Hal McCoy
Hal McCoy

Hal McCoy is a former beat writer for the Dayton Daily News (Dayton, Ohio), covering the Cincinnati Reds baseball team. He was honored by the National Baseball Hall of Fame in 2002 as the winner of the J. G. Taylor Spink Award, which is awarded annually "for meritorious contributions to baseball writing." He has won 43 Ohio and national writing awards and was the first non-Cincinnati newsperson elected to the Cincinnati Journalists Hall of Fame. McCoy has been the Cincinnati BBWAA Chapter Chair 22 times and was the BBWAA national president in 1997. He is the third writer from the Dayton Daily News to win the J. G. Taylor Spink Award, joining Si Burick (1982) and Ritter Collett (1991). Residing in Clayton, Ohio, McCoy is an honors graduate in journalism from Kent State University.

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If ever there’s a story of hard work and reward…of perseverance winning out over pain and disappointment…consider the story, and the results, of Reds’ setup man Bill Bray.

If a man wants to feel safe and secure in the Witness Protection Program, he should request that he be given a job as a relief pitcher whose appearances are so brief that TV cameras barely catch it.

Bill Bray is a member of that society and he does it so well the media seldom talks to him because that’s the way it is when a relief specialist who isn’t a closer does his job.

Does Bray does his job? Is Jimmy Hoffa still missing.

Bray is the guy Cincinnati Reds manager Dusty Baker brings into games in the seventh or eighth inning of a tight game to use his talented left arm to retire a dangerous left-handed hitter.

The media only talks to a guy in Bray’s profession if he messes up, doesn’t do his job. So far there hasn’t been a peeep out of Bray because he does his job, every time. He has made 17 appearances during the Reds first 34 games, 12 1/3 innings, one run, seven hits, four walks and 11 strikeouts. His ERA is almost negative, 0.73.

And yet there was a time, not too long ago, when Bray was ready to pitch it all — not pitch on the mound, but pitch his baseball career into a trash receptacle and pursue another career.

Pitching in pain was one thing, but getting zero results when he did try to pitch was quite another.

“I can’t remember not having pain in my shoulder or elbow since 2007, said the 6-3, 226-pounder from Virginia Beach, Va.

Right now, Bray is dealing out pain to opposing hitters as a situational southpaw out of the Reds bullpen. Need to get a left-hander out? Dial up Bill Bray.

“This is the Bill Bray we saw a few years ago, before the injuries,” said manager Dusty Baker.

Just one year ago, Bray considered exchanging his baseball suit for a business suit, a job in which the worst thing that could happen to him was writer’s cramp.  During spring trainings of 2007, 2008 and 2009, Bray was a forlorn figure. He’d show up in camp, thinking he was ready to pitch, but breakdowns came early in camp.

Finally, in May, 2009 he underwent Tommy John elbow ligament replacement surgery, necessitating some harsh and difficult rehab work.And there were setbacks. A couple of them. He’d work and work and work to get ready for bullpen sessions and he’d break down, necessitating a complete re-start.

“The first setback wasn’t terribly frustrating because they say everybody has a setback at some point and I was pretty much flawless until that point,” he said. “Then I’d get to my second or third bullpen and have pain. I did that twice and had to start over. It takes two to three weeks to get back to that point. That’s when it was incredibly frustrating.”

And it got to him. Quitting was definitely a tune rumbling in his mind.

“That’s when I wondered if I’d ever make it back,” he said. “I finally broke down and said, ‘Geez, I can’t do this any more. I can’t keep fighting. I just can’t do this. I’m tired of fighting these injuries.’

“If I’m meant to play baseball then I’ll play if I can. If not I’ll try something else,” he said.

Quitting a well-paid job you love to do at age 27 isn’t a fun career choice. But Bray was on the brink.

His Quitting Mode was in May of last year, but things quickly turned for the better. The pain went away and his effectiveness returned. He pitched four games in rehab at Class A Lynchburg and six games for Class AAA Louisville.

On June 27 he rejoined the Reds and the next night he appeared against the Philadelphia Phillies, his first major-league appearance in two years.

“I’m just thrilled to be out there, happy to be playing again and pitching a lot,” he said. “Not being in pain is the biggest thing. All I ever really wanted was to pitch without pain and be able to compete.”

Bray came to the Reds as a toss-in, one of the lesser lights in a major trade with the Washington Nationals on July 13, 2006. Bray came to the Reds with shortstop Royce Clayton, pitcher Gary Majewski, infielder Brendan Harris and pitcher Daryl Thompson.

Bray is the only one who has earned steady work with the Reds. Clayton, Majewski and Harris are long gone and Thompson is toiling in the Reds minor-league system.

When Bray became a Red, the team was still identity struggling, trying to shed the ‘Loser’s’ tab that drapes itself over a team that finished under .500 for nearly a decade.
Bray says his comeback is well-timed.

“This is a lot more fun because we have a great team,” he said. “I went through a couple of years here where we struggled, but we could see the promise. Early this year we’ve clicked in some games and not clicked in others, but this is a great team, top to bottom — the lineup, the defense, the pitching staff, starters and relief pitchers. I fully expect us to be on top at the end of the year.”

At one time, Bray’s delivery was like an old suit — it came in three pieces. It was herky and it was jerky and probably contributed to his arm problems.

Tom Browning, Mr. Perfect, is a Reds minor-league pitching instructor and he smoothed out Bray’s approach and slowed him down.

“He really worked on smoothing my mechanics and convinced me that a little less effort would help me, that I’d get the same velocity and results if I take away some of the wasted effort,” said Bray. “It took a while to figure out but it made a big difference for me. I don’t try to go 110 per cent when that’s impossible. It took a lot of stress off my arm, that’s for sure.”

Bray laughs when somebody mentions his left-handed bullpen co-habitant, Aroldis Chapman, who has been clocked at 105 miles an hour.

“I don’t quite have 105 miles an hour in my arm,” he said. “I’m like all the fans. It’s amazing watching him pitch. The stuff he features is amazing.”

It was mentioned that not only does Chapman throw 100 to 105, he drops a 91 miles an hour slider on hitters.

Bray laughed at that, too.

“A slider? People think it’s a slider because it’s 91 miles an hour,” he said. “I’d call it a curveball. But it has the curveball depth to it. Man, he is a special talent and I’m glad he ids on our team. And he is only going to be better.”

So will Bray, without the 105 miles an hour fastball and without the 91 miles an hour, uh, curveball.

Hal McCoy’s Reds’ reports are proudly sponsored by the Buckeye Insurance Group…insuring the Heartland for over 130 years!

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