Q: Does a sold out ball park put more pressure on players to perform well and,if so, shouldn’t we have seen much better baseball this season with only the cardboard cutouts present? — DAVE, Miamisburg/Centerville/Beavercreek.
A: To the contrary, players seem to wish the stands would be full, especially at home. They feed off the cheers because it increases the adrenaline. Some have said games without fans feel like intrasquad games or practice games. Cincinnati Reds pitcher Trevor Bauer tweeted to the fans that he wishes they had been there. Well, maybe not in Atlanta.
Q: Lots of rule changes recently in deference to Covid pandemic, so which would you keep and which would you toss? — JON, Washington, MO.
A: Toss them all out the back door with the empty baseball boxes. DH? No. Three-batter minimum for reief pitchers? No. Runner in second base to start all extra innings? No. However, I fear all three will be implemented next season, the DH for sure. The extra-inning base runner rule has been used for a couple of years in the minors and MLB likes it. They’ll probably keep the three-batter minimum for relief pitchers, too, even though it is just like the DH in that it takes away a lot of baseball strategy. The computer is turning baseball into a spreadsheet game.
Q: Do you see anyone in the Reds' minor league pipeline who has the most potential to contribute to a championship season next year? STEVE, Cleves, OH.
A: I don’t know about a championship season, but how about an improved season? And I see a couple of top prospects contributing in left handed pitcher Nick Lodolo and right handed pitcher Hunter Greene, the team’s No. 1 and No. 2 prospects. Much, of course, depends on whether free agents Trevor Bauer (doubtful) and Anthony DeSclafani (maybe) return. I would think we will finally see the much-heralded Greene made his debut. The Reds, though, need offensive help and could get it from catcher Tyler Stephenson or infielder Jonathan India.
Q: One batter. One pitcher. Game on the line. Of those you covered, your pick. — LARRY, Washington Twp.
A: I’m tempted to say Bob Gibson, but I only saw him late in his career. My guy? I saw him dominate the New York Yankees in a World Series, I saw him strike out 20 Cincinnati Reds in nine innings and I saw him assassinate a bird with a 100 miles an hour fastball in a spring training game. If you haven’t guessed by now. . .it’s Randy Johnson.
Q: Is the pitcher the only baserunner who can wear a jacket? — MARK, Dayton.
A: There were nights in the old Candlestick Park refrigerator when every player wanted to wear a jacket, not only on the basepaths, but while batting and while fielding. But it is illegal. A pitcher may wear a jacket, but only when he is on base, if he ever gets there. And it must be buttoned or zipped up. Not even a base coach is permitted to wear a jacket.
Q: What do the Tampa Bay Rays and Oakland Athletics do differently than other smaller market teams to stay relevant every year? — RON, Vandalia.
A: They draft well and develop well. And they fill the gaps with wise trades and low-priced free agents. When their best players become too expensive they let them go and start the process all over again. Of course, a lot of luck is involved. Both teams seemed blessed with a lot of four-leaf clovers.
Q: Do you think the Reds should part ways with their current hitting coach? — PAT, Ft. Thomas, KY.
A: Never in my long career have I called for a manager or coach to be fired. That’s not my place nor is it in my DNA to want anybody to lose their job. That being said, fans are distraught that hitting coach Alan Zinter is returning after the Reds performed so miserably on offense, especially after the team invested so much money in Mike Moustakas, Nick Castellanos and Shogo Akiyama. Yet, as I always say, the coach does the coaching, but it is the player who takes the bat to home plate.
Q: Your all-time favorite World Series game that you covered is…? — SCOTT, Jamestown, NY.
A: I have to be provincial here and go with a game involving the Cincinnati Reds. But it was a loss. It was Game 6 of the 1975 World Series, the game Boston Red Sox catcher Carlton Fisk hit a walk-off home run in the 12th inning, when he kept waving for the ball to stay fair. The game had more twists and turns than the road between Gatlinburg and Cherokee. Decades later the History Channel did a documentary on baseball writers and included me. They had me read my first few paragraphs of that game story while they showed Fisk’s home run. I was afraid I’d blown it, but when I saw it I was proud to say that I nailed it. How could anybody blow that moment?
Q: What do you consider the highlight of your career - so far? — ALAN, Sugarcreek Township.
A: Without a doubt, when my peers voted me into the Hall of Fame in 2002. The best thing is that after I am dearly departed, my grandkids and great grandkids can go to Cooperstown and see a photo of grandpa/great grandpa hanging in the museum like a pterodactyl. I see the ring on my finger every day and still can’t believe it. Johnny Bench told me before the Hall of Fame weekend to write down everything that happens those three days or I would forget most of it. I didn’t and he was right. The weekend was a whirlwind blur.
QUESTION OF THE WEEK
Q: Will the Reds make an attempt during the offseason to improve their defense up the middle? — DAVE, Hattiesburg, MS.
A: Free agent shortstop Freddie Galvis most likely is gone, mainly because the shortstop of the future is young Jose Garcia, a tremendous glove with a laser arm. Second base is a mystery. Mike Moustakas, a natural third baseman, is not the answer at second base. If the National League keeps the designated hitter, maybe they can move Moustakas to first base and make Joey Votto the DH. But they’ll probably have to threaten him with deportation to make Votto do it. That leaves a hole at second base to fill, but it already was a hole.