Reds honor writer McCoy with ceremony
Hall of Famer retiring from the Cincy beat after the season
CINCINNATI -- Readers of the Dayton Daily News have every reason to feel sad that Hal McCoy is headed to retirement after this season. To them, Hal has become an institution, an icon, a Hall of Famer, and he has spoiled them with terrific writing about their favorite team for 37 years.For people in and around baseball, Hal is all of that and something infinitely more important. He is regarded by the game as a close friend, and the feeling is definitely mutual. "It's the most gratifying thing and it's the thing I will miss the most -- so many great people -- other writers, scouts, baseball officials, players, fans," Hal said on Tuesday night while watching the Reds play the Astros. "It's been the best part of the whole job. I won't miss too much of it except all the people I know, especially making trips and seeing people around the country that I don't know how I will be able to see." Not having Hal in the press box for Reds games will be like a family member missing at Thanksgiving dinner or the hamburger without the bun. Sure, you could deal with that reality if you had to, but why would you want to? Whether it was a young writer or an established one, a veteran superstar player or the 25th man on the roster, Hal formed relationships everywhere. The Reds went through a lot of managers during his career and many of them -- from Sparky Anderson to Jack McKeon -- became friends for life. Hal's ever present cigars led to many exchanges with players, coaches, scouts and writers. Hal's ability to relate to everyone on a human level has made him a magnet for people from the bottom of the game all the way to the top -- literally. Not long after his retirement was announced, Major League Baseball Commissioner Bud Selig invited Hal to his office while the Reds were in Milwaukee. Teams at other ballparks -- like Milwaukee, St. Louis and Chicago -- have paid tribute to Hal as he's visited for the last time. Last weekend, Cubs general manager Jim Hendry and manager and former Reds skipper Lou Piniella gave Hal cigars, a bottle of wine and the No. 37 from the Wrigley Field scoreboard. "When you travel around for 37 years, you better hope you make some friends in each city," Hal said. "Just being around so long, you're bound to forge some relationships and meet some great people." Of course, no sendoff was bigger than on Wednesday at Great American Ball Park, when the Reds held Hal McCoy Night before their game vs. the Astros. There were gifts from the Reds, Selig and a video tribute that covered the entirety of Hal's career on the Reds beat.
Between innings of Wednesday's game, there were video messages from players and managers that Hal covered, including Sean Casey, Ken Griffey Jr., Adam Dunn, Barry Larkin, Piniella and McKeon.Former Reds star and current Astros infielder Aaron Boone caught Hal's ceremonial first pitch. Their friendship is an example of what kind of bond can be formed between a writer and the game. During Spring Training 2003, Hal suffered strokes inside the optic nerves in his eyes. Overnight, he became legally blind and was ready to call it a career right there and then. "I don't ever want to hear you say the word quit again," Boone told Hal. Six years later, Hal is still going strong. His wit and original perspective is still vibrant in his stories, especially in the lede -- the first paragraph that sets the tone. You know from the start of the story what kind of night it was for the Reds, and it could have some readers in stitches and some players feeling good -- and sometimes others were left steaming mad. "Ledes are my favorite things to come up with," Hal said. "I strive to make them different and colorful." Hal started covering the Reds for the Dayton Daily News in 1972. By then, the Big Red Machine was on its way, but it had not yet reached its pantheon status as one of baseball's great teams. The 1975-76 seasons, when the Reds were back-to-back World Series champions, were Hal's favorite time on the beat. During that era, he covered some all-time greats, including Johnny Bench, Pete Rose, Dave Concepcion and Joe Morgan. "I didn't realize at the time what I was seeing and didn't appreciate it until it was gone," Hal said. "It was still the formidable years of my career, and I thought that's the way it was all the time. I found out the last nine years [of Reds losing seasons] that it isn't." By his paper's estimation, Hal has covered about 7,000 Reds games, including postseasons and Spring Training. He's written around 25,000 stories and became the longest-tenured baseball beat writer with one team in the country. In 2002, he was honored as the J.G. Taylor Spink Award winner, which put him in Cooperstown, N.Y., in the writer's wing of the Baseball Hall of Fame. This time, walking away isn't Hal's idea. Like many newspapers around the country, the Dayton Daily News is struggling. It decided this summer to stop covering the Reds, Bengals and Ohio State Buckeyes on a daily basis in order to trim the budget. Hal has been with the paper for 46 years but was offered a buyout, which he accepted. This season won't be the last you hear from Hal or get to read his work. Although he is being retired by his paper at age 68, his fingers have many more words left to type. He still loves baseball and hasn't written every story he wants to. Besides, he can't just do nothing all day. He would probably drive his lovely wife, Nadine, insane within a few weeks if he stayed idle. "I'm not retiring. I will be doing something," Hal said. "I just won't be doing as much. I won't be traveling. I'm definitely going to write a book and pick up a few other things so I can keep writing in some capacity. I love to write." And for 37 years, people have loved to read what Hal has written.
Mark Sheldon is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.