, writing is always fun, no matter the subject. It is easier to interview players and get stories from a winning team and you hope the team you cover wins so fans will read it. Fans get turned off by losers and are less likely to read your prose.

Q: Have you ever seen so many calls missed by umpires? Is MLB at all concerned about umpires or is replay the fix-all? — RDS, Germantown.

A: They used to say umpires were correct on about 90 percent of their calls, although I don’t know how they arrived at that figure. Most teams are about 50-50 on their replay challenges, which is a long way from 90 percent. I have two theories, neither provable. I believe umpires still try hard, still bear down, but subconsciously they know close calls will be reviewed so if they get it wrong it will be corrected. Also, I used to know all the umpires by name and now I know very few. They seem to be younger (and still learning) and a lot of them are Class AAA fill-ins for injured umpires and umpires on vacation. So they aren’t as good as in the past.

Q: A lot of players seem to stare at the pitcher as they leave the batter’s box after striking out. Why do they do that? — JOE, Springfield.

A: Most just stare at the dirt as they walk away, but some look at the video on the scoreboard for a replay to see what the pitch was and where it was. Some do stare at the pitcher as if to say, “I can’t believe you struck me out with that pitch and if you throw me that pitch on my next at bat I’ll hit it to Covington, Ky.” Then they strike out again.

Q: What is required to be a Gold Glover and is Billy Hamilton close to meeting those requirements? — NICK, Dayton.

A: There are no standard measuring statistics. It is in the eyes of the beholders and that would be the managers and coaches (they can’t vote for their own players). So it is also a popularity contest. Too often offensive statistics are considered, which shouldn’t be done because a Gold Glove is solely for defensive prowess. There are two tons of great defensive outfielders, but if Billy Hamilton isn’t in the top three in the National League then there should be a federal investigation. You watch, though. He might not make it because of his below-average offensive numbers.

Q: Does the new pitch limit for high school pitchers (announced last week) factor in the stress on the arm for throwing breaking pitches? — JEFF, Troy.

A: Some old-timers who never heard of a pitch limit or 100 pitches being the breaking point still believe young pitchers don’t throw enough to build up arm strength. And it does appear more pitchers break down than in the distant past. But it is generally acknowledged that breaking pitches do put more stress on the arm and kids shouldn’t throw them until their arms develop. But there is little scientific evidence to even prove that. So the debate will rage on.

Q: I agree that Giancarlo Stanton’s 61 home runs in the Home Run Derby was awesome, but how can you compare that number to the old format where each hitter got so many outs instead of the current system of a time limit? — JIM, Leitchfiled, Ky.

A: No doubt Stanton had many more swings than they had in the not-too-distant past. So I wonder if they’ll put an asterisk next to his “61” like they did for the “61” Roger Maris accomplished in a full season. Players also have told me the balls in the Home Run Derby are juiced and go farther. What I’m anxious to see is how Stanton does in games the rest of the season after all that heavy-duty swinging in one day.