Ask Hal: Will the Reds be buyers or sellers at trade deadline?

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: How can MLB set a record for the most home runs in a single month during May and then break that record in June and not have a handful of players threatening to break the single season record set by Roger Maris? — DAVE, Miamisburg/Centerville/Beavercreek.

A: Like it or not, Maris no longer holds the single season record (61). He is fourth behind Barry Bonds (73), Mark McGwire (70) and Sammy Sosa (66). Yes, those guys ahead of him are associated and connected to PEDs, but baseball recognizes their home run totals so that’s that. As for guys not threatening the 61 hit by Maris, have you seen Christian Yelich (31) Cody Bellinger (30), Peter Alonso (30) and Mike Trout (28)? All four are on pace to catch and/or surpass Maris. By the way, did you know Joey Votto’s dog is named Maris? I thought he’d name his dog Ted or Williams or Thumper or Splinter.

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Q: Any high percentage chance the Reds acquire a couple of relief pitchers and maybe a catcher with a history of competence both offensively and defensively before July 31? — DAVE, Hattiesburg, Miss.

A: Can’t put a high or low percentage on it. What the Reds do or don’t do depends on how well they do or don’t do on the field over the next 17 days. If they play the way they did the last two games before the All-Star break against the Cleveland Indians, look for a large-scale garage and yard sale. If they stay within touching distance of first place, they might hunt for help. Competent all-around catchers are difficult to find and even more difficult to acquire by trade. It seems the bullpen is wearing down a bit due to heavy use and the team could pursue help there. But we are putting the covered wagon in front of the oxen. Let this play out until July 31 is closer.

Q: What did you think of Jim Bouton’s book, Ball Four, when it first came out? — VINCE, Boynton Beach, Fla.

A: The book came out in 1974, my second year covering the Reds. I hadn’t read it, but hearing about it my knee-jerk reaction was the same as most of the baseball world, “How can that jerk write a tell-all book about baseball?” In 1978, when Bouton was trying to make a comeback with Atlanta after being out of the game for eight years, Pete Rose yelled across the field at Bouton, “Hey, Shakespeare, you know what you can do with that book?” But after I read it and laughed my way through it, I recognized it for what it is, a literary classic. Now I read it once a year and it remains my all-time favorite baseball book.

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Q: Is that fat necklace that Derek Dietrich wears real gold or fake? — BECKETT, Lebanon.

A: It is 24-karat real. I haven’t noticed a green ring around his neck. But after a gold-plated start in Cincinnati, Dietrich has begun to look a little like fool’s gold. Heading into the All-Star break he was 3 for his last 24 and had not been able to pose and flex his muscles after hitting a home run since June 21. Let’s hope that gold rope chain big enough to tow a tractor isn’t weighing him down.

Q: Luis Castillo had two outs and two strikes on a batter in the ninth inning when rain delayed the game. When play resumed David Hernandez took Castillo’s place and walked the batter, but the box score credited the walk to Castillo and is that correct? — MICHAEL, Beavercreek.

A: It was with two outs in the eighth inning, not the ninth. And the count was not two strikes, it was two balls and no strikes. Yes, Hernandez came in and completed the walk, but because Castillo threw the first two balls, the walk goes to his account. The rule says that if a relief pitcher comes in with counts of 2-0, 2-1, 3-0, 3-1 or 3-2, the walk goes to the first pitcher. If the count is 1-0, 0-1, 1-1, 1-2 or 2-2, the walk goes to the relief pitcher. Baseball certainly has some convoluted rules, most of them that keep official scorers either scrambling or scratching their heads.

Q: Have you heard about the new rule they are experimenting with in the independent Atlantic League where a batter can steal first base? — DAWN, Erie, Pa.

A: Yes, I certainly have and it gives me acid reflux. The Atlantic League is MLB’s experimental laboratory. It has banned the shift and might move the mound back a foot or two at the suggestion of MLB to see how it plays out. And, yes, the league is going to wipe out the cliche, “You can’t steal first base.” Oh, yes you can. And on any pitch. Any time the batter wants to drop his bat on any pitch and run to first base, if he beats the throw he has stolen first base. Most of the time it will happen on a wild pitch or passed ball and is legal on any pitch, on any count. Give them a couple more years and if Babe Ruth rose from the grave and visited Yankee Stadium not only would he not recognize The House That Ruth Built, he would wonder, “What is that game they are playing on a baseball field?”

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Q: Is it time to sign Jose Iglesias and Yasiel Puig for 2020 and beyond? — PAUL, Cincinnati

A: There is no rush. They aren’t going anywhere. At least wait until the July 31 trade deadline to see where the team is and whether it wants to add players or subtract. Iglesias will be easy to sign if they want him, and they should. He loves it in Cincinnati and is grateful they gave him a chance. Puig? He has to want to sign and the Reds probably won’t offer him what he thinks he can get on the open market. I have trepidations about him ever since he said in spring training, “This is my free agent year and I am going to play hard for a new contract?” Does that mean he doesn’t always play hard? Does that mean once he signs a big contract he won’t play as hard?” Buy beware.

Q: Justin Verlander claims the baseball is juiced to promote home runs, but we know players are bigger and stronger so what is your opinion? — GREG, Beavercreek.

A: If I held a baseball in one hand and an orange in the other, I probably couldn’t tell the difference. But Justin Verlander sure can. I’ve heard other pitchers say the ball is slicker (hard to grip), harder and the stitches are lower (enabling the ball to cut through the air with less drag from stitches). It is not so much to me that so many home runs are being hit, it is how far they are traveling, even when struck by guys who don’t hit a lot of home runs. My opinion is that the ball is different and it isn’t good. I get tired of watching MLB Network’s Quick Pitch and all they show are home run, home run, home run and, oh, yeah, a grand slam home run. They are boring-down the game.


Q: With a couple of exceptions, the Reds don’t appear to put much emphasis on stealing bases and I wonder why? — GREG, Washington, D.C.

A: The one exception if Yasiel ‘The Wild Horse’ Puig, who sometimes runs the bases like an untamed mustang. The rest of the lineup doesn’t steal many bases because that is manager David Bell’s choice. He recognizes most of his players are not blessed with speed afoot. Both Joey Votto and Jesse Winker run the bases the way I did. My coach always told me, “It is OK to run the bases as if you are carrying a piano, but do you have to stop and play it, too?” Nick Senzel seems to be a legitimate threat and he will only get better with experience. The rest of the lineup seems to run the bases as if wearing clodhoppers (remember those clunky shoes?).

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