If you’re wondering what you’re going to read now that the Reds are done and Hal McCoy has moved on to a richer baseball palette, take a moment to consider the man beyond balls and strikes. Read and learn why it’s the way he writes about balls and strikes that makes him special.
It’s a full two weeks now since the latest yearly meltdown of the Cincinnati Reds. Baseball, for the average Miami Valley Rosie Red (remember them?) is a mere afterthought.
Now, sports awareness centers around which Big Ten team Ohio State will next beat by six touchdowns, in the manner of Rutgers, Maryland and Nebraska.
In week 9 of area high school football, attention is shifting to the post-season, and interest in Marion Local chasing another title – or some darkhorse candidate seeking even its first.
But in the ‘man cave’, that shared space just outside the kitchen door at a house on Sunset Drive, in Englewood, Hal McCoy sits on a Sunday evening and writes about the Cubs and Dodgers – about Justin Turner’s walk-off homer, the first-such since Kirk Gibson in 1988 – with the same diligence and dedication that he spent on the best days of Reds baseball for the past 50 years.
He admits, that it’s not the same anymore, baseball, that is. The Reds, fundamentally, are a shell of the organization and team on the field that they were in the days of the Big Red Machine, when McCoy was cutting his teeth as a young journalist protege’ under the guidance of Ritter Collett and Si Burick. And the game itself can’t seem to get out of its own way – too long, too many replays and the human element a relic from the game we once knew.
And, the years have rolled, the losses have mounted, and frankly, when you rely on someone else’s eyes and driving to get you back and forth from home to the ballpark at odd hours, it takes a lot of the fun out of it.
Or does it?
I often ask myself that question when I flip on the internet and see Hal’s story about a baseball game two hours after the final out. You wonder, at 77 years of age, what would possess one to keep writing in the manner he does – still as sharp, as insightful, and frankly, with more interest than the recipe concept of daily MLB.com offerings. It can’t just be the baseball, so what is it?
Well, baseball’s a big part of it, still. But beyond that…Hal McCoy is a ‘word’ man. And a man of words is hard to keep bottled up. We have a game we played occasionally where he’ll text, or call, and say, “verve”, or “perspicacity”. Recently the word of the day was “moribund”, just as a challenge to see if I know what he’s talking about. And the beauty of one like Hal is his ability to take all those words and weave them into similes and metaphors to describe not just baseball, but how baseball is perceived by the rank and file who couldn’t give a flip about squeeze plays and earned run average. He’s more interested in the tapestry of the game than the game itself!
A ‘word’ man is always on duty, which is why Hal is still so active to sit in his ‘man cave’ (the garage) at 77 with a giant Monte Cristo White Label cigar, churning out one story after another, regardless of hour, season, or topic. It doesn’t have to be baseball. Frankly, he’s just as fruitful to write University of Dayton football as he is to write the Reds.
His was exactly the motivation I copied early Sunday morning, about 4 am, when I arrived home with the story idea in my head about Ohio State freshman infielder, Aaron Hughes, from Tipp City.
Now 4 am is a frightful time for most people to attempt anything, but to a ‘word’ man you have to strike while the iron is hot. So hour of day and miles in the rear view mirror be damned, I sat down to put together Aaron Hughes’ story on walking on at Ohio State and making himself relevant as a Buckeye baseballer. It took about an hour to write, and another half hour to re-write (edit). And when I was finished…I was so juiced by the copy that I couldn’t shut my eyes. Words can do that to a ‘word’ man. Which I reason to be why Hal is known to prowl the house at all hours of the night.
People ask me repeatedly – what kind of guy is he, and is he as cool as his columns? Man and manuscript is one in the same, for that matter. The real McCoy is what you read, and finish wishing for more – as it is when you visit Hal in the ‘man cave’.
There’s a refrigerator there stocked with Yuengling Lager. There’s a giant ceramic dish to hold the ashen remnants of his Monte Cristo. And, he always has his trusted Apple laptop. The TV’s usually on, dialed into a baseball game from the MLB package (all the major league teams’ games), and yes, there’s usually a neighbor or two present to either watch the game with Hal, or to share a cigar and a beer.
For his part, he hardly notices. His is a constant routine of note-taking, scoring the game, and jotting down some colloquialism that sets Hal’s writing apart from others. He’s not much into conversation when he writes, and there’s the omnipresent cloud of blue cigar smoke – for atmosphere.
I asked him once recently if he’s ever taken the time to rate the columns that he’s written? Are some McCoys more real than others?
“Nope,” he deadpanned. “I just write ’em. I don’t rate ’em.”
When I finish this I’m going to call him – challenge him with the word of the day. It’s a good day for “aggrandizement”, as the MLB people will be back on the air tonight, “self-aggrandizing” in their $800 suits.
Hal McCoy…is the “benevolent” word man.