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Hal McCoy on baseball superstitions: Licking bats, kissing coaches and women’s underwear

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: While shopping at your neighborhood Kroger as a Hall of Fame baseball writer do you wear a disguise to avoid autograph-seekers? — DAVE, Miamisburg/Centerville/Beavercreek.

A: While some people say I should hide my face at all times, I don’t do it. One of the great joys of being elected to the Hall of Fame is the recognition it brought from fans. I never refuse an autograph request and pose for all requested pictures. My wife laughs at me and say I crave and savor the attention. She is right.

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Q: Among the many R players you have covered over the years, which had the weirdest superstition? — GREG, Beavercreek.

A: I could do a full essay on this one because nearly every player has one or two superstitions — foods they eat when they are going good, routes to the ball park every day when they are on a hitting streak and Yasiel Puig licking his bat and kissing hitting coach Turner Ward. My favorite, though, involved one of the most successful relief pitchers the R ever had — left hander Rob Murphy. Murphy was struggling so, as a gag, he put on a pair of his girlfriend’s black underwear and wore them under his uniform. He pitched a perfect inning that night and continued wearing them the rest of the season and had one of his best years. He should have done a Victoria’s Secret commercial.

Q: When a pitcher throws a pitch in the dirt, the umpire throws the ball out of play before the next pitch, but if a ball is hit on the ground or for a hit that ball stays in play, even though it may be grass-stained or have dirt on it, so why is that? — CINDY, Dayton.

A: Many have asked the same question, including me, and I’ve never unearthed an answer. Former National League umpire Randy Marsh (one of the all-time best) is now an umpire supervisor and sits close to me in the Great American Ball Park press box. I asked him and he shrugged and said, “I really don’t know. There is nothing anywhere that says what we should or shouldn’t do with baseballs that hit the ground.” A little bird, not a Cardinal or Oriole or Blue Jay, told me that some of the balls that are tossed out find their way back into the game in later innings.

Q: They are counting the trips to the mound and the limit is nine, I think, so what happens if the game goes extra innings? — JERRY, Middletown.

A: That’s another of those absurd experiments to speed up the game, but I fail to see to how it saves much time. Actually, the limit is six per nine innings and an additional visit for each extra inning. If a manager makes a pitching change, that does not count as a visit. All other trips to the mound by a catcher or infielder or coach or manager constitutes one visit. It doesn’t say anything about a baseball writer visiting the mound, but I don’t think any pitcher would consent to an interview mid-game.

Q: Do you think second base should be Derek Dietrich’s to lose with the R? — KEITH, Brookville.

A: First of all, second base isn’t his, so he can’t lose it. Second base belongs to Jose Peraza for now, until Scooter Gennett comes back and then it belongs to him. Dietrich is just fine doing what he does and that’s play a little bit of everywhere, which is why the R signed him. While he does have four home runs, two dramatic ones, and 11 RBIs in 33 at bats, he is hitting only .212 as of this writing, perhaps weighed down a bit by that gigantic gold chain dangling from his neck.

Q: The R played in Mexico last weekend and have played games in Puerto Rico while the A’s and Mariners opened the season in Japan, so is all this a harbinger of baseball expanding to foreign territory? — RON, Vandalia.

A: Yes, the R played in Puerto Rico when the Expos were leaving Montreal and played home games in San Juan, but Puerto Rico is not foreign, it is an American territory. And MLB already has a ‘foreign’ team in Toronto and had the Expos in Montreal. Boston and the New York Yankees will play a series in London later this year. It would not a shock me to see MLB expand internationally, perhaps form an International Division with Montreal, Mexico City, London, Tokyo and Toronto, then replace Toronto in the states with Las Vegas or San Antonio.

Q: How are bat boys selected and how are they assigned to home teams and visiting clubs? — BILL, Englewood.

A: Mostly, like so many things, it is who you know — a friend of a friend within the organization. They do hire batboys. And sometimes they double as a clubhouse attendant, running errands for the players. They also sometimes have ‘celebrity’ batboys, like Teddy Kremer, their good luck charm of a few years ago. And then there is the dog in Las Vegas who retrieves bats. So it can be a dog’s life.

Q: When teams shift and play position players in different spots, like an infielder in the outfield or a shortstop in shallow right field, what is the scoring if one of those defenders catches a pop fly or throws runner out at first base? — DICK, Anna.

A: No matter where a shortstop stands, in left field or shallow right field, he is still a shortstop, number six in the scoring system. So if a player flies out to left field and the shortstop catches it, it is still P-6 or if the shortstop throws a runner out from short right field it is still 6-3 in your scorebook. To me, that messes up the analytics. The scorebook says he popped out to shortstop, not left field, or it says he grounded out to the shortstop even if the shortstop is playing shallow right field. That’s another reason I feel they should ban the shift and force defenders to play within reasonable distance of their position. To me, a shortstop is a shortstop, not a left fielder or a shallow right fielder/deep second baseman.


Q: What are the particulars with sending players such as Homer Bailey or Chris Davis to the minors if they are doing poorly? — DENNIS, Huber Heights.

A: Players with five or more years in the majors, like Homer Bailey and Chris Davis, cannot be sent to the minors without their permission. They can refuse and become free agents. The only players who can be sent to the minors without their permission are those with less than three years of MLB service. Each player has three options, each option covering one year. They can be sent back-and-forth between the majors and minors any time the big league club desires, but only for three years. That’s why Bailey and Davis continued to wear major league uniforms despite ugly performances. And now you know why the Major League Baseball Players Association (the union) is stronger than the Teamsters.