Hal McCoy edited transcript
[00:00:02.030] - Todd
Hey, Hal, welcome to Press Box Access. I'm so happy that you're joining us. It's just a thrill.
[00:00:08.310] - Hal
Thanks for having me, Todd. I'm looking forward to it. Long time no see.
[00:00:12.110] - Todd
Yes, I want to tell you right up front that but there are no smoking laws in this Tavern. You can fire up one of your favorite Monte Cristo White Label cigars. There you go. You got one fired up. I'm not going to tell the state law folks or the Smoky to bear. You can just burn that thing away.
[00:00:30.040] - Hal
Well, I don't like it in the house. My wife forbids that I had a sunroom built. It was supposed to be my smoking room. And after it was built, my wife said, that's too nice. Back out in the garage.
[00:00:47.190] - Todd
That's where we always end up. Back in the garage.
[00:00:49.350] - Hal
[00:00:50.850] - Todd
Well, how we first met, I think, in the late 1980s. And it's just a thrill for me to reconnect because you're one of the all time great baseball writers. Hall of Fame baseball writer. I will ask you this, though, Hal. Is this the real Hal McCoy or is this Harold Stanley McCoy Jr.
[00:01:07.980] - Hal
Okay, I'm quitting the show right now. Nobody is allowed to use the name Harold. My father told my mother not to name me after him, and she did anyway. And I hate the name. When I was a kid, I went by the name of Bubby Bubby B-U-B-B-Y until Bubbly Bristol was a quarterback. And then I dropped that, too. But the only person who ever called me Harold was ridiculous at my own sports editor at the Dayton Journal. Harold. And he only did that when he got mad at me.
[00:01:42.630] - Todd
So how did you become Hal?
[00:01:45.750] - Hal
That's a great story. When I played Little League baseball, I played in an Allstar game, and the Akron Beacon Journal was there, and I happened to get lucky and hit a game winning home run. And the photographer from the Beacon Journal came up to me and asked me my name, and I said, Harold McCoy. And he misheard me and thought I said, how. So the cut line in the newspaper was how? And I liked that and picked it up. And I've been how ever since.
[00:02:13.540] - Todd
That's tremendous. That is great.
[00:02:16.380] - Hal
[00:02:17.340] - Todd
So you're a mistake.
[00:02:18.770] - Hal
I am a mistake in more than one way. More than one way.
[00:02:22.970] - Todd
Well, all these sports riders, we're all damaged goods. So we're all mistakes in our own.
[00:02:26.890] - Hal
[00:02:28.710] - Todd
Well, how, Harold? How? I'm just going to stick with how.
[00:02:31.690] - Hal
Because that's all I know.
[00:02:34.410] - Todd
You certainly made a name for yourself. All those years at the Date and Daily News covering the Reds, you're still writing about baseball. In 2002, you were honored by the National Baseball Hall of Fame as a member of the JJ Taylor Spink Award for meritorious contributions to baseball writing. Meritorious? What a word, right?
[00:02:52.540] - Hal
Yeah. No kidding. What does it mean? I thought it was an insult.
[00:02:57.750] - Todd
Just assume the worst. You were inducted into the National Sportscasters and Sports Writers Association Hall of Fame. You were the Cincinnati chapter chair of the Baseball Riders Association 22 times. You were the Baseball Riders National President. Kevin, you've been covering the Red since 1973. Big Red machine, hall of Fame players, Pete Rose, gambling scandal, World Series games, great moments. How many games, Hal? How many games have you covered?
[00:03:46.100] - Hal
Well, just counting the Reds, before I covered the Reds, I had about ten more years of writing stories, but baseball stories alone. The Daily News estimated a couple of years ago that I had done like 250 stories on baseball and covered about 7000 games. And I always told my wife I was going to keep doing it until I got it right.
[00:04:13.390] - Todd
Oh, my God. You must hear the national anthem in your sleep.
[00:04:16.650] - Hal
Oh, that's a standard. That's a standard on my iPad.
[00:04:20.060] - Todd
Ipod, 25,000 stories, 7000 baseball games. I mean, were you there when Abnormal Day came up with this thing?
[00:04:28.930] - Hal
I wasn't there, but I think I covered Harry Wright, the original owner of the Cincinnati. I think that was.
[00:04:39.050] - Todd
In all seriousness, how when people ask you what your career has been like, what do you tell them what's it been like to be a baseball writer all these years?
[00:04:53.160] - Hal
Well, I always tell people that I love three things in life other than my family. I love writing, I love baseball, and I love to travel, and I got to do all three, and I got paid for it, too. So to me, that's what it was all about.
[00:05:10.430] - Todd
Yeah, you think about that, right? When you get paid to do what you love.
[00:05:14.400] - Hal
[00:05:15.070] - Todd
That's just like a gift.
[00:05:16.810] - Hal
I know I've never had a real job. That's why I tell my wife I've never had a real job. I've never had to get one.
[00:11:29.570] - Todd
Well, you've been writing about it better than anyone since 1973 as a full time beat guy. So in 73, you choose to cover the Reds instead of the Bengals. That sounds like something a judge would ask you. So you go into the locker room in 1973 and you inherit a team with quite a collection of talent. I mean, we're talking all time talent. Rose, Bench, Morgan Perez. What was it like to be around that clubhouse on a daily basis?
[00:11:59.920] - Hal
I was in total awe to see walking to see those guys. And Earl Lawson, who turned out to be my mentor, was covering the Register of the Cincinnati Post at the time. What a great guy. He took me aside, like the first day or two and said, Kid, he said, you follow me, listen to what I say, do what I do. Keep your mouth shut, and I'll teach you how to do this job. And he did. And for a long time, I followed him around like a puppy dog, kept my mouth shut. He introduced me to everybody and kind of took me under his wing and made me anything I am right now. And I'm forever indebted to Earl for doing that.
[00:12:42.600] - Todd
For me, that's quite an act of kindness for a reporter at another paper to take a kid under his wing and say, Follow me.
[00:12:51.520] - Hal
That's why I have always tried to help anybody that came along covering the Reds or just starting out as a beat writer, even for other teams coming in out of town. I always helped them in the Reds clubhouse because I remember what Earl did for me.
[00:13:10.560] - Todd
Right. Very nice. So the Reds have all these players, Rose, Bench, Morgan Perez, on and on. You said you're in awe. What was it like with the egos in that locker room? What was it like just dealing with them as a reporter, interviewing them? Any favorite anecdotes about just covering that type of clubhouse?
[00:13:31.150] - Hal
Well, yes, absolutely. You're talking about the egos. And it was amazing how Sparky Anderson managed all those egos. And Tony Perez was probably the leader in that clubhouse because he knew how to put down all those guys and put them in their place and keep their egos in place. But one of my favorite stories is absolutely, you know how Pete Rose was. You go talk to him and open your notebook and ask one question, and he would fill it for you. But I found out very early that Rose and Bench did not like each other very much. And if I went in and talked to Rose first, and then I would go talk to Bench, I would get very short, cryptic answers. And if I talked to Bench first, he would be great. And, of course, Rose, you can talk to him at any time, so he didn't care. But I figured out, you better not let Ben see you talking to Rose first.
[00:14:25.810] - Todd
That's pretty interesting.
[00:14:27.080] - Hal
[00:14:27.560] - Todd
And you learned that early on.
[00:14:28.900] - Hal
I learned that early on, yes.
[00:14:30.690] - Todd
The dynamics of the room, like how to get the best stuff.
[00:14:34.340] - Hal
[00:16:27.370] - Todd
So you had all these different personalities and tremendous athletic abilities, and then you have, like you mentioned, Sparky Anderson was kind of the zookeeper. What made Sparky the right manager for that team.
[00:16:42.850] - Hal
He knew how to handle those egos, and he knew how you always hear the manager say, I treat everybody the same way, not Sparky. He would admit it. He would say that Benz and Rose and Morgan and Perez earned his respect, that they could do pretty much whatever they wanted to do. But he would say, the rest of you guys, you play by my rules, but these guys have earned by the respect that they can go about their business pretty much the way they want to.
[00:17:12.450] - Todd
Yeah. Red Arbock used to do that with the Celtics, with Bill Russell. If Bill Russell didn't want to practice, Bill Russell got to sit and watch practice because he's Bill Russell.
[00:17:21.970] - Hal
Yeah. Sparky was an interesting guy to deal with. I can remember during the 75 World Series, I was sitting in his office one day and there were about seven or eight writers in there, and a writer asked him a question, and Sparky answered the question, and that pack of writers left, and I stayed in, and another pack came in. And during the course of the interview, one of the writers ask Sparky the same question that another writer and the other pack had asked, and Sparky gave him a totally opposite answer. When those guys left, I said, Sparky, you told one guy one thing and you told another guy the exact opposite. Spark said, well, you can't give everybody the same story. He was trying to look out for people looking out for the writers. Yeah.
[00:19:20.390] - Todd
All right, you said that's another story, but tell us the story. How did the Big Red Machine come about?
[00:19:25.040] - Hal
Well, I wasn't even a beat writer then. I was a backup writer to Jim Ferguson, and it was maybe 1968 or 69. And the Reds had come from behind, like eight to two and beat the Dodgers 98 late in the game. And I went in the clubhouse and Lee May was screaming, we're a machine. We're just a machine. And I thought, hey, that's pretty cool. So I went back up to the press box and I wrote in my story that they were a machine. And then I thought, Well, let's color it up a little bit or the resistance make it a Big Red machine. And I wrote it, and it kind of caught on. And I wish I had put a trademark on it. You and I wouldn't be talking today.
[00:20:13.040] - Todd
No, we beat out of some island smoking our cigars together. Just chilling, right?
[00:20:17.060] - Hal
[00:20:17.260] - Todd
Because I would have been right there with you
[00:23:01.090] - Todd
So in 75, that World Series, that's the classic, classic World Series. That in many respects kind of rejuvenated baseball as the national pastime. It was a seven game series, Cincinnati against Boston back and forth. What are your memories as a writer covering one of the classic World Series of all time.
[00:23:21.880] - Hal
Well, the first thing was I had never been to Fenway Park. And before the first game of the World Series, the Reds went out to Fenway Park to work out, and I walked into the Stadium and I went into the stands and came up a ramp on the first base side and walked out of the portal and looked at the green monster, and it took my breath away. You hear about the green monster, but you have to see it to see how awesome it is.
[00:23:47.980] - Todd
Yeah, I remember I covered a series up in Boston. I did the same thing, actually. You could walk to the top of it. I did that just because I could not believe how big this wall was and how close it was to home plate.
[00:23:59.390] - Hal
Yeah, I did the same thing. Just an awesome site. You hear so much about it until you see it. You can't believe it. But yeah, that was an unbelievable World Series. One of the highlights of my career was getting to cover that. Of course, Carlton Fisk at the famous home run in 19 are in the 12th inning of game six and to win the game. And a few years later, the History Channel did a feature on baseball writers, and they were kind enough to include me, and they said, here's what we're going to do. We're going to take one of your famous stories and we're going to have you read the lead and we're going to show what it's all about. We're going to show what you're writing about on the screen. I thought and they wanted me to do the game six of the 1975 World Series. Well, I was only two years on the beat, and I thought, oh, my God, I hope I got this right. So they read my lead and showed Carlton fiscating the home run and jumping up in the air and waving it to stay fair and all that.
[00:25:06.960] - Hal
And I was pretty proud of it after it got on the air because I think I nailed it.
[00:25:12.820] - Todd
What was your lead?
[00:25:13.930] - Hal
I don't remember. 25,000 stories. Come on, give me a break here.
[00:25:22.810] - Todd
It was a dark, stormy night.
[00:25:24.530] - Hal
[00:25:25.480] - Todd
I usually work.
[00:25:26.670] - Hal
[00:25:27.890] - Todd
So the Reds come back and win the next night in game seven. I wanted to ask you as a writer, what kind of tension there is in game seven of a World Series in a game that's kind of going back and forth as ebbs and flows. It's on deadline. What was it like? Not just that game seven, but just covering a moment where there's history unfolding right in front of you.
[00:25:48.980] - Hal
Yeah, well, believe it or not, I love those moments. I really didn't feel any tension. It was like when Pete Rose got his hit the past taikob. I was just anxious to get at the typewriter or the computer now was a typewriter. My grandson doesn't know what a typewriter is.
[00:26:07.770] - Todd
I thought it was a stone tablet.
[00:26:09.430] - Hal
Yeah, right. Something like that. That's what I used, a hammer and chisel back when I was covering area. Right. But yeah, I enjoy the moment, as you might say. So writing about game six was a whole lot of fun, and writing about game seven was a whole lot of fun. And if you ask people in Boston after game six, they think the Red Sox won the World Series. You never hear about game seven when the Reds came back to win it.
[00:26:38.150] - Todd
Oh, yeah. I think most of the nation thinks Carlton won the World Series.
[00:26:41.480] - Hal
Won the World Series? Absolutely.
[00:26:44.230] - Todd
Well, you certainly had great moments to cover the next year in 76 with that team, the Great Eight line up, the Reds end up sweeping the post season, the Phillies in three straight, the Yankees in four straight. Did you realize at the time just how special that team was?
[00:27:02.230] - Hal
No, that's what I said. I thought this was how it was going to be all the time. I was with these guys every day. It's not like it is now. Back then, we travel with the team. I was on the team Chartered, rode the bus back and forth to the ballpark, got to know these guys really personally, and we don't get that these days. We don't travel with them. They limit access to the clubhouse now to about 45 minutes back in the 76 Era. I could get to the ballpark at 02:00 if I wanted to for a night game, going to clubhouse and spend 5 hours with those guys, and you can't do that now. So that's what made those times so special was you really got to know the guys. Plus they didn't make as much money as they do now, and you could actually go out to eat with them once in a while and really get to know them. But those days are gone.
[00:27:58.870] - Todd
What player did you like the most in terms of dealing with and getting to know as a person from that era that's 75 76 Reds who stands out in your mind?
[00:28:09.970] - Hal
Believe it or not, George Foster. He and I remain close friends to this day. And as I said, he was a tough guy to interview at times, but I got to know him very well, became very friendly with him, and he was probably the most underrated player on a Big Red machine. I mean, in 1977, he hit 52 home runs and was MVP, but the Reds didn't win, so he wasn't recognized as much as I thought he should be. Once Sparky put him in the line up and moved Pete Rose from left field to third base. That's when the Big Red machine really started to operate. So George was a little bit different, and he would say some strange things at times, but I really enjoyed being around him. I'll never forget. In spring training one year, we used to sit down the left field line without our shirts on to get our sun tans at Old Tampa.
[00:29:13.290] - Todd
There's an image.
[00:29:14.680] - Hal
[00:29:17.110] - Todd
We got to stop this show right now.
[00:29:19.370] - Hal
Imagine me and Earl Lawson and Bob Herzl and Paul Meyer sitting in the left field bleachers at Al Lopez Field with our shirts off, getting our sunset so that we covered spring training. So it was so easy going that I would climb over the fence between innings and get a baseball and get one of the pitchers left handed gloves and play catch with the left fielder to warm them up. Really? Yes. And one day I took a baseball and I signed my autograph on it and I threw it out to George Foster. And Foster must have seen me signing the baseball because he took it and looked at it and turned around and threw it over the left of the wall.
[00:30:07.310] - Todd
Hey, do you think getting to know guys with that much time and access, how did it help you as a reporter when you were covering the team? I mean, you weren't friends. You're a journalist, right? And Lord knows that you broke stories that they weren't happy with.
[00:30:34.220] - Hal
[00:30:35.140] - Todd
But how do you feel getting to know the guys helped you as a journalist?
[00:30:40.170] - Hal
I think it helps immensely that they know you. They know your personality, they know whether to trust you or not to trust you. And hopefully I built trust in all of them and that I could go up and ask them pretty much anything. And that's another thing that we miss these days. They don't get to know you, and you don't get to know them as much as you'd like to. You know how to approach them. You know what questions to ask. And to me, it helped immensely.
[00:31:11.010] - Todd
You covered the Big Red Machine when it was in full throttle success. And like you said, hey, this is going to be the way it's always winning world Championship Hall of Fame players. But then the machine started being dismantled and Perez was traded. Rose left for Philadelphia. Sparky was fired. So you go from the great, great team to a team that really starts to struggle. What was it like to cover a bad baseball team on a day to day basis?
[00:31:41.190] - Hal
It was not as much fun, mainly because you like the team that you covered a win, not because you're a fan or a rooting for them, but people read your stories more. If you're covering a winning team, a losing team, like the 82 resident, lost 101 games. People don't care, and they don't want to read about how bad they are. So as far as covering them, it didn't change much, except that you were writing more games about LS and W's. Right. So that to me, was the main difference.
[00:32:18.510] - Todd
I mentioned Sparky being fired in 78. It's only two years after winning consecutive Championships. Why was Sparky Anderson fired?
[00:32:27.130] - Hal
Well, the story I heard, and by the way, I was lucky enough to hear about that and broke the story that he was going to be fired. The team was in Japan, and by that time, Dick Wagner, the hatchet man of all time, was the general manager. And some people thought it was because Wagner wanted the spotlight and thought Sparky's image was too good. But the story I heard that when they went to Japan, Dick Wagner told Sparky that he had to fire a couple of his coaches. And Sparky, of course, didn't want to do that. And Sparky told Dick, if you are going to fire two of my coaches, you might as well fire me, too. And Wagner accommodating.
[00:33:18.270] - Todd
Wow, think about that. I know one of the all time great managers who went on to win a world Championship in American League with the Tigers.
[00:33:26.820] - Hal
A managerial icon, especially in Cincinnati, even though when he was hired, one of the Cincinnati papers said Sparky who.
[00:33:36.170] - Todd
[00:33:37.890] - Hal
Nobody knew who he was, and he turned out to be an unbelievable manager and got himself fired.
[00:33:47.090] - Todd
Well, we talked about getting to know these guys because you had such great access back in those days. One of the guys that you had an interesting relationship with was Joe Morgan in 1979, when the players Rose is gone, Perez is gone, Sparky is gone. I think you wrote a column saying it's time to move on and Joe Morgan should be traded. How was that received?
[00:34:10.510] - Hal
That was funny that you'd bring that up because we were talking about Sparkly getting fired. I was thinking about Joe Morgan as we talked was 1979, and they were breaking up the Big Red machine, as you said, President traded, and Ken Griffith Jr. Was going to the Yankees. Gullet was gone. To the Yankees. Rose was gone. The only ones left were Morgan and Benson conceptsione. And I wrote a column not saying that he should be traded. It was his free agent year, and he had made it clear that he was going to leave. So I wrote a column saying it was time to leave. I did not criticize him. I did not say he wasn't a great player. I said he was still a great player, but he didn't fit what the Reds were doing anymore, and it was time for him to move on. Well, I went into the clubhouse the next day. That's one thing you got to do as a baseball writer or any kind of writer. If you write a controversial story, don't hide, show up, face the music. So I walked in, walked right over to Joe, and he stuck his finger in my face and said, don't ever try to talk to me again.
[00:35:21.030] - Hal
Okay? All right. So I didn't. So Joe and I didn't talk for 35 years.
[00:35:26.330] - Todd
[00:35:27.140] - Hal
Yes. He came back as a broadcaster later with the Reds, and we played doubles tennis against each other. We never spoke.
[00:35:37.110] - Todd
Not at all. Wait a minute. You're playing tennis against Joe Morgan and you're not even speaking to each other?
[00:35:41.420] - Hal
No. I think we're more concentrating on trying to hit each other with overheads. But we were on elevators by ourselves together. We were both standing like this straight ahead, not look at each other, standing next to each other at the urinals in the bathroom. Don't talk. And it went on that way for 35 years. When I went into the hall of Fame on induction weekend, I was standing in front of the Otto Sega Hotel with my family, my mother, my father, my wife, and my brothers and sisters. And this white Cadillac limousine pulls up. Joe Morgan gets out, and I'm standing up on the steps, and Joe comes up the steps. He spoke to my mother, he spoke to my father, he spoke to my wife, my sisters, my brothers. And I thought, oh, okay, this is going to be great. We're going to make up. By the time he got to me, he pretty much elbowed me in the chest as he walked by and didn't say a word. So it continued. And about four or five years ago, Joe is back with the Reds as a consultant, and he comes into the clubhouse every once in a while.
[00:36:48.670] - Hal
It was a Sunday morning. I'm there early, and I'm standing watching the TV because there's nobody else in the clubhouse. And Joe walks in, and I just kind of looked over my shoulder and then started watching TV. And all of a sudden I heard, hey, how there's nobody else in here. It's got to be Joe. I turned around and he walked over and he stuck out his hand, and he said, I just want to apologize. He said, I was very young at the time, did some dumb things, and I was very childish. And I said, Joe, I was just as childish as you were. I said, I never lost respect for you as a player, but you told me not to speak to you. I honored that. But it was a very childish thing. And I'm very happy that we were able to make up. And I'm so glad that we did because he passed away not too long ago, and I would have hated to him leave us like that and not speak to him for over 35 years.
[00:37:51.780] - Todd
Wow, that is amazing. I mean, think about this. Three decades plus of just staring at each other.
[00:37:59.050] - Hal
Looking away, ignoring each other.
[00:38:02.830] - Todd
One of the all time great players. What did it mean to you when he died? A few years ago because you had this interesting relationship all those years.
[00:38:12.220] - Hal
Yeah, I wrote a column pretty much saying everything that I just told you. And people were amazed, of course, that two people who had contact with each other so much would go 35 years without speaking. But that's the way it was. And that's the one thing that I respected about Johnny Bench. I wrote several things that he did not like, and he would point that out to me the next day and let me know he wasn't happy with it, but then he would forget about it and everything would be fine. When Johnny knees got bad and he decided to play third base, it was awful. He had a terrible time playing third base and spring training, he made a whole lot of errors. And I wrote a column saying that Johnny Bench playing third base was like doing an imitation of a Croquet wicket. He did not like that a whole lot. He let me know about that the next day, and then he forgot about it.
[00:39:16.390] - Todd
So you came back the next day and wrote that he should be using a skillet.
[00:39:20.750] - Hal
I know that he was using a skillet.
[00:39:25.770] - Todd
Well, you mentioned Bench in those early 80s, and the site of the greatest catcher ever trying to play third base is an unfortunate memory for Reds fans because that kind of sums up what that early 80s era was like. They lose 100 games and there was a guy who was a manager in 1984. I want to ask you about this guy by the name of Verne Wrap. Tell me about Verne Wrap.
[00:39:52.660] - Hal
The manager of the Reds in Vern Rap was probably a guy who should have been coaching a high school team because he hung a whole bunch of signs in the clubhouse like you would see in a high school football locker room like Wind and Doubt Slide, things of that bunch of sayings.
[00:40:14.460] - Todd
And the players just like Ted Lasso. Come on.
[00:40:16.960] - Hal
Yeah, exactly. And the players kind of laughed at him. And we were in Montreal one day and the team was struggling, but he won about two or three games in a row. And he looks at me and he said, how we're in the airport, how we're going to win this thing? What year would that be? But he was not a good manager. He was one of the all time worst.
[00:40:42.160] - Todd
Well, he was fired in an interesting way. Tell us how Vernon Rap was fired.
[00:40:46.190] - Hal
Yeah, we were in St. Louis and I had heard some rumors. And so I called one of the Williams brothers who owned the Reds at the time, and he proceeded to say I was asking about Vernon. And he said, Well, Vernon has been fired. I said, oh, really? He said, yeah. I looked down on the field and Verne is standing behind the batting cage, leaning on the cage watching Batty practice. So I hung up the phone and I went downstairs onto the field, walked up to the batting cage next to Vern, and I looked at him and said, hey, Verne, I'm sorry to hear that you have been fired. And he turned around and looked and said, what? And that's when I learned that he hadn't been told yet. And I got to carry the message to him. I probably the only baseball writer in history. They got to tell the manager that he was fired, but he took off and headed into the dugout, called the team off the field and held a meeting. And I was told by Tom Brownie and Ron Oster that he stood in front of them and said, well, it doesn't look good for me, but I'm still the manager right now.
[00:41:53.190] - Hal
So you're still playing for me until I hear. Well, you heard about ten minutes later, I guess. But Brownie and Oster said they were back in the back of the room.
[00:42:01.620] - Todd
Snickering he sounds like Captain Smith on the Titanic.
[00:42:05.070] - Hal
[00:42:06.230] - Todd
Doesn't look good for me.
[00:42:08.610] - Hal
No, we're just taking on a little ice.
[00:42:11.050] - Todd
Well, it looks much better for the Reds because Vern Rap was fired and who comes back to town but Pete Rose as a player manager when he came back in 84, that city was just on fire with excitement. Right. What was it like the night that Pete came back as a player manager?
[00:42:28.590] - Hal
It was electric. The stands were filled, the place was going crazy. And then Pete hits a double and the ball gets away from centrefielder, and he goes into third base with the head first slide. And that's when you know, Pete Rose is back the head first slide, which was always part of Peak and his first time up, he does something like that. And everybody thought, happy days are here again.
[00:42:58.500] - Todd
Yeah. Because a year later, at age 44, on September 11, 1985, he hits a single off Eric Shao. The San Diego Padres hit 41, 92 to break Taikov's record. That game must stand out. Now tell us what that night was like for everybody, especially for the writers in the press box.
[00:43:17.880] - Hal
Yeah. One thing that I'll never forget about the writers in the press box is there's no cheering in the press box. Jerry Holtzman, the famous baseball writer from Chicago, wrote a book called no Sharing in the Press Box. That's kind of the golden rule.
[00:43:36.290] - Todd
Yeah. I must point out there's no cheering in the box, but there is gearing in the brain.
[00:43:41.800] - Hal
Much gearing and much grumbling and moaning and groaning. Exactly. But when Pete got 4192, it was amazing. All the writers in the press box stood up and applauded. I've never seen that before and never seen it again. It was just absolutely amazing. And then everything on the field road pointing up to the sky, said he saw his father up there, and Pete Jr. Was there in a uniform and ran out on the field and gave his dad a hug. And Steve Garvey of the San Diego Padres the first base and was standing up, plotting in his glove. It was just an awesome thing, one of the highlights of my career, to get to cover that game.
[00:44:25.140] - Todd
What did it mean to you? Because you had known Pete forever, like you said he would fill up your notebook. You have covered that guy forever. What did that moment mean to you?
[00:44:33.630] - Hal
It was great because Pete was a great friend, a guy that you could talk to about anything at any time. And like I say, fill up your notebook with quote, great quotes, very introspective, street smarts, knew everything you wanted to know about baseball. You could tell you. And to see him do that, yeah, that was very special.
[00:45:00.030] - Todd
But then in a Shakespearean turn, four years later, Pete is the manager of the Reds. He gets summoned to New York from spring training in 1989. What did you think that was all about, Pete's leaving to go to New York?
[00:45:14.700] - Hal
Well, that day, spring training has just begun, and Pete is standing on one of the infields by himself. And it's early in the morning, and I walked over to him and started a conversation. He said, I'm not going to be here for the next couple of days. And I said, Why is that? And he says, well, the Commissioner wants me to come to New York. He wants to ask my opinion on a few things. How strange is that? Why would the Commissioner call a manager during spring training to New York to ask his opinion on a few things? So I couldn't just do it by telephone? Well, it turns out Pete was called to New York to ask about his gambling on baseball, and the rest is history. But I found that very strange. That's what he said to me that day.
[00:46:06.910] - Todd
So all hell breaks loose that year in 1989, and you're pulling double duty because you're covering the team and the scandal. You're breaking stories about Pete's betting scandal. You're also trying to cover the team. What was 1989 like for you as a reporter?
[00:46:21.810] - Hal
That was the toughest year of my career because I loved Pete so much and respected him so much. And to have this happen and as you say, I had to cover the game. And we had about five people doing investigative work on it from the paper. But I was the front guy, and I had to take all the questions to him every day, ask him about the gambling allegations. And of course, he denied, denied, denied and kept writing the stories and asking the questions. And then the day that he got banned from baseball, it became killed. A messenger like Morgan, he did not speak to me for several years. How many years he was abandoned, 89. So I would say about 2008. And that is an interesting story. My wife and I were in Las Vegas in 2008, and we were walking past some shops at Caesars Palace, and Pete was in one of the memorabilia shops signing autographs and, of course, for like $50 a pop or whatever. But anyway, my wife, Nadine, sees him in there and says, There's Pete Rose. Why don't you go in and say hello? And I said, Are you kidding me?
[00:47:47.540] - Hal
You want to start a riot? And she said, you go in there and say hello. I said, he hates my guts. So she shoved me in the door and Pete saw me, and he jumped up and stuck out his hand, shook my hand, and there was a photographer there, and he had a picture taken of us together and had it developed right away, put it in a leather case and signed it to a great hall of Famer from the hit King, Pete Rose. I'm astounded to this day, that's the way that we sort of made up. That was during the All Star break. And a couple of days later, the season resumed, and we go to New York, and I walk into the clubhouse in New York, and Docremcheck, the team doctor, who is a good friend of Pete, walks up to me and says, hey, I hear you saw Pete Rose in Las Vegas. And I said, how the hell do you know that? I haven't told anybody yet. And he said, Well, Pete called me and he said, hey, guess who stopped in to see me in Vegas? And Doc said, who? And he said, Hal McCoy.
[00:48:56.700] - Hal
And I thought he hated my guts. Used the same term that I used to my wife. So, yeah, that's how we made up. And we talk quite often these days. I got his phone number and my cell phone, and he's willing to chat about anything at any time.
[00:49:17.050] - Todd
That's amazing that you both thought the same thing.
[00:49:19.500] - Hal
[00:49:21.570] - Todd
I think maybe in the end, maybe Pete understood that you were doing your job and you were right.
[00:49:26.590] - Hal
I think he did. Once he finally admitted that he bet on baseball, I think he's tried to amend a whole lot of fences, and fortunately, my fence was one of them. That he mended.
[00:49:38.610] - Todd
Well, that's one of the good things about getting older. Not that you're old, not that I'm old. We're just getting older, Hal.
[00:49:44.730] - Hal
Yeah, 81 times for me.
[00:49:48.810] - Todd
So we're getting older. But in 1990, there was a year that makes me feel young when I think about it, because I was fortunate enough to be around that team. Since I read quite a bit, I was not the beat rider, but I got to cover a lot of the baseball that year as a young guy. And that team really comes out of nowhere. The year after the Rose tragedy, you have the Reds winning the World Series, and what a magical year that was. A couple of guys I wanted to ask you about in particular. One is Eric Davis. I think you once said that Eric is your alltime favorite player, is that right?
[00:50:23.120] - Hal
Yes, Eric is my alltime favorite player because he was such a great player. A five tool player probably would have made the hall of Fame, but he had this propensity for running into brick walls and making diving catches and hurting himself. So a lot of his career was spent on the DL, but he was such a great player. But not only that, he was such a great person and still is. We made friends to this day, and I will take a couple of my sons to spring training, and my oldest son went to spring training one year, and Eric kind of took him aside. I didn't ask him to, didn't say anything, but Eric would play catch with him and tease him and recognize that he was around. My son was about eleven or twelve years old then, and Eric gave him a big black bat. And we came home after spring training, and I got to on a day off, got to go watch my son play a Little League game. And I see him going up to home plate and he's dragging this huge black back behind him. He's twelve years old. He's going to use Eric Davis as bad in the game.
[00:51:39.400] - Hal
So I kind of laughed at that and told him, you better use a batch of own size. But the other thing about Eric is the one story out of those 250 baseball stories that I've written that I regret writing involved Eric Davis. There was a rumor going around that the Reds were going to trade Davis and that the Philadelphia Phillies were interested. Well, I had a couple of contacts with the Phillies, and I called them, and one of them told me, well, that the Phillies would never trade for Eric Davis because we hear he's on drugs. So rather than going back to Eric, as I should have, I immediately sat down and wrote a column and mentioned that this trade probably won't happen because the Phillies believe that Davis is using drugs. Well, once again, I go to the clubhouse the next day. We were in San Diego, and he calls me over, very calm and said, how I'm very disappointed in you. He said, I would never use drugs. I grew up in South Central La, saw what drugs could do to people. I've never touched them in my life and never will. Of course, I thought about this big then.
[00:52:51.220] - Hal
And the interesting thing was that Eric wrote a book about his career after he was finished. And he mentioned me in his book three or four times and never once mentioned that terrible story that I wrote about him. So that's kind of a classic guy. He is.
[00:53:09.330] - Todd
Yes. I think that shows the respect that he had for you to say, look, you screwed this up.
[00:53:16.170] - Hal
I won't hold it against you. Yeah.
[00:53:18.110] - Todd
Not for 35 years, no. But Eric, I agree with you. Eric was really kind of a special guy behind the scenes, a real leader.
[00:53:27.170] - Hal
[00:53:27.540] - Todd
And that team had some characters, the Nasty Boys. But the guy I wanted to ask you about was the manager at that team, Lou panela. In my years of covering sports, there's very few people that I've come across like Lou. How would you sum up what it was like to cover Lupanella? The manager outstanding.
[00:53:45.370] - Hal
I love covering Lou panela. The team was very special, but the manager was just a great guy to cover. And probably I got closer to him than any manager I ever covered, with maybe the exception of Jack McDonald. And I got pretty close to. But yes, Lou, and I got very close. I'll never forget one of the first days of spring training, 1990 called me into his office and he said, how you've been covering this team in baseball for a long time? What does this team need to get over the top? And I'm kind of taking aback. No manager has ever asked me my opinion on anything. And I told him, I think the number one thing this team needs is a lead off hitter. There's no really established lead off heater. So he didn't say anything, but he put Barry Larkin in the lead off spot. And about halfway through the season, I went into his office one day and he said, how you are absolutely right. That's what this team needed to lead off either. So that made me feel pretty good that a manager of his skill would think to ask a lonely writer their opinion on the team and then take the advice and let him know that he appreciated it.
[00:54:59.890] - Todd
Yes. I always remember Lou like writers. He liked talking to writers. He didn't like the TV guys, though, right?
[00:55:05.110] - Hal
No, he did not like the TV guys. He did like the writers. And there was the famous Loop Dibble fight. I started that fight.
[00:55:20.190] - Todd
All right, well, tell us. Spill the beans on this.
[00:55:22.780] - Hal
Well, Rob Gilmore, of course, being one of the Nasty boys, did not pitch in one game when it was evident that he should have been used. So I asked Lou, Why didn't you use Dibble in that situation? And he said, well, before the game, Dibble told me he had some tightness in his elbow. I said, oh, okay. So I went out to Dibble and I said, what's wrong with your elbow? And he said, what do you mean? I said, well, your manager just said, you didn't pitch because you had some tightness in your elbow. And he said, well, the manager is a liar. So I went back into Lou and I said, hey, Lou, your closer just called you a liar. And Lou jumped up out of his desk, pinned me against the wall as he ran out the door, jumped on Dibble, and the fight was on and I had a great story.
[00:56:14.110] - Todd
It was like pro wrestling.
[00:56:17.050] - Hal
Yeah. Tim Belcher broke it up rather quickly, but it was very funny to see Lou jump on Devil's Back.
[00:56:24.610] - Todd
Well, there are moments with Lou that are just so humorous in my own memory. That just the way that he could be his personality. He could be hot and cold, he could blow up at you, but he could also just have a great conversation with you. He was just a character to deal with.
[00:56:40.880] - Hal
Yes, well, he loved horse racing and he would go to the track often and he would invite me to go with him. And his last year in Cincinnati was in September, and Lou wanted a contract extension, and Marchant would not give it to him, would not even talk to him about an extension. So it's late September, towards the end of the season, and we're in San Diego, and on a Friday night, Lou says to me, hey, how you have a rental car, don't you? I said, yeah. He said, well, they're running at Del Mar. Let's go out to the track on Saturday afternoon and catch a few races before Saturday night skiing. I said, okay, fine. So we went to the track and lose hot. He hits like the first three or four races, and he's casing in his tickets. And I'm looking at my watch and it's getting time to get to the ballpark. And I said, hey, we better get going. A couple more races, couple more races. So do a couple more races. And I'm looking. And I said, Lou, have you sent a lineup card or anything? No, it's almost time for batting practice.
[00:57:49.570] - Hal
Okay, let's go. So we get in the car and we're heading down the interstate, and I'm looking at my watch again and it's batting practice time. I said, Lou, I said, they're probably doing batting practice and they don't even have a lineup card. And he said, oh, hell, I don't care. I'm not coming back next year anyway. So I had another great story. Yeah, right.
[00:58:10.630] - Todd
It pays to go to the track with the man.
[00:58:12.360] - Hal
It pays to go to the track with sweet Loo.
[00:59:23.500] - Todd
So how there's a lot of laughter behind the scenes with a guy like Lou Panela. And sometimes being a sports writer, it's just crazy humorous. But there are also times when it's not easy, even sometimes personally. And I know in 2001, your life started to change personally and professionally. Tell us about what happened in 2001.
[00:59:47.590] - Hal
Well, late in the 2001 season, we were in St. Louis, and it was the last game of a road trip. And I was walking in the press box toward my seat, and something seemed like got in my eye. Like when you get something in your eye and you can rub it out. Well, I kept rubbing it, trying to get it out. It didn't go away. So I went home. And the next morning I woke up and it was still that way. So my wife, Nadine took me to the doctor's office to the eye doctor, and he examined me. He got very quiet. And finally he said, I got some good news and some bad news. And I said, well, what's the bad news? And he said, You've had a stroke in your optic nerve, in your right eye. There's no treatment can't do anything about it. It will not get better. And I said, well, what's the good news? And he said, the good news is that only 15% of the time does it happen in both eyes? Okay, that's pretty good odds. So for the next few months, I still drove a car. My left eye took over.
[01:00:59.560] - Hal
I still played tennis at a decent level. But then on January 23, 2002, I woke up and I had the same thing in my left eye. And I went downstairs and I told my wife, Honey, I think I just became the big 15%. I've got it in both eyes. Everything was dark and fuzzy, and I couldn't make out faces. And I went to my sports editor and I said, I'm not going to be able to cover baseball anymore. I can't see very well. And he said, no, you're going to spring training. You're going to try it, see how it works out. So I went to spring training in Sarasota. And first day, I took a cab and went to the clubhouse. And I walked into the clubhouse and stood by the door. And I looked around, and the room was very dark and fuzzy, and I couldn't see faces. I couldn't recognize guys that I've known for years. And Aaron Boone was the third baseman for the Reds at the time. I guess he saw my consternation and my perplexity standing looking around, and he came over to me, what's wrong? And I said, you're probably seeing me for the last time.
[01:02:15.180] - Hal
I'm going to quit. I can't do this job. And he said, Why? And I told him he grabbed me by the elbow and took me over to his seat. So you sit down. So I sat down and said, I don't ever want to hear you say the word quit again. He said, you love your job. You're good at your job. Everybody in this room will help you. And he was right. He turned me around that day. I would have quit. I would have walked out and gone home. Instead, here it is 19 years later, and I'm still doing a job that I love so much. And so many people have helped me along the way. But of course, Aaron Boone made me pay. He told people he caught me talking to a Coke machine.
[01:03:04.830] - Hal
Aaron Boone is not a hall of Famer. He was a very good player, but not a hall of Famer. But when his name came up on the ballot, I'm very serious about my hall of Fame ballot, but I could not resist. He got one vote for the hall of Fame, and that came from me because to me, he's a hall of Famer for what he did for me.
[01:03:30.350] - Todd
I think that speaks to the type of relationship, again, the working relationship that you would develop with these players, that they would respect you enough to look out for you, even as a person, to say something to you, to encourage you like that.
[01:03:42.190] - Hal
Yeah. I wrote some stories that Aaron didn't like, but to do that for me was pretty darn special.
[01:03:51.590] - Todd
How did you adapt? So that was in 20 02, 20 03. How did you adapt and enable you to continue to cover baseball and still write about the Reds even today?
[01:04:02.770] - Hal
Yeah. You know, since that happened, I've never seen a home run leave the park. But I learned something in spring training that year. I was watching batting practice and I was watching Ken Griffy Jr. And of course, he's hitting about every ball out of the ballpark. And I noticed something while he was batting. I noticed that when he swung and hit the ball right away, he would look in the direction of where the ball went. And I had never even noticed that before. So when I went back up to the press box, I kind of experimented and watched. And sure enough, every player, when they hit the ball, they looked in the direction that the ball was hit. So I would watch them when they hit the ball, I would see which way they were looking, and I would look that way. And if it was a home run, you could see the right field or heading back to the wall and stop and looking up. I know it's a home run. So that's the kind of things that after all the years I covered baseball that I never thought about, and that helped me immensely.
[01:05:01.730] - Todd
So the idea that little things matter, and sometimes it's the little things, just people helping you, giving you a ride to the park or holding the door for you at the steps.
[01:05:11.350] - Hal
Or telling me, Watch out for the curb. You know those little yellow markers when there's a wet floor that they put down, I'm drawn like a magnet to them. I kick over everyone. The airport concourse could be 20ft wide, and if they have one on the floor, I'll kick it over. It's unbelievable because I have no death perception. I have tunnel vision. And when I walk, I have to look down at the floor to make sure that I don't trip over something. But like I say, it's something that you have to learn to adapt to.
[01:05:53.690] - Todd
Well, the fact that you have and that you're still covering baseball, still writing about the Reds, I think, speaks to your love of the game, your love of journalism, and just your sheer perseverance to do the job. It's not an easy job. And you keep going back to the park when the rents are at home. And so to me, it just speaks to the love of what you do, right?
[01:06:16.180] - Hal
Absolutely. Like I say, I'm 81 years old. I don't need the money, but I love to write and I love baseball and it keeps me active. I can't say it keeps me young because I am an old fart, but I love doing what I do. And people keep asking me, how long are you going to do this? And if they love me, I'm going to do it until my head hits the laptop.
[01:06:43.890] - Todd
You know, I think about the Pep talk that Aaron Boone gave you, and I'm going to leave you with this. There's a Pep talk in my own life that meant a lot to me. In 1090, I was in Chicago filling in for the beat rider Jerry Krasnick at Cincinnati Post. And again, I'm just a kid. I don't know what the hell I'm doing. It's a trade deadline. News is happening. I don't know what I'm doing. And I'm down on the field at Wrigley before the game, and I'm trying to talk to this pitcher, Jack Armstrong, and Jack starts walking. So I just keep walking with him and he walks me all the way down the right field line into the bullpen area. I'm scribbling notes. I don't know these unwritten rules of baseball protocol. And you must have watched this unfold. And you pulled me aside and you just patiently explained that, hey, you're not supposed to go past first base. It's just an area that you're not supposed to go to. And I thought he could have done this in front of a lot of people and made a scene of it. But the fact that he pulled me aside and hushed tones just kind of gave me a tip meant a lot.
[01:07:49.730] - Todd
And on that same trip, after a game, the Reds blew a game, which they rarely did that year. But we're in this cramped little office, and Lupinella is steaming. He's got a beer and a cigarette going, and he's ready to launch, and nobody is saying anything. So I said, I'll ask a question and Lou just detonates on me. Just blows up. And once again I was rattled. But you pulled me aside and you gave me a little Pep talk. Nobody saw it. Nobody knows it except me. You gave me a Pep talk, and that meant so much to me at a young age that a respected writer would encourage me and explain some things to me about what this job is all about. And I've never forgotten that. And I always wanted to tell you that how well, I appreciate that.
[01:08:38.060] - Hal
I don't recall doing either one of those things, but I'm certainly glad I did, because I knew you had a lot of talent and very talented young man and had a great future. And if I helped in any little way, that makes me feel good. But that's what I tried to do with every young writer that I came across, as I said, because of what our Lawson did for me.
[01:09:01.680] - Todd
Well, I was lucky to have riders like you, Hal, kind of pull me under their wing and steer me right when I was wrong. And I'm lucky that you spent some time with us here on Press Box Access. It's been so great catching up and sharing stories about what a wonderful career you've had and still are having. And I just want to thank you so much for joining us.
[01:09:22.060] - Hal
Well, thank you so much for having me. I can't believe the time is up already. It's been great times reminiscing with you. I appreciate you having me on. Thanks, man.
[01:09:31.510] - Todd
Thanks, Hal. Take care.