Ask Hal: More to Dragons than wins and losses

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: Have you ever taken credit for bringing a player out of a slump with words of encouragement during an interview? — DAVE, Miamisburg/Centerville/Beavercreek.

A: Never, because I’ve never tried. That isn’t part of my job description. And what in the name of Sparky Anderson could I ever say to bring a player out of a slump? If I tried that with Joey Votto, he would laugh me all the way back to the press box.

Q: Did Kangaroo Court really take place during the Barry Larkin years and does it still exist today? — GREG, Miamisburg.

A: Kangaroo Court goes back a long time before Barry Larkin and is common among many teams. When Larkin was captain of the Reds, he was the judge and wore a floor mop tucked down his back with the mop on his head like a wig. Court convened about once a month and players could be brought up on charges for bonehead plays on the field, missing signs, missing the cutoff man and embarrassing the team in any way with suspect behavior away from the park on the road. Judge Larkin’s decisions and fines were final, no appeals. The money was used for a team party on the last trip of the season. I have not heard that the current Reds have a Kangaroo Court. With all that has happened this year, they would have enough money for a king’s banquet.

Q: The Dayton Dragons are doing good so why can’t the parent Cincinnati Reds leave them alone and promote two or three at the end of the season? — DON, Riverside.

A: In the minors, a winning team is a bonus. The main objective is not to win a pennant. The goal is to develop players. If a player is tearing it up in high-A, he has earned a promotion to a higher level. Yes, it makes it tough to win championships, but all high-A teams are operated the same way. Just go to Dragons games and enjoy the baseball, Heater and the entertainment. If they win, great. If not, no big deal.

Q: Wright State product Joe Smith is having a solid year as a middle relief pitcher for the Minnesota Twins in his 16th year, so are there any career set-up specialists in the Hall of Fame? — GREG, Beavercreek.

A: The set-up pitcher is a relatively new specialist in baseball’s ever-changing playing field. It is only recently that closers began making it into the Hall of Fame. Joe Smith has had a great career with seven different teams. He has appeared in 847 games, never as a starter. He is 55-33 with a 3.03 earned run average and 30 saves. In 2014 he was the closer for the Los Angeles Angels and saved 15 games. Are those Hall of Fame numbers? No, they are not. But Smith and his submarine-style delivery has been a key piece for a lot of teams — the Mets, Cleveland, Houston, Seattle, the Cubs, the Angels and Minnesota.

Q: Why can’t you fake a pickoff throw to third base? — PETER, Richmond, Va.

A: You can, but the umpire will call a balk and the runner on third will score. A few years ago, with runners on third and first it was nearly a requirement that the pitcher fake a throw to third, then whirl and throw a pickoff throw to first. In 49 years of covering baseball, I might have seen it work once. If I did, don’t remember. A few years ago, the fake pickoff throw to third base was outlawed. Why? Who knows? Maybe because it never worked and was considered a waste of five seconds.

Q: How is using a humidor not considered doctoring a baseball to react differently when using a substance or scuffing a baseball is illegal in the game? TIM, Xenia.

A: Using a humidor does not doctor a baseball or change it. All it does is keep the balls moist so they don’t dry out and go farther when hit. And now that there are humidors in all 30 MLB parks it is the same for every team. But they won’t let me store my cigars in them.

Q: They are talking about banning the shift and I wonder why and how can they ban it? — KEN, Carmel, Ind.

A: It isn’t talk. It will be a rule next season in MLB. It is already in effect in the minors. There must be two defenders on each side of second base and every infielder must have both feet on the skin part of the infield. It is obvious why. More offense. How can they do it? The commissioner says, “You do it,” then you do it. It is kind of strange that an official in a boardroom legislates defense. What’s to stop him from legislating offense, too — like a player must bunt at least once a game. Don’t laugh. We’re talking Rob Manfred here.

Q: Since the Reds do not possess a significant home run hitter, is there any word on them playing an offense that puts pressure on the defense? — DAVE, Hattiesburg, Miss.

A: Absolutely. In a game last week in Cleveland, the Reds manufactured two runs late in the game by stealing second in both the eighth and nine innings to push their lead from 2-1 to 3-1 and from 3-2 to 4-2. I have noticed the Reds putting runners on the move for steal attempts and to perform the hit-and-run. As you said, with no real firepower, the Reds must implement small ball, even in Great American Small Park.

Q: I’m having a hard time keeping interest in watching games, so is there a great baseball book I can read to pass the time during games? — NICK, Dayton.

A: I just finished what I consider the best baseball book I ever read, and I’ve read more than 300. It is called ‘Baseball 100′ by Joe Posnanski. And don’t be intimidated by its 869 pages and more than 300,000 words. Each chapter is about eight pages, and each chapter is about a famous player. And each chapter is stuffed with interesting information about the player you’ve never read anywhere else. It is a fascinating read.

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