Ask Hal: Time to use technology to call balls, strikes?

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: Can you imagine an MLB era when both the baseballs and players are juiced? — DAVE/Miamisburg/Centerville/Beavercreek.

A: Yes, I can. And it would be frightening. Remember some of those county-to-county home runs Mark McGwire hit? If the balls were juiced back then they couldn’t announce the distances on some of his home runs until they day after they were hit, when the baseball finally landed. Third basemen would check their premiums every time he came to the plate. Left fielders would have had to wear batting helmets and maybe chest protectors. What would be next, juiced bats?

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Q: You mentioned that Joey Votto is often correct when he argues called third strikes, so isn’t it time to use the technology available to call balls and strikes as a matter of fairness? — LARRY, Brookville.

A: Not for me, it isn’t. I rue the day that R2D2 or HAL 9000 working behind home plate. They already are taking the human element out of the game with the infernal delays during replay/reviews. So often the review is inconclusive and they say, “The call stands.” That means technology couldn’t discern whether the call was right or wrong and it says the way the umpire called it. That’s progress? I wonder if ‘robots’ really can accurately call balls and strikes on sweeping curveballs, diving cutters and daring sliders. And the catcall, “Kill the robot,’ doesn’t have the same ring as, ‘Kill the umpire.’

Q: Until the mid-90s, teams had only 10 pitchers on their 25-man rosters and now it is 12 and 13, so why? — MESA BILL, Tipp City.

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A: Starting pitchers used to pride themselves on pitching complete games and tried to at least for seven or eight innings. Now if a starting goes five or six and keeps his team in the game he considers his job done well. So more relief pitchers are needed. And, of course, they are all specialists — long, short, set-up, closer. Analytics play big into it, too. The numbers say a starting pitcher has trouble the third time through the batting order. It wasn’t too long ago that pitchers like Nolan Ryan, Randy Johnson, Greg Maddux, Pedro Martinez and Roger Clemens would dare somebody to wave analytics in front of their noses.

Q: I read that more left-handed batters are called out on strikes on outside pitches than right handers because it is easier for the right handed catcher to frame outside pitches, so with this knowledge might we see left handed catchers in the future to frame outside pitches on right handed batters? — LOWELL, Dayton.

A: Traditionally, most batters were right handed so catchers are always right handed to make it easier to throw unimpeded to the bases. Now, with a lot of lineups stacked with left-handed hitters, I see no reason why a catcher can’t be left handed. As a lefty myself, I see southpaw prejudices all the time, little things nobody considers. I get so tired of reaching across my body to grasp door knobs that always seem to be on the right side. And try swiping credit cards with your left hand.

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Q; What’s the dark spot on Sonny Gray’s hat that he likes to touch before each pitch? — JEFF, Springboro.

A: Ah, you are implying that he has a foreign substance there and is cheating, aren’t you. I haven’t noticed it, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t there, especially with my eyes. Watch pitchers closely and you’ll see most of them are obsessed with fondling their hats between pitches. Cheating with pine tar? Maybe. Hey, hitters are permitted to use pine tar on their bats for better grips. Why can’t pitchers use pine tar to get a better grip on the baseball, especially as slick as they are these days? Sure, pine tar can make a baseball do dipsy-doodle things, but with the juiced baseballs flying into the stratosphere the pitchers should be given greater latitude.

Q: How much blame should pitching coach Derek Johnson get for the lack of innings by the Reds starting pitchers? — MARK, Kettering.

A: Believe it or not, five of the six teams leading their divisions have had their starting pitchers work fewer innings than the Reds rotation. You and I, old-schoolers both, don’t like it, but it is the way the game is played these days. For starting pitchers, it is, ‘Five and fly,’ It surprises me that teams continue to go to their bullpens day after day after day because not too many teams these days have strong bullpens. We see walk-off wins and late-inning comebacks almost daily. Baseball says, “Let the kids play,” and I say, “Let the starting pitchers pitch.”

Q: Is this year’s Reds the most exciting under .500 team you’ve covered? — SHAWN, Pitsburg, OH.

A: I wouldn’t say exciting, but I would say interesting and entertaining. It’s like Forrest Gump’s box of chocolates, you never know what you are going to get. What I like about it is that it never quits, battles to the final out. The pitching rotation and the excellent young players are delights to watch. I own a red T-shirt with Mr. Red on it and the words, “This team makes me drink.” It doesn’t really, but you get the idea.

Q: Who is the seamstress that must be paid overtime to rip off old names and sew new ones on the uniforms of the Revolving Door Reds? — GREG, Beavercreek.

A: They did that back in the day, rip off names and sew on new ones. No more. Each player gets a fresh, new jersey with his name on it. And there is no seamstress. The Reds have a company that does that for them. The No. 66 that pitcher Joel Kuhnel is wearing is not Yasiel Puig’s No. 66 jersey. It is a new one. Kuhnel weighs 265 pounds and wouldn’t fit into Puig’s jersey.


Q: Why would the Reds not re-sign Jose Iglesias to play shortstop next year? — KEITH, Brookville.

A: While I couldn’t agree more because he has been the most pleasant surprise of the season, it isn’t entirely in their hands. While Iglesias says he loves it in Cincinnati and would love to come back, he is having such a great season that he’ll probably receive substantial offers as a free agent after the season. His agent probably will advise him to test the market. The Reds could still re-sign him, but it is going to cost them. That’s why they picked up Freddy Galvis, a natural shortstop. He is an insurance policy if Iglesias leaves. And if Iglesias stays, Galvis could be next year’s second baseman and that’s a pretty solid duo up the middle.

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