Hal McCoy: How far can Reds climb? Back to .500? Wild-card contention?

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 halmccoy1@hotmail.com.

Q: Is there a better moment in all of sports than watching a pitcher’s reaction just as the bat meets the ball on a home run blast? — DAVE, Miamisburg/Centerville/Beavercreek.

A: Some quickly hang their heads and refuse to watch the ball. Some turn quickly to catch the flight, risking neck injury. Some raise their heads to the sky and shout an expletive. Some glare at the perpetrator as he begins his home run trot and if his name was Bob Gibson he might shout, “Enjoy that, but hang loose in the batter’s box the next time you come up.”

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Q: The Reds were 25-45 a month ago and this week they were 10 games under .500, so do you see them not only getting back to .500, but also competing for the wild card this year? — BRAYAN, Oslo, Norway.

A: As of this writing, the Reds were 41-51 and would need to go 40-30 the rest of the way to finish 81-81, a major accomplishment after a 3-18 start. They need to play .572 ball, which is tough but possible the way they’ve been playing. A wild card? That’s nearly the impossible dream. There are eight teams ahead of the Reds in the wild card standings and nearly all would have to collapse for the Reds to catch them and that isn’t going to happen. While I believe the Reds will crawl out of last place and pass the Pirates, I doubt they’ll any higher in the National League Central. But as New York Mets fans once said, “Ya gotta believe.”

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Q: A recent article said the Reds front office was going to increase in payroll next year so do they like the makeup of the team? — JAY, Englewood.

A: Team president Dick Williams said the team will increase the $107 million payroll significantly, but he tossed in a couple of caveats. He said it depends on how the team does the rest of the season and it depends on more fans filling all those empty seats in Great American Ball Park. He also said he didn’t know yet if that meant they will sign top shelf free agents or make trades for established players. And how much is a significant boost? With how the team is playing I’m sure they like the makeup of this team. Will it continue? Stay tuned, especially around the trade deadline July 31. That will reveal the direction this team is taking.

Q: The Reds comeback win Tuesday against the Indians was incredible, so what was the best Reds comeback win you ever saw? ALAN, Sugarcreek Township.

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A: That was it. As MC Hammer sang, 'U Can't Touch this.' Unfortunately, the two biggest comebacks I saw involved the Reds losing. Both times they led, 9-3, entering the ninth. Both times the opposition scored seven in the ninth to win, 10-9, and both involved walk-off home runs. The first was in 2005 against St. Louis Cardinals. Closer Danny Graves gave up home runs to Jim Edmonds and John Mabry. Mabry was filling in at third base for injured Scott Rolen and he hit a two-run walk-off home run. The second was against Atlanta. Coco Cordero gave up a grand slam walk-off to Brooks Conrad. The ball hit off left fielder Laynce Nix's glove, hit the top of the wall and went over. Conrad thought Nix caught the ball and stopped running as he rounded first base and had to be told, "Run, man, you just hit a walk-off grand slam." Joey Votto's three-run double felt much better.

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Q: What is the difference between pitching to contact and throwing strikes? — RON, Vandalia.

A: Mostly semantics. The only difference I can discern is that pitching to contact means to put the ball where a batter can put it in play so the defense can do its work. Don’t try to strikeout every hitter. You can throw strikes with the intent to strike out the batter with hard stuff on the fringes of the strike zone that make those pitches difficult to put in play. Either way, they avoid walks and we all know what walks do. Walks haunt.

Q: Nearly every team gets stuck with bad long-term contract, so wouldn’t it make more sense to pay players more money for one season and reward them with more money the next season if they produce? — BRIAN, Bellbrook.

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A: Try floating that one past the players’ union. Ever since players were granted free agency in 1976 a long-term contract is a player’s dream. It provides comfort and security and sometimes too much comfort. No star player would agree to a one-year contract because there are always teams dangling long-term contracts. Yes, it makes sense, but when did anything concerning salaries ever make sense in baseball?

Q: With all the news about Akron native LeBron James leaving Cleveland, was there anybody you grew up with in Akron who made it big in the pros? — EVAN, Dayton.

A: I have to get personal here. My first baseball favorite player was an outfielder named Gene Woodling. He played 17 years, mostly with the New York Yankees and Cleveland Indians. He not only was from Akron, he attended my high school, Akron East (long before I did). And then there was the guy I grew up with and played high school and college ball (Kent State) with, Gene ‘Stick’ Michael. He signed out of Kent with the Pittsburgh Pirates and played shortstop in the majors several years. He then managed the Cubs and Yankees and was general manager of the Yankees under George Steinbrenner. He always told people I had a higher batting average in high school than he did, but he made me tell them what a great basketball player he was — which he was. Thurman Munson was from Akron and the Yankees catcher and seven-time All-Star died tragically in a plane crash at the Akron-Canton airport when he was still an active player.

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Q: I attended the recent Reds-Cubs series in Wrigley Field and is it me or have Cubs fans quit throwing opposing team’s home runs back onto the field? — RANDY, West Alexandria.

A: The tradition continues. The Bleacher Bums always throw opposing home run balls back on the field and fans who don’t do it are treated rudely. But some of them are wise. They carry old beat-up baseballs in their pockets and throw those balls on the field and keep the real one. Perhaps you saw Eugenio Suarez hit a home run over the seats and on to Waveland Avenue behind the park. But some fans outside the park have been known to throw those balls back over the stands and onto the field. I witnessed George Foster hitting one out of Wrigley in 1977 and somebody on the street threw the ball back and nearly skulled left fielder Bobby Murcer.


Q: Since several non-players are in the Reds Hall of Fame, shouldn’t Bernie Stowe be inducted for his 67 years of service to the Reds? — DENNIS, Huber Heights.

A: So far only players, managers and front office executives are eligible, but if Bernie Stowe isn’t a Reds Hall of Famer, then who is? Stowe is an icon and a legend. He began working for the Reds as a bat boy in 1947 and was with the club continuously, mostly as the home clubhouse attendant and equipment manager, until he retired in 2014. The home clubhouse in Great American Ball Park is named after him and ‘The Bernie Stowe Clubhouse’ is painted in large letters at the entrance. And one of the refurbished baseball fields done by the Reds Community Fund is name after him. That’s great, but not enough. Bernie Stowe belongs in the Reds Hall of Fame.

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