Hall-of-fame baseball writer Hal McCoy knows a thing or two about America's pastime. If you'd like to tap into that knowledge, send a question to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Q: The Cincinnati Reds signed Shin-Soo Choo to a one-year contract while Joey Votto and Jay Bruce got long-term deals. Is it a coincidence that Choo is having a better season? — DAVE, MIAMISBURG/CENTERVILLE/BEAVERCREEK
A: The Reds did not sign Choo to a one-year contract, they inherited a contract he signed with the Cleveland Indians that was in place when the trade was made. And get this: Choo is making $7.375 million this year, but the Indians are paying $3.5 million of it, so when the Reds and Tribe get together the Indians are paying Choo nearly half his salary to beat their brains out.
Q: Why suspend one umpire when another umpire costs a team a chance to tie the game. Why not give both time off? — JOE, PHILLIPSBURG
A: Umpire Fieldin Culbreth was suspended two days and the rest of his crew fined for not knowing the rules. Culbreth permitted Houston to make back-to-back pitching changes before the first pitcher faced at least one batter — a rules violation. In the case of Angel Hernandez, who ruled a home run hit by Oakland's Adam Rosales was a double, and upheld his call even after he checked replay, that wasn't a rules violation. That was a judgment call. Poor judgment? The worst. They don't suspend umpires for poor judgment. What they should do is fire them because that's mostly what umpires do — make judgment calls.
Q: There were three interleague games played one night last week and I thought with the odd number in each league (15) that there would be one interleague game each day. Why three that night? — RON, VANDALIA
A: I foolishly thought the same thing. Stupid me. I've given up trying to make sense of baseball scheduling, especially interleague play. From what I can see, the line of demarcation between American League and National League is subtly being erased and sometime in the future it is going to be the World Baseball League.
Q: I am amazed how Joey Votto can foul off two-strike pitches until he gets one he likes and then puts it in play. Does he practice that or is this a gift? — PAUL, FINDLAY
A: I am amazed at a lot of things Votto does. I have never seen Votto hit foul balls during batting practice, but that's because batting practice pitchers throw the ball right where hitters want them. So I would say that it is a gift, one that opposing pitchers wish he would return because they know they are either going to have to give him the pitch he is looking for or they are going to walk him.
Q: Competition seems to motivate some guys, like Devin Mesoraco in spring training, but puts pressure on others. Which camp is Mike Leake in? — COURT, ARLINGTON, VA.
A: Have you watched Leake pitch and hit? They might as well stamp "competitor" on his forehead. He doesn't have overpowering stuff so he has to use cunning and guile. And when he hits, he actually tries to hit, unlike most pitchers. If they told all the competitors on the Reds to line up, Leake would be so competitive he would be first in line.
Q: When I was young, if a batter made no attempt to get out of the way of a pitch he would not be awarded first base if hit, so when did that change? — STOCC, MIAMISBURG
A: A lot of things have changed in baseball since you and I were young, Maggie, and they changed without changes in the rulebook. Did you know the rulebook says a pitch across the letters of the uniform is a strike? Umpire won't call a strike on anything above the belt. Did you know that the rules say a hitter cannot leave the dirt area of home plate between pitches? Most of them take strolls between pitches and Jay Bruce nearly returns to the dugout. And, yes, batters are supposed to "try" to duck pitches, but Shin-Soo Choo is the master of, uh, almost getting out of the way, but not quite.
Q: Remember when the Reds had two shortstops and had to decide which to keep so they kept Barry Larkin and traded Kurt Stillwell? That certainly worked, so now they traded Didi Gregorious and kept Zack Cozart and how do you think that will work out? — DAN, CORRY, PA.
A: Not only is the jury not out yet, it is still sitting in the box gathering evidence. Gregorius hasn't even played two months in the majors and Cozart is in his second year. Gregorius is better than Stillwell and Cozart isn't as good as Larkin, so this decision might not work out as well, but you have to await judgment for at least five years.
Q: With what you have seen from Brandon Phillips and his defense, where does he rank in your best of the best list with the Reds? — BILL, DAYTON
A: I don't keep a Best of the Best list or a Worst of the Worst list because keeping track of players when you've covered 7,500 games is daunting. But Phillips is easy. I've never seen a player that good on defense — at any position. He would be at the top of that list. As for offense, he is good, very good, but not on any all-time list. He's only third-best offensively on this team behind Shin-Soo Choo and Joey Votto.
Q: I often see that a team options a player to the minors or designates him for assignment, so can you explain the difference? — FRED, DAYTON
A: Nothing is as simple as it looks and explanations can be simplistic. That said, here is the simplest explanation. A player has three option years — he can be optioned back to the minors in three different years (as many times as a team likes in one year, and that's one option). Once those three options are used up, a team has to designate a player for assignment before sending him to the minors. That means another team can claim that player for up to 72 hours after he is designated. If no team claims that player, he can be sent to the minors. The player also can refuse the minor-league assignment and become a free agent. Clear? Now don't ask about the infield fly rule.
Q: At this time last year everybody thought Joey Votto would be gone from the Reds in 2013 because they couldn't afford him and he is still here. Now they are saying the same thing about Shin-Soo Choo. What are Choo's chances of signing a new contract with the Reds? — MARK, BLOOMINGTON, IND.
A: The better he gets and the more he does, the less chance the Reds will have. His agent, Scott Boras, is the toughest negotiator this side of a federal prosecutor and I doubt if he will permit Choo to sign with the Reds during the season. They will see what's out there for Choo and what's out there for Choo will be money bags stacked up like sand bags holding back a flood.
QUESTION OF THE WEEK
Q: Washington's decision to shut down Stephen Strasburg last year didn't make sense and it seems that managers and general managers are too worried about pitch counts. Do you think teams are coddling today's starting pitchers? — TYLER, WEST CARROLLTON
A: I love to listen to Hall of Fame pitchers sit in Cooperstown and talk pitching — guys like Bob Gibson and Jim Bunning and Juan Marichal, plus Bob Feller, Robin Roberts and Warren Spahn, when they were alive. That was always a subject, how there was no pitch count when they pitched and they often threw 150 pitches and they did it every fourth day, not every fifth day, and they were embarrassed if they didn't throw a complete game. Like me, none of them could come up with a reason why suddenly 100 pitches is the danger line. Feller told me one day, ‘Son, I was just getting loose at 100 pitches.' So, yes, I do think today's pitchers are overly protected.