Friday, August 07, 2009

Hal McCoy: link to a golden age

To my far right in the Great American Ball Park press box sits one of the last great newspapermen, a link to the golden age of baseball beat writing.

As Hal McCoy chomps on his cigar and taps on his laptop keys I can almost picture him sitting in a smoke-filled press box at an old ballpark pounding out prose on a typewriter then hopping on the train to the next town.

After 37 years on the Reds beat, the longest current tenure of any Major League beat writer, McCoy is calling it quits. Only it wasn't entirely his call.

McCoy's "early" retirement from the Dayton Daily News came in the form of a buyout. He hopes to continue to write for the DDN in some capacity, but the paper will no longer cover the Reds as a beat.

McCoy, who has continued to cover the team despite being declared legally blind, doesn't welcome the change. But, he and his lovely wife, Nadine, are looking forward to the dawning of a new life.

McCoy's ouster isn't entirely surprising.

The DDN had upped his time off each season since his illness. In the beginning, he was backed up by DDN staffers, then a stringer. This season, and most ominously, the paper has chosen to run AP wire stories for its Reds coverage. I assume this practice will continue next year.

As a know-nothing rookie stumbling my way through the clubhouse and press box roughly 10 years ago, McCoy took me under his wing. He had no reason to.

Why would a then-future Hall of Fame beat writer of more than 30 years bother to help a cub reporter writing for a weekly paper? Because that's just Hal.

McCoy's influence benefited my writing career more than even he realizes.

I learned by watching how he interacted with players and managers, how he targeted his questions in interviews, how he conducted himself in the clubhouse, press box and at batting practice.

On several occasions McCoy Hal took time to compliment me on stories I wrote. He never hesitated to answer questions, or to offer unsolicited suggestions on how to best handle certain situations.

But, the best tribute offered to McCoy was from the players -- respect. In this age of adversarial relationships between athletes and media, McCoy managed to bridge that gap.

This post reads like an obit. It is not, of course.

Hal has nearly two months remaining on the Reds beat. After that, he and Nadine can jet to their favorite haunts -- Aruba, Key West or elsewhere. They can hang on the back porch at home, savor life, make new memories.

Hal's departure isn't nearly as sad for him (he's pushing 69 years of age) as it is for the business of sports writing.

One must wonder in this age of economic downturn and new media if the role of baseball beat writer is going the way of the dinosaurs. Is Hal McCoy among the last of a dying breed? Let's hope not.

Tuesday, August 04, 2009

Cubs: The Un-Lovable Losers?

"I hate the Chicago Cubs," goes the oft-uttered refrain these days.

For what, squandering a century?

"No, no, let me explain," goes the popular retort. "It's their fans that I hate."

For what, being miserable? For having their hopes, dreams and aspirations crumbled annually like plastic beer cups in the Wrigley Field bleachers?

For having no better excuse for their team's ineptitude than a black cat wandered in Ron Santo's path, or a goat owner cursed them, or a Notre Dame graduate wanted a souvenir?

For enduring '69, '84, '89, '03, '07, '08 or insert season since 1908?

On the surface, disliking Cubs fans makes little sense. Pity them, yes.

That is, unless you spend time with them of course.

I know, I'm one of them.

It's not by choice, really. The Cubs are a family curse.

Before I entered the business of professional sports writing, the job where's there's no cheering, no team or player allegiance and no healthy food, I was a card-carrying Die Hard Cubs fan.

I was that blue-clad, beer-chugging, 7th-inning stretch-singing Cubs fan, who strutted into your ballpark proclaiming himself a superior fan because his team sucked for 100 years and he still cheered for them, bought tickets, souvenirs and willingly lined the players' pockets and inflated the owners' coffers despite their chronic failings.

I was that guy.

Oh, and I drank a lot. A lot. How else can you explain the aforementioned behaviors?

To be honest, I've just described the new breed of Cubs fan.

Not my generation, I'm referring to the ones so naive (and I can only assume young) enough to believe that division titles occur at 1060 W. Addison as frequently as snow in January.

The old guard, a.k.a. Me, knows this isn't so.

Which is why for the first time in my baseball life I took some solace, just a wee bit, in the Cubs being swept out of the playoffs the past two seasons.

That's how it feels, my Cubs brethren.

In order to be a true Cubs fan, you have to feel the pain, the hurt, the emotional heartache.

Humility comes swift and sudden for us, or at least it should.

So, while you're guzzling your (insert quantity) beers this week at Great American Ball Park doing your best to annoy the Reds fans around you, please consider this:

It's OK to be proud. But, arrogance has no justifiable space in Cubdom.

Despite no World Series titles since '08, the Cubs do boast a tradition like no other, aside from the Yankees.

Cubs fans have Wrigley Field, a baseball experience like no other.

We've had Tinker-to-Evers-to-Chance, Hartnett, Wilson, Banks, Williams, Jenkins, Sandberg, Maddux, Sosa (yes, him) et al. (Notice I didn't mention Roy Smalley).

The Cubs have won a few World Series too, just none since the automobile took hold.

Humility has a number: 101. That's years, folks.

So, New Breed, as you rock GABP with your "Here we go Cubbies, Here we go ..." chorus, does the pain of the past 10 decades-plus eat at your very soul? It does mine.

See, the true Cubs fan doesn't look at the glass of water and judge it to be half-full or half-empty.

The true Cubs fan asks, "When's it going to spill?".

Baker bashing misdirected

The backlash was almost immediate.

Seconds after the release hit the wire announcing the Reds' hiring of Dusty Baker as their new manager the naysayers went to work, "Baker wears out pitchers, look what he did to Mark Prior and Kerry Wood", "Baker coddles veterans", "Baker (insert beef)".

Please understand, this isn't my personal Dusty Baker = Connie Mack diatribe. I do enjoy working with Baker. He's accomodating, professional and the most quotable and articulate Reds manager since, well ...

There are plenty of times when scribes in the press box are left scratching our heads about his in-game decisions. But, Reds fans need to look in the mirror, and take a closer look at their team.

For the first three months of the season, Baker had largely a Triple-A club hanging on in the NL Central race. Injuries have riddled this club, as did a 50-game absence of the club's best player - Joey Votto.

When Baker was hired he arrived with the most impressive big-league managerial resume of any newly-hired Reds skipper in recent memory, and that includes Sparky Anderson who had virtually none.

"Well, Baker had plenty of talent on those teams".

Isn't that the point? Find me a manager with a record worth its salt who didn't.

"Yeah, but look what he did to the Cubs ...".

Yep, he had them 5 outs from the World Series. The Reds could be so lucky.

Is Baker the man to guide the Reds to the promised land? Maybe, maybe not. He's guiding a .500 or worse ballclub currently. Not even Tony La Russa's self-proclaimed genius could change that.

Which begs the question: why is Baker getting the heat for the Reds' current condition and not GM Walt Jocketty and/or Bob Castellini?

Reds choose to Rolen over

It's not often that trading two unproven pitching prospects and a maligned third baseman for a career .284 hitter, five-time All-Star and seven-time Gold Glove Award winner would be a bad deal. But, such is the case with the Reds' acquisition of Scott Rolen.

It's so much the trade itself, but the timing. Count me among those who are scratching their heads.

Dealing for Rolen made a great deal of sense in early June when the Reds were clinging to contention in the NL Central race. But, not now.

Rolen is a great clubhouse guy, and a veteran presence that should help provide proper influence to the Reds' youngsters. He's playing close to home (Jasper, IN) and likely will have a couple more productive years before coasting into retirement.

But, this benefits the Reds how?

The Reds were relieved of a portion of Rolen's contract for next season, but not all. Add to him the contracts of Aaron Harang, Francisco Cordero and Bronson Arroyo, and the Reds are financially strapped for next season.

Edinson Volquez will be unavailable until late 2010 following Tommy John Surgey. Wait 'til next year just got postponed.

Most disturbing of all is the inclusion of Zach Stewart in the Rolen deal. The young hurler is quietly mentioned by scouts as the Reds' best pitching prospect.

Hours before the trade deadline the Rolen-to-the-Reds deal was reportedly dead. Perhaps that was just wishful thinking on the part of many at 100 Joe Nuxhall Way.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Baker rips Padres, er, I mean Reds.

It seems Dusty Baker can do little right these days.

So it should come as no surprise that the Reds skipper failed mightily Wednesday night in an effort to lamblast his struggling team.

Following a 7-1 loss to last-place San Diego before 17,201 fans on Ladies Night at Great American Ball Park, a game in which the Reds offense produced one hit and had just three base runners, Baker offered this:

"They're not a good club," Baker said, referring to the Padres. "If they're not a good club and they're beating us like this, what does that make us?"

Well, not very good, although the comment probably did more to tweak San Diego's fragile ego than the Reds'.

The Padres are bad, real bad. But the last thing Baker needed to do was to help motivate an opponent, whether he intended to or not.

Less than 24 hours after Baker's comments, the Padres improved to 41-62 by beating the Reds yet again and taking three of four in the series.

"What does that make us?," Baker wonders.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Workmanlike Reds appear resilient

These Reds know their business.

But, let me first preface the forthcoming observation with two points:

One, this is not meant as a criticism of Adam Dunn, Ken Griffey Jr. or any former player, or coach for that matter.

Two, while I have extensively covered this team for the past 10 years, I have a limited workload this season which has sent me to the Reds clubhouse only sparingly.

That said, during my first few visits to the home clubhouse at Great American Ball Park, I've been impressed with the professional approach of this young Reds ballclub.

While I enjoyed the pre-game banter, practical jokes and colorful personalities of the past, it is refreshing to watch the '09 edition of Baker's Boys go about their day to day work.

Fewer players hanging out at their lockers, even fewer parked on the leather couches. More getting in their work in the cages, training room, and on the field. Unlike most young teams, they play on an even-keel, to this point avoiding the emotional roller-coaster of a 162-game slate.

The atmosphere in the Reds clubhouse has a similar feel to that of the Cardinals and Braves, perennial winners which I've covered in recent years.

I've been told the Reds' players also get along well off the field, which is important if you believe in the benefits of team "chemistry".

This is a tight-knit team, exactly the kind of ballclub capable of withstanding the inevitable speed bumps of a six-month season, such as this past weekend's three-game sweep in San Diego.

The Reds still need to improve defensively, develop more consistency, and avoid injury.

But, I get a sense from this team. If I'm a Reds fan, I'm still feeling pretty good about this season. And, it's not yet summer.

Monday, May 04, 2009

Cueto: "Hablo un poco en ingles"

Barry Larkin wouldn't stand for this.

The former Reds shortstop, and team captain, was known for being fluent in Spanish.

Larkin would often communicate with Hispanic teammates in their native language and, on occasion, help translate during interviews. But, for Larkin there was a limit.

No. 11 would often refuse requests to translate, particularly for rookies. He was a firm believer that Hispanic ballplayers should put English to practical use, that the only way for them to learn the language was to take the initiative for themselves.

Johnny Cueto needs Barry Larkin.

If the Reds right-hander continues to drop eight scoreless as he did Sunday in a 5-0 victory at PNC Park, he needs to buck up on his English and talk about it. Instead, he uses a translator, often catcher Ramon Hernandez.

Truth is, Cueto knows English, at least enough to form cliches. Still, he refuses to speak for himself.

When a player talks through a translator, you never know what you're getting. Not that the translator is making things up, but the information is being delivered second-hand regardless.

Cueto seems bright and personable. He also is immensely talented. Reds fans, not just reporters, a.k.a. the messengers to the public, deserve to hear and read the words of this pitching stalwart.

Instead, Cueto smiles and nods, while a teammate plays he-said he-said.

Sunday, May 03, 2009

Reds rotation revives Baker's Boys

There's a common misconception that good pitching wins games. Not entirely true. Good pitching puts a team in good position to win games.

Deep starting rotations, even those minus a legitimate No. 1 starter, also help clubs avoid lengthy losing streaks.

The Reds have lost two consecutive games three times this season, but never three. They have won all four road series.

The reason? Pitching. Plain and simple.

Within every four-game stretch, someone is going to deliver a quality start.

"They've got a good rotation," today said Pirates manager John Russell, the first opposing skipper in recent memory to utter such an observation of the Redlegs.

Russell's quote came shortly after Johnny Cueto tossed eight scoreless innings in a 5-0 victory Sunday afternoon at PNC Park.

There's a reason the Reds are 13-10 and tied for second with the Cubs, and yet batting just .241, one up from the bottom in the NL.

Harang, Arroyo, Volquez, Cueto, Owings, and pray for rain, or something like that.

There isn't a Koufax among them. But, the Reds rotation is the perfect stew.

Harang and Arroyo eat up innings. Volquez and Cueto eat up K's. Owings is a workhorse, when he's not doing his best Babe Ruth imitation.

All five guys can get rocked, then the next trip out deliver seven scoreless.

They also are a mixed-bag of personalities. The soft-spoken Harang, the guitar-wielding rocker Arroyo, the ever-so-happy Volquez, the introspective Cueto, and the gentlemanly Owings.

For now, the only stat that matters is second place. That, and the Reds ranking fourth in the NL with a 3.91 ERA.

A "good" rotation, indeed.

Thursday, April 30, 2009

Elias on Edinson

From our good friends at the Elias Sports Bureau:

Edinson Volquez allowed only one hit in eight innings in his 3–0 win over the Astros on Wednesday, after giving up just one hit (while walking seven) in five innings in a loss to the Braves in his last start.

The last pitcher with consecutive starts of five-plus innings and no more than one hit allowed was the Nationals’ Shawn Hill, who did it spanning a trip to the disabled list in 2007.

The last Reds pitcher with consecutive starts like that was Ron Villone in 1999; the last before him was Johnny Vander Meer, who had consecutive no-hitters in 1938.

Wednesday, April 08, 2009

Miller incentives tell tale

Enquirer columnist Paul Daugherty got his hands on the details of former Xavier coach Sean Miller's deal with Arizona.

Included within Miller's reported seven-year, $18 million deal is a host of bonuses, a few of which highlight the disparity in values between a Pac-10 power with national championship aspirations and Xavier's program from the Atlantic-10.

Miller would earn $675,000 if the Wildcats won a national title. He gets $25K for a first or second-round NCAA Tournament win, $50K for reaching the Elite Eight, and $175K for a Final Four appearance.

A top-10 finish in the AP Poll earns Miller $30K, or $20K for Top 20. If he's named Pac-10 Coach of the Year, an additional $20K comes his way.

Regardless, Miller will get two cars, 20 basketball season tickets, 8 football season tickets, and 30 private jet hours a year.

As a non-descript throw-in, Miller would get $25K if 42-percent or more of his players graduated. Just 42-percent, less than half.

At least Miller no longer has to concern himself with such trivial matters as an education.

Tuesday, April 07, 2009

Reds welcome power trio - Aaron, Cosby and Ali.

Major League Baseball (MLB) and the Cincinnati Reds today announced the MLB Beacon Award recipients at a press conference today at the Reds Hall of Fame and Museum.

The three honorees are Bill Cosby for the Beacon of Hope, Hank Aaron for the Beacon of Life and Muhammad Ali for the Beacon of Change. The MLB Beacon Awards recognize individuals whose lives are emblematic of the spirit of the civil rights movement.

The announcement was made in preparation for the Civil Rights Game, which pays tribute to one of our country’s most significant eras of social change and honors Major League Baseball’s involvement in the historic struggle through which legendary African-American players broke barriers and made important contributions to American society.

The game is June 20th between the Reds at Chicago White Sox at Great American Ball Park. This will be the first regular season Civil Rights Game and the first in Cincinnati since the inaugural Civil Right Game in Memphis, TN in 2007.
“Cincinnati has a rich baseball history and has played a significant role throughout our country’s journey towards civil equality,” said Bob Castellini, Reds President and CEO. “We are working with the City of Cincinnati and many of our community partners and sponsors to make this a weekend to remember.”

In addition to the Civil Rights Game on June 20, there will be a series of weekend events commemorating this special occasion. On Friday afternoon, there will be a roundtable discussion at the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center, which will be moderated by Harvard Law Professor Charles Ogeltree. On Saturday, the MLB Beacon Award winners will be honored at the MLB Beacon Awards Luncheon at the Duke Energy Center, and there will also be a youth summit that day.

Can't blame Miller, but bad timing.

After days of rumor, innuendo and a couple changes of heart, Sean Miller is off to the desert with $18 million over seven years in his back pocket.

Now, on to Xavier, where the timing couldn't have been worse.

By most accounts, next year's Muskies were shaping up to be a preseason top-10 team with Final Four aspirations. Now, we wonder which recruits might bail and if any current players will file their transfer papers.

This possibility makes the coaching search tenuous. It also makes the selection of top assistant Chris Mack more enticing.

The 39-year old Mack might not be ready to take the reigns of a Division I program with two Elite Eights and a couple Sweet 16's in the past 5 years, but he's the one guy who might be able to execute the damage control.

For many recruits, Mack is the face of X. He has a strong relationship with present and future players, as evidenced by the endorsements he's already received from a number of key Muskies.

If you're Xavier AD Mike Bobinski, do you hold out for an external candidate, or do you hire Mack if only for the purpose of stemming the tide?

With one of its greatest teams just months from taking the court, Xavier is in a sticky situation. As Miller heads off to build a national championship contender at Arizona, he leaves a potential mess on Victory Parkway.

In a few short days, the best of times at Xavier became the worst.

No early returns

A seven-year, $161 million investment did not pay dividends on Opening Day as the Yanks' prized pitcher, C.C. Sabbathia, was roughed up for six earned runs on eight hits in 4 1/3 innings in a 10-5 loss at Baltimore.

Most disconcerting for the Bombers was C.C.'s five walks and zero strikeouts. Too early to declare the honeymoon over, but a quick glance of this morning's back pages confirms C.C. isn't in Milwaukee anymore.

Sunday, April 05, 2009

Missing it already

On Opening Day 1999, this wet-behind-the-ears sports writer waltzed into the press box at Cinergy Field for the first time, knowing barely a thing about covering big-league baseball.

There are those who'd argue that remains to be the case, but I'd like to think that during the past 10 years I've grown as a writer and as a person having worked alongside some of the most talented scribes to grace the Reds beat, such as Hall of Famer Hal McCoy.

To be clear, this isn't a farewell speech. I'll be back. Soon I hope.

But, Monday, April 6 marks the first Opening Day in 13 seasons that I will walk into a Reds ballpark carrying a ticket rather than donning a credential.

Sunday's team workout was the first I'd missed since 2000, the first following the celebrated arrival of Ken Griffey Jr.

I haven't attended an Opening Day as a spectator since 1996. I'm anxious to see what I've been missing. I hear beer is in abundance.

The economy has hit hard. The weekly newspaper for which I worked as a columnist since 1997 folded this past winter. In addition,, one of my feature writing clients, slashed its freelance budget in response to these difficult economic times.

As a result, my Major League Baseball writing assignments will be fewer. It remains to be seen how few, but I'm still holding out hope that I'll get to cover my share of big-league games at Great American Ball Park this season.

I'm encouraged that business still is good in the freelance writing game. The fall and winter has brought an increasing number of basketball and football assignments, both high school and college. I'd surely trade a handful of them to cover the game I love, as baseball is indeed my passion.

But, tomorrow I'll be shivering along with you, making the best of Cincinnati's most precious day amid the wintery conditions. I'll hoist a beer and hum along to 'Take Me Out To the Ballgame'.

I might even cheer. Shhh. Don't tell anyone.

Friday, April 03, 2009

XM to air entire MLB season

NEW YORK – April 3, 2009 – SIRIUS XM Radio (NASDAQ: SIRI) announced today that XM Radio will air every game of the 2009 MLB season live nationwide starting with Opening Night, April 5, when the World Series Champion Philadelphia Phillies will host the Atlanta Braves at 8:00 pm ET at Citizens Bank Park. Listeners from coast to coast will hear the Phillies radio broadcast for the game, featuring legendary broadcaster Harry Kalas, Scott Franzke and Larry Andersen, on XM channel 175.

MLB Home Plate, SIRIUS XM’s 24-hour baseball talk channel, will broadcast live on Opening Night from Citizens Bank Park in Philadelphia prior to the Phillies-Braves game. Scott Graham and former Major League catcher and manager Buck Martinez will host a pre-game special from 5:00-8:00 pm, interviewing players and talking to fans around the country as a lead-in to that night’s game and the start of the 2009 season.

The following day, April 6, XM will carry all 13 games from MLB’s traditional Opening Day. Through the regular season and post-season, XM will air every game from all 30 Major League teams on XM channels 175 to 189. A schedule of upcoming MLB games on XM can be found at Listeners can also get Spanish-language broadcasts of games on MLB En Espanol, XM channel 174.

On Monday, April 6, MLB Home Plate host and former Texas Rangers and Boston Red Sox manager Kevin Kennedy will report live from Fenway Park in Boston before the Red Sox play the Tampa Bay Rays and from 1:00-4:00 pm ET, Seth Everett and former Mets GM Jim Duquette will host a special edition of their daily MLB Home Plate show, Power Alley, live from Camden Yards in Baltimore before the Orioles face the New York Yankees.

"Once again XM listeners will have access to every Major League Baseball game with no blackouts or exclusions,” said Scott Greenstein, SIRIUS XM’s President and Chief Content Officer. “So no matter where they live, fans won’t miss a game involving their favorite team. Plus, they’ll be treated to game calls from some of the game’s legendary voices like Vin Scully, Harry Kalas, Bob Uecker and others.”

In addition to live play-by-play coverage, SIRIUS XM offers baseball fans 24 hour coverage of the game on MLB Home Plate, the only radio channel dedicated to covering Major League Baseball seven days a week, 365 days a year. Now available to both XM and SIRIUS subscribers (XM channel 175, SIRIUS channel 210 with the “Best of XM” programming package), MLB Home Plate offers the most comprehensive radio coverage of the Major Leagues with a daily lineup of talk shows hosted by baseball experts and insiders like Cal Ripken Jr., Bill Ripken, Rob Dibble, Jim Duquette, Kevin Kennedy, Buck Martinez and others.

“MLB Home Plate offers both XM and SIRIUS listeners a true insider’s look at the game,” said Greenstein. “Our hosts provide the kind of perspective that can only be learned as a big league player, manager or front office executive. Listeners can hear compelling interviews with players and managers every day and fans can call in to talk about the topics that are on their minds.”

MLB Home Plate Daily Schedule: (All times ET)

· 7 – 10 am: Baseball This Morning with Scott Graham and Buck Martinez
· 10 am – 1 pm: Power Alley with Seth Everett, Jim Duquette and Billy Ripken
· 1 – 4 pm: Inside Pitch with Jeff Joyce and Kevin Kennedy
· 3 – 6 pm: The Show with Jody McDonald and Rob Dibble
· 6 – 7 pm: XM PreGame (Fantasy 411 6pm – 8pm Fridays with Mike Siano and Cory Schwartz)
· 7 - 10 pm: Game (8p-11p Fridays after Fantasy 411)
· 10 pm – 2am: MLB Live with Joe Castellano

· 8 – 10 am: Minors and Majors with Grant Paulsen
· 10 am – 1 pm: Talking Baseball with Ed Randall
· 1 pm – 4 pm: Game
· 4 pm – 7 pm: MLB Live Weekend with Casey Stern
· 7 pm – 10 pm: Game
· 10 pm – 2 am: MLB Live Weekend with Lee Hamilton

· 8 – 10 am: Minors and Majors with Grant Paulsen
· 10 am – 1 pm: MLB Live Weekend with Holden Kushner
· 1 pm – 4 pm: Game
· 4 pm – 8 pm: MLB Live Weekend with Lee Hamilton
· 8 pm – 11 pm: Game
· 11 pm – 2 am: MLB Live Weekend with Joe Castellano

**This schedule is subject to change based on game schedule.

For more information please visit

Thursday, April 02, 2009

Fans to watch Reds BP in Dayton

DAYTON, OH—The Dayton Dragons announced today that Fifth Third Field gates will open at the special time of 1:00 p.m. for Saturday’s 3:05 p.m. Reds Futures Game. Gates are opening one hour earlier than normal for this historic game to allow fans the opportunity to view pre-game activities.

“While we normally do not open the ballpark for batting practice, the Dragons feel that the significance of this event creates special circumstances,” said Robert Murphy, Dragons President. “If the Reds and the Futures Team are able to take batting practice, we want fans to have the opportunity to see it.”

The Reds and the Futures Team are both tentatively scheduled to take batting practice on Saturday. The special 1:00 p.m. opening would allow fans to be present for both rounds. However, batting practice for either team could be waived at the Reds discretion based on weather, travel and/or their arrival time to Fifth Third Field.

Tentative Batting Practice Times

Futures Team: 12:55-1:40 p.m.
Reds: 1:40-2:25 p.m.

The Reds Futures Game offers fans a unique opportunity to see the Reds Major League players along with their best minor league prospects from the Single-A, Double-A, and Triple-A levels. Many current Reds players played for the Dragons including first baseman Joey Votto, outfielders Jay Bruce and Chris Dickerson, third baseman Edwin Encarnacion, and pitchers Johnny Cueto and Homer Bailey. Many players on the Futures Team also played for the Dragons including infielder Todd Frazier, outfielder Drew Stubbs, shortstop Chris Valaika, and third baseman Juan Francisco.

The Reds Futures Game at Fifth Third Field is believed to be the first time that a Major League team has played a collection of its top prospects in the ballpark where many of those players once played.

A limited number of lawn tickets remain available for the game. Lawn tickets are $12.00. Lawn tickets can be purchased at the Fifth Third Field Box Office, by calling (937) 228-BATS (2287), or by emailing More information is available at The Box Office is open Monday through Friday, 10:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.

Wednesday, April 01, 2009

An ode to ink on my fingers

Stored inside a cabinet in my basement office are acid-free boxes designed to preserve history. If you believe everything that's been written and said lately about the demise of newspapers, the boxes protect living fossils.

Alongside clips of stories I've written resides my personal collection of historic newspapers.

One features the complete text of Abraham Lincoln's second annual message to the nation from December 1862, taking up one-third of the front and back pages.

Another from 1796 discusses the transfer of land which would one day become Dayton, Ohio, signed in text by then-President of the United States George Washington.

I have Civil War papers, World War II papers, sports pages from the 30's, 40's, 50's and 60's, a Washington Times that tells the story of Babe Ruth's "called shot" in the 1932 World Series -- although Grantland Rice's tome doesn't mention that Ruth called the shot -- and an 1870 New York Times that recaps a game involving the Cincinnati Red Stockings of George and Harry Wright fame.

This is history, my friends.

Newspaper printed pre-1900 was composed of a mixture of cotton and linen making it virtually indestructible. A 1916 New York Times crumbles at the slightest touch, while papers from the 1700's are as prestine as the moment they were being read by Revolutionaries.

At my fingertips are moments in time captured in ink. Everything from the weather, to various aspects of daily life including classified ads, which most often are entertaining.

Some have fingerprints, coffee stains, cigarette or cigar burns. On December 2, 1862, who was reading the paper that I hold in my hands nearly 150 years later?

As I ponder the so-called "death" of newspapers, I often consider the journalistic loss, the disappearance of our last great democratic watch-dog. But, I also think about the romance that will be lost, the romance which drew me into this business in the first place.

Perhaps in a past life I sat on a train alongside Rice, Red Smith or Ring Lardner, in a smoke-filled cabin en route to the next town where I'll wax poetic in type-set about war, politics, or Ty Cobb.

Despite our difficult economic times, the historical significance of newspapers still is valued in this country.

When Obama was elected President, newspapers flew off the racks and from newstands throughout the country as citizens horded them as keepsakes. We didn't print off web pages and race to Hobby Lobby to have them framed.

From the Titanic to Pearl Harbor to 9/11, newspapers were our window to the world and its most tragic and celebratory stories.

I eat lunch in Downtown Cincinnati most days, and I always take a moment to scan my surroundings to see how many people are reading newspapers. In short, a lot.

USA Today, the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal and the Cincinnati Enquirer are the most popular.

The internet is the future, and newspapers are scrambing to keep up. There are many difficult challenges ahead. But, as we look forward to the future of newspapers and consider their value in present society, let's not forget what they've meant to us all along.

When my son, Benjamin, was born on March 3, 2009, I made sure to keep a copy of the Enquirer from that date. It's in an acid-free box in my office, not far from Abraham Lincoln.

What's new at Great American Ball Park?

Reds fans can look forward to these changes at 100 Joe Nuxhall Way during the 2009 season:

$5 Tickets and Menu Items

- $5 Single Game Tickets: $5 Outer View Level tickets are back to give fans a great value throughout the season. Tickets are in sections 509-510 and 536-537 (corners of the upper deck) and are available in advance and on game days, if available. The $5 tickets are available for all regular season games except for Opening Day.

- $1 Menu Items: $1 hot dog, $1 12 oz. Coca-Cola sodas, $1 bag of peanuts, $1 popcorn, $1 ice cream cup...available at two concessions on the fi rst base side, in the Fan Zone and on the View Level.

- $5 14 oz. draft beer: Sold at all beer stands except in club and suite levels

- $7 adult value meal: Regular hot dog, 16 oz. Coca-Cola soda and small chips or snack (18 locations)

- $5 kids value meal: Kids hot dog, small Coca-Cola soda, snack and baseball card (10 locations)

New Ballpark Features:

- HD Scoreboard Displays: New 140-foot x 40-foot High Definition scoreboard/videoboard in left fi HD “out of town” scoreboard display on the left fi eld fence...768 feet of new digital ribbon boards that wrap almost all the way around the stadium...NL standings displays on the right field light towers.

- FOX Sports Ohio Champions Club: A renovated Club 4192 is now the all-inclusive FOX Sports Ohio Champions Club, featuring a buffet with everything from hot dogs and burgers to subs and pasta, plus unlimited non-alcoholic beverages...and the new Champions Club Boxes featuring “race track-style” boxes and an outdoor bar. Over 40 LCD HDTV’s are prominently displayed in the Champions Club.

- Toyota Tundra: A brand new, bright red, Toyota Tundra is back at GABP for ‘09...and this year there is a “Hit Me” sign located between the Power Stacks in right field. If a Reds player hits the sign, a lucky fan will win the Tundra.

- Coca-Cola: Coca-Cola is now the official soft drink of the Reds. There is a new Coca-Cola sign on top of the scoreboard, complete with the iconic Coca-Cola script logo in red and white.

Two new exhibits at the Reds Hall of Fame and Museum:

- Crosley Field Remembered: Visitors to the Reds Hall of Fame and Museum will be immersed in the sights, sounds and feel of Crosley Field, the ballpark the Reds called home from 1912-1970. Unique visual representations, artifacts and interactive elements combine to bring Crosley Field back to life.

- Negro Leagues and Cincinnati: Through images, fi lm and artifacts, visitors will be able to take a glimpse at a part of Cincinnati baseball often forgotten or ignored. Negro Leagues and Cincinnati will enlighten and remind you of the importance baseball played in Cincinnati to all people.

Reds Go Green

- Recycling: Comprehensive recycling program with Rumpke for all plastics and paper waste with over 100 recycling containers throughout the ballpark

- Carbon Credits: In partnership with Duke Energy, the Reds purchased carbon credits to offsets the estimated fossil fuel emissions associated with the game day operation of GABP for Opening Day and on April 24 in recognition of Earth Day. The purchased carbon emission offsets will assist funding of the Nuevo Chimbote Municipal Solid Waste Composting Project in Peru.

Gillette Civil Rights Game Celebration, June 19-21

- The Reds are honored to host the Gillette Civil Rights Game, with a weekend full of events June 19-21. Held as part of the Major League regular season for the fi rst time, the Civil Rights Game pays tribute and celebrates our country’s most significant era of social change and honors MLB’s involvement.

- An awards luncheon featuring national icons and a youth summit on Fountain Square are a few of the events scheduled for the weekend. The Gillette Civil Rights Game vs. Chicago White Sox on Saturday, June 20 at 7:10 p.m. will feature both teams wearing 1964 throwback uniforms.

After 58 years, Sheppard silenced

When the New York Yankees are introduced on Opening Day at their new stadium, the crowd might not be listening to Bob Sheppard's voice for the first time in more than a half-century.

Sheppard, the venerable Voice of the Yankees who from 1951 to 2006 did not miss an Opening Day, is retiring, according to the New York Times.

Sheppard's resounding monotone style was a signature at Yankee Stadium, where he bellowed out the lineups for some of the Bronx Bombers' greatest teams.

"Now batt-ing for the Yank-ees, Number 2, Derek Jee-tah, Jee-tah", would echo throughout the cavernous confines of Yankee Stadium.

Sheppard's first announced lineup in 1951 included Mickey Mantle, Phil Rizzuto, Joe DiMaggio and Yogi Berra. Now, it appears the 98-year old Sheppard has had enough.

I've visited 30 Major League ballparks. What I remember most about my initial visit to Yankee Stadium is hearing Sheppard's voice for the first time.
He's a true baseball treasure who'll be sorely missed.

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Futures Roster Announced for Historic Game

DAYTON, OH—An unprecedented collection of Major League prospects will appear at Fifth Third Field on Saturday as part of the historic Reds Futures Game.

The top five prospects in the Reds organization (based on Baseball America’s 2009 Top Prospects List) and most players on the Reds top 30 prospect list are scheduled to play in the game. The “Futures” will play the Cincinnati Reds in the Reds final pre-season game of 2009.

This is believed to be the first time ever that such a highly-regarded group of prospects has played against a major league team in a ballpark where many of the prospects once played on their climb toward the big leagues. Twenty-two (22) of the 29 players on the Futures Team roster have played for the Dayton Dragons.

Thirteen (13) of the top fourteen (14) position-player prospects in the Reds organization are scheduled to play in the game. Additionally, eight pitchers who are listed among the top 30 Reds prospects by Baseball America are scheduled to play. The Futures Team roster includes players from Single-A, Double-A, and Triple-A.

Highlighting the Futures Team Roster is the Reds 2008 first round pick and the seventh overall selection of the 2008 draft, first baseman Yonder Alonso. Alonso is currently the top-rated prospect in the Reds organization. Infielder-Outfielder Todd Frazier (#2 prospect), outfielder Drew Stubbs (#3 prospect), shortstop Chris Valaika (#4 prospect), and outfielder Yorman Rodriguez (#5 prospect) are also scheduled to play.

Alonso was one of college baseball’s top players last spring at the University of Miami. He led the Hurricanes to the College World Series and was a 1st Team All-American selection. He hit .370 with 24 home runs and led the nation in walks. His swing produces power to the alleys and is considered a perfect fit for Cincinnati’s Great American Ballpark.

“Alonso is the rare hitter who has both plus power and the swing and pitch awareness to hit for a high average as well,” said Baseball America.

Frazier, who played for the Dragons in 2008, was the Reds supplemental first round draft pick in 2007. Frazier first gained national attention in 1998 when he led Toms River, New Jersey to the Little League World Series title. In his first full-season of professional baseball in 2008, Frazier belted 19 home runs and batted a combined .291 between Dayton and Sarasota.

Stubbs and Valaika were both members of the Dragons in 2007. Stubbs was the Reds first round draft pick in 2006 and finished the 2008 season by batting .293 in Triple-A with Louisville. Valaika was the Reds 2008 Minor League Player of the Year when he batted .317 to lead all Reds minor league players. He also hit 18 home runs and drove in 81 runs as a shortstop.

Rodriguez is the youngest player on the Futures Team at age 16. He signed with the Reds last year and was given the largest signing bonus ever awarded a Venezuelan player. He will make his professional debut in 2009 and is considered to be a power-hitter with blazing speed.

Other top 10 prospects in the Reds organization who are scheduled to play are third baseman Neftali Soto (#7 prospect), third baseman Juan Francisco (#8 prospect), and catcher Devin Mesoraco (#10 prospect).

The remainder of the Futures Team roster includes shortstop Zack Cozart (#19 prospect); outfielders Chris Heisey (#22 prospect), Danny Dorn (#23 prospect), and Sean Henry; catchers Craig Tatum (#28 prospect) and Chris Denove; and pitchers Jordan Smith (#13 prospect), Josh Roenicke (#14 prospect), Zach Stewart (#15 prospect), Dallas Buck (#21 prospect), Carlos Fisher (#24 prospect), Pedro Viola (#25 prospect), Sean Watson (#26 prospect), Robert Manuel (#27 prospect), Misael DeJesus, Ramon Geronimo, Aguido Gonzalez, Daniel Ray Herrera, Curtis Partch, Mace Thurman, and Philippe Valiquette.

Roenicke, Viola, and Herrera are still in contention to make the Reds major league opening day roster.

Notes on Other Members of the Reds Futures Team

Neftali Soto
Soto had a huge half-season in 2008 when he batted .340 with 11 home runs and 47 runs batted in while playing in 67 games with the Dragons and Billings. He moved to third base in 2008 after being drafted as a shortstop in the third round in 2007.

Juan Francisco
Francisco is the top power hitter in the Reds organization. With the Dragons in 2007, he led the Midwest League with 25 home runs and then followed that with 23 homers at Sarasota in 2008 to league all Reds minor leaguers.

Devin Mesoraco
Mesoraco was the Reds first round draft pick in 2007 after earning the Pennsylvania High School Player of the Year award earlier that spring. Mesoraco was only the third catcher ever drafted in the first round by the Reds. He played for the Dragons in 2008.

Zack Cozart
Cozart was the Midwest League’s all-star shortstop with the Dragons in 2008 after being selected in the second round by the Reds in the 2007 draft. Cozart was also selected as the Best Defensive Infielder in the Reds organization by Baseball America.

Danny Dorn
Dorn has been an outstanding hitter over three seasons in minor league baseball. He has hit at least 20 home runs in each of the last two years and has posted a career batting average of .297. Dorn looks like a steal as a 32nd round draft pick in 2006 out of Cal State-Fullerton.

Robert Manuel
Manuel was honored by as the top relief pitcher in Minor League Baseball in 2008. He pitched in 52 games and allowed only 12 earned runs all season with a 1.25 earned run average, mostly with Double-A Chattanooga.

Zach Stewart
Stewart began his professional career with the Dragons in 2008 after being selected in the third round out of Texas Tech University. He fired 96 mile per hour fastballs in his first game and allowed only one earned run in 11 appearances with the Dragons, notching a 0.55 earned run average.

Monday, March 30, 2009

The $50 Million Dollar Man

Stephen Strasburg is, by most accounts, not human.

The San Diego State pitcher averages 19.4 strikeouts per innings. Put into some semblance of perspective, this means he pushes the MLB strikeout record every 9-inning outing.

His fastball reportedly reaches 103-mph. He has knee-buckling off-speed stuff, which is grossly unfair. At last check he was 5-0 with a 1.87 ERA. So he can be scored upon, albiet rarely.

Not at all surprising is that fact that Strasburg is represented by Scott Boras, the one man willing to place an obscene enough dollar amount on what scouts have dubbed a once-in-a-decade talent. One report has Boras asking $50 million, give or take a million.

So, the Strasburg Watch begins. Will it be the Nationals, Rockies ... ? Which team will be bad enough to earn the opportunity to draft him? Which team will be brave enough to sign him on Boras' terms? Is Strasburg really this good? Is anyone, for that matter?

He's a funny guy

During my 10 years covering the team, the Reds clubhouse has had its share of psuedo-comedians.

Pete Harnisch's thick Brooklyn-esque accent and incessant practical jokes.

Adam Dunn's self-deprecating humor.

David Weather's southern drawl and down-home metaphors.

But, none quite compare to resident funny man Kent Mercker.

Reds fans will get a taste of Mercker's comedic charm when he debuts on the Reds Radio Network this week, broadcasting spring training games Wed., Thur, and Sat. Mercker might also be part of the regular season Reds radio rotation.

Mercker, a Dublin, Ohio native, pitched for 18 seasons in the major leagues for the Braves, Orioles, Indians, Cardinals, Red Sox, Angels, Rockies, Cubs and Reds (1997, 2003, 2005-06, 2008).

You have to be present to win

I'm not naive enough to believe Sean Miller will retire as Xavier's head basketball coach. The once-in-a-lifetime job he'd be crazy to pass up will one day come. But, the time is not now, and Kentucky is not that job.

Besides, Miller realizes that leaving XU now would be like exiting the party just before they hand out the door prizes.

Coaches always are looking ahead, and Miller sees the promised land in the nearby distance. Next year's Muskies could be scary good, and he knows it.

"Something special", Miller called it.

Two of the best players on the team didn't play this season -- Jordan Crawford and Mark Lyons. Incoming freshman small forward Kevin Parrom could be an instant contributor next year.

Crawford sat out this season after transferring from Indiana. Lyons was ruled ineligible due to courses at Brewster Academy, a prep school in Wolfeboro, N.H., that did not meet core NCAA standards. Both practiced with the team and were impressive, in particular Crawford.

Add to them returnees Derrick Brown, Jason Love, Kenny Frease, Terrell Holloway, Dante Jackson, Brad Redford, Jamel McLean and ... well, you can understand Miller's optimism.

It's hard to find a weakness.

Again, not to sound naive, but Miller is the first XU coach that I believe could be in town for the long-haul.

One, the University now is in position to compensate him fairly.

Two, he has top-notch facilities and an established recruiting base.

Three, Cincinnati is a city where his family feels comfortable.

One day the lure of a stronger conference and the opportunity to compete annually for a national title might steer Miller clear of Victory Parkway.

In the near-term, the spoils of success are his ... right here at Xavier.

For now.

Monday, January 12, 2009

A taste of spring

With plummeting temperatures and snow in the forecast, why not warm up with a little baseball talk?

The Reds' Hot Stove League show will be broadcast live at 6 p.m. tomorrow at the Reds Hall of Fame and Museum’s Palace of the Fans Theater.

The broadcast is open to the public, with free admission to the RHOF after 5 p.m. The Hot Stove League show also can be heard on 700 WLW Radio and via the internet at

Reds' Dickerson does his part

Let me get this straight, there's a Major League Baseball Player who cares as much for the environment as he does about his stats and stock portfolio?

It's true.

Reds outfielder Chris Dickerson is a rare combination of speed, athleticism, and social consciousness.

Through his efforts, Dickerson has taken his "green" initiative beyond the Reds clubhouse to other MLB teams, pro athletes in other sports, and beyond.

Dickerson hit .304 with 6 home runs and 15 RBI last season in 31 games. In his spare time, he saves the world.

Results are in: Rickey runs into HOF


Jan. 12, 2009

Henderson and rice elected to hall of fame

COOPERSTOWN, NY) – Rickey Henderson, baseball’s all-time stolen bases and runs scored leader, and power-hitting outfielder Jim Rice were elected to the National Baseball Hall of Fame by the Baseball Writers’ Association of America in balloting verified by Ernst & Young. They will be inducted into the Hall July 26 at the Clark Sports Center in Cooperstown, N.Y.

Henderson and Rice will be honored along with former Yankees and Indians second baseman Joe Gordon, who was elected last month by the Veterans Committee. The July 26 Induction Ceremony will also include the presentation of the Ford C. Frick Award for broadcasting to Tony Kubek and the J.G. Taylor Spink Award for baseball writing to Nick Peters.

In the BBWAA election, 539 ballots, including two blanks, were cast by members with 10 or more consecutive years of service. Players must be named on 75 percent of ballots submitted to be elected. This year, 405 votes were required. Twenty-seven votes were needed to stay on the ballot.

Henderson was listed on 511 ballots (94.8%) to win election in his first year on the ballot. He becomes the 44th player to be elected by the BBWAA in his first year eligible.

Rice was listed on 412 ballots (76.4%) in his 15th and final time on the BBWAA ballot. He becomes the third player elected by the BBWAA in his final year of eligibility, following Red Ruffing (1967) and Ralph Kiner (1975). Rice received seven votes more than the minimum needed for election.

This marks the 24th time the BBWAA has elected two Hall of Famers in the same year. The two new Hall of Famers bring to 289 the number of elected members of the Hall. Of that total, 202 are former major league players, of which 108 have been through the BBWAA ballot. Henderson and Rice are the 20th and 21st left fielders elected and the first since Carl Yastrzemski in 1989. No other position had gone longer without a new Hall of Famer.

Henderson, 50, is Major League Baseball’s career leader in stolen bases (1,406) and runs scored (2,295) and is second all-time in walks (2,190). He was named to 10 All-Star teams and was the 1990 American League Most Valuable Player with the Oakland A’s, with whom he won a World Series title in 1989. Henderson, who played for nine teams over 25 big league seasons, also won a World Series ring in 1993 as a member of the Toronto Blue Jays. He holds the Major League Baseball record for steals in a season with 130, which he set in 1982 with the A’s, and he holds the big league record of 81 home runs leading off games. Henderson received the 13th-highest voting percentage ever, finishing right behind Babe Ruth (95.1%) and just ahead of Willie Mays (94.7%)

Rice, 55, spent his entire 16-year big league career with the Boston Red Sox. The 1978 American League Most Valuable Player finished in the top five of the AL MVP voting five other times, finishing second to teammate Fred Lynn in the 1975 AL Rookie of the Year voting. He led the AL in homers three times, hit .300-or-better seven times and was selected to eight All-Star Games. He is the only player in history to post three straight seasons of 35-plus home runs and 200-plus hits. He finished his career with a .298 batting average, 382 home runs and 1,451 RBIs.

Andre Dawson (361 votes, 67%) and Bert Blyleven (338 votes, 62.7%) were the only other players listed on more than half of the ballots. Rounding out the top 10 were: Lee Smith (240 votes, 44.5%); Jack Morris (237 votes, 44.0%); Tommy John (171 votes, 31.6%); Tim Raines (122 votes, 22.6%); Mark McGwire (118 votes, 21.9%); and Alan Trammell (94 votes, 17.4%).

Players remain on the ballot for up to 15 years provided they receive at least five percent of the vote. Players who will return to the ballot next year include: Dawson, Blyleven, Smith, Morris, Raines, McGwire, Trammell, Dave Parker, Don Mattingly, Dale Murphy and Harold Baines.

Tommy John, who received 31.7% of the vote in his 15th-and-final year of BBWAA ballot eligibility, will be eligible for Veterans Committee consideration in the fall of 2010.

Of the 10 newcomers to the ballot, Henderson was elected and nine others did not receive sufficient support of five percent or more to stay on the ballot.

The vote: Rickey Henderson 511 (94.8%); Jim Rice 412 (76.4%); Andre Dawson 361 (67.0%); Bert Blyleven 338 (62.7%); Lee Smith 240 (44.5%); Jack Morris 237 (44.0%); Tommy John 171 (31.7%); Tim Raines 122 (22.6%); Mark McGwire 118 (21.9%); Alan Trammell 94 (17.4%); Dave Parker 81 (15.0%); Don Mattingly 64 (11.9%); Dale Murphy 62 (11.5%); Harold Baines 32 (5.9%); Mark Grace 22 (4.1%); David Cone 21 (3.9%); Matt Williams 7 (1.3%); Mo Vaughn 6 (1.1%); Jay Bell 2 (0.4%); Jesse Orosco 1 (0.2%); Ron Gant 0; Dan Plesac 0; Greg Vaughn 0.