SIDNEY — Hall of Fame sportswriter Hal McCoy, of Englewood, entertained about 100 guests at Ohio Living Dorothy Love, here, Thursday, March 22.
The invitation-only event was organized by Dorothy Love Marketing Director Debbie Sanders to give nonresidents of the retirement community an opportunity to visit the campus.
“We’ve been trying to change up our marketing. We wanted to do something different,” she said.
McCoy has covered the Cincinnati Reds for the Dayton Daily News since the mid-1970s. After attendees enjoyed peanuts, hot dogs, chips, apple pie and craft beer tastings, he regaled the crowd with anecdotes from his decades-long career.
“It’s great to be in Wally Post country,” he said. Post, from St. Henry, played for the Reds in the 1940s, ’50s and ’60s. McCoy did not know him.
“Back in 1973, I was covering University of Dayton and the editor said, ‘I have two beats open: the Bengals and the Reds. Which do you want?’ I chose the Reds. I was glad I chose the Reds over the Bengals because I was never a good crime reporter,” McCoy said, bringing the first laugh of the night from his audience.
The writer recalled that it was he who coined the term, “Big Red Machine,” for the championship Reds teams of the mid- to late 1970s.
“But I have to share that (credit) with Lee May,” McCoy said. In the locker room following a game with the Los Angeles Dodgers in which the Reds had been trailing 8-2 and came back to win it 9-8, May was yelling, “We’re a machine! We’re a machine!” McCoy paired “Reds” and “machine” for the nickname that described the team for most of the decade.
“I wish I’d put a trademark on it,” he said.
He admitted that, in 1975, he was responsible for putting pitcher Don Gullett on the disabled list. Gullett, McCoy and pitcher Gary Nolan were taking a shortcut from the stadium in Philadelphia to their hotel. It required them to cut through a parking lot where a gate had been open the night before. On the night in question, however, the gate was locked and the fence was topped with barbed wire.
McCoy climbed over without incident. Nolan tore his suit on the barbs.
“Gullett rolled his ankle and went on the disabled list. He missed four starts. But we came back and won the World Series,” McCoy said.
Two years later, Reds Manager Sparky Anderson gave a hotel doorman a baseball and asked him to collect autographs of all the players who came in after midnight, which was the team curfew.
“He never could figure out who Abe Lincoln was,” McCoy laughed.
He asked for a show of hands: “How many think Pete Rose belongs in the Hall of Fame?”
McCoy recounted that he and Rose had been friends, which made 1989 the “worst year of my life.” The writer headed the media investigation of Rose’s betting on baseball.
“Then he went 15 years without speaking to me,” McCoy said. It was McCoy’s wife, Nadine, who got the two to break their silence with each other. The McCoys were in Las Vegas and Rose was in a shop there, signing autographs.
Nadine urged her husband to go in to say hello.
“No way. He hates my guts,” McCoy replied. But Nadine insisted and McCoy went in.
“Pete jumps up, shook my hand. We took photos together,” McCoy said. The next day, a mutual friend said to McCoy, “I heard you saw Pete Rose yesterday. Pete called me. He said, ‘You’ll never guess who stopped in to see me. Hal McCoy. I thought he hated my guts,” the friend said.
Nadine was also responsible for smoothing things over between McCoy and Marge Schott. The then Reds owner never referred to McCoy by his name because she didn’t like what he wrote about her and the Reds.
“(She) called me ‘that guy from Dayton,’” he said. “If she didn’t like what I wrote, she took away my dining privileges.” She also used Dayton Daily News pages featuring McCoy’s columns for her dog in her office. After he’d been banned from the dining room several times, other sportswriters collected a box of canned goods for him and fielder Eric Davis had pizzas delivered to him in the press box.
Then, the McCoys and Schott found themselves at the same wedding reception. Schott was alone at a large table.
“I feel sorry for her,” Nadine said. So McCoy’s wife sat down to talk with Schott. The next day, Schott and McCoy were in an elevator together.
“Hi, Mr. McCoy,” Schott said. Nadine had told Schott about the McCoy’s blind dog. Schott loved dogs. Nadine had told Schott about Nadine’s being a teacher in a Catholic school. Schott believed in Catholic education.
“From that time on, I could do no wrong,” McCoy said.
He told the crowd that Lou Piniella was his favorite Reds manager and that McCoy’s going back and forth between the manager and pitcher Rob Dibble engendered a famous clubhouse fight between the two.
“Lou jumped on Rob and I got a great story,” he said.
“Another great manager was Jack McKeon. Jack loved his cigars and so did I,” McCoy said. McKeon often invited McCoy to join him for a smoke in a small room before a game.
“Why do you always invite me in here?” McCoy asked.
“(General Manager) Jim Bowden hates cigar smoke. He won’t come in here and bug me,” McKeon answered.
McCoy’s favorite players were Eric Davis, who threw balls to McCoy’s sons when they were Little League players, and Ken Griffey Jr.
“(Griffey) was a great player and a great human being. If you asked about him, you got yes and no answers. But ask about his family and he’d fill my notebook,” McCoy said.
Another player the writer admires is Aaron Boone, for a very personal reason.
McCoy suffered strokes in both eyes over a period of four years and became unable to drive. His vision is fuzzy and faces became blurred. He feared that he would have to quit a job he dearly loved.
“What’s wrong with you?” Boone asked the first time McCoy returned to the Reds clubhouse after his diagnosis.
“He took me to his locker and said, ‘Sit. Everybody in this room will help you out,’” McCoy remembered. “I’m still able to do the job 16 years later. In 2015, he was on the list for the Hall of Fame. He got one vote. Aaron Boone is a Hall of Famer in my eyes.”
Before closing, McCoy answered audience questions:
• Can the Reds become the Big Red Machine again?
“Teams rebuild in three ways: they develop their own players, they trade for good players and they sign for free agents. The Reds don’t do that.”
• Who were the top five Reds players?
“Johnny Bench, Pete Rose, Eric Davis, Barry Larkin and Tony Perez.”
• Why isn’t Dave Concepcion in the Hall of Fame?
“I think it’s because so many Reds are already in and he didn’t speak English well, so he wasn’t interviewed much.”
• What about this year?
“Homer Bailey will pitch the opener. Tyler Mahle is the best pitcher they’ve had this spring. I think the next manager of the Reds will be Barry Larkin.”
• Is Dave from Centerville (a person referred to often in McCoy’s Dayton Daily News column) real?
“Yes. He’s very real. He loves my making fun of him.”
Reach the writer at 937-538-4824.