Hal McCoy is the Real McCoy


By Vivian Blevins

Contributing columnist

Juneteenth 2023, and I’m interviewing Hal McCoy, Baseball Hall of Fame Class of 2003.

To make a connection with McCoy, I told him that back in 1969, I was a young professor at Urbana College, the yearbook adviser, and a member of the Convocations Committee. That was the year I met Jackie Robinson and was his campus escort. I knew nothing about baseball, but I knew Robinson was important, so I made certain he received a full page in the college yearbook.

I told McCoy that I was aware that Robinson reintegrated American baseball after a 60-year lapse. His response was “African Americans have improved the game immensely, and it’s beyond my comprehension that they were kept out so long.”

Several foci for the interview were of interest to me, but I decided I would ask him to share with my readers and me the most important African Americans who had played for the Cincinnati Reds.

I knew McCoy had spent 61 years as a journalist, had attended Kent State University on a baseball scholarship, and had graduated with a degree in journalism, but I wanted to know more. Where, for example, did he get his delightful sense of humor, unusual in sports journalism? His response, “I like to entertain. It helps people enjoy what I write, and it just comes natural for me.”

Within minutes, he was telling me how he chose journalism as a major. He was a senior at Akron East High School when Rose Picciotti, the adviser for the school newspaper, approached him, “Hal, you’re on the basketball team, right? We need a story on the team. If you write it, we’ll fix it up.”

McCoy agreed, and the following day, Picciotti approached him with the news that there was no need to “fix up” his story. She followed this critique with a question, “Have you ever considered journalism?” When he won a baseball scholarship to Kent State University and was required to declare a major, he remembered her words and indicated “Journalism” on the form and began writing for the student newspaper, “The Daily Kent Stater.” Before Kent State, he had assumed he would follow in his father’s footsteps and spend his work years at the Goodrich Tire and Rubber Company in Akron.

Now 25,000 baseball stories later, McCoy begins to relate the stories of his favorite African American baseball players.

He liked Joe Leonard Morgan (1943-2020), second baseman and Hall of Famer. At 5 foot, 7 inches, Morgan was known as “Little Joe.” In 1978, rumors were afloat that he was going to be leave the Reds and become a free agent, so McCoy wrote a column with this “information.” Morgan’s response to McCoy was “Don’t ever try to talk to me again.” They didn’t speak for 35 years. They played doubles in tennis more than once and never spoke to each other. When McCoy was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame and his family members and friends were in attendance, Morgan greeted each of them but not McCoy- just brushed by him and never said a word.

In 2010, Morgan was serving as an adviser with the Reds and on a Sunday, both Morgan and McCoy were in the clubhouse when Morgan called out to McCoy, “Hey, Hal, I want to apologize. I was very childish.”

McCoy’s response was, “I’ve been very childish, too. I have always respected you as a player and a man.”

Another African American player for the Reds that McCoy admires was center fielder Eric Keith Davis (born 1962). Davis was 21 years old when he made his debut with the Reds, and McCoy calls Davis “a great friend to this day.” McCoy indicates, “His injuries kept him from being inducted into the Hall of Fame.” Once McCoy took his son Brian to spring training, and Davis not only played with Brian but gave him a bat.

There was a rumor that Davis was going to be traded with the Phillies and that he was using drugs. McCoy wrote about both. Later, Davis wrote his autobiography, “Born to Play: the Eric Davis Story,” and he never mentioned the McCoy incident. McCoy talks to Davis often and says, “He is a great baseball player and a better person.”

Next on the list is right fielder David Gene Parker (born 1951), and McCoy reports. “Parker has the best sense of humor of any player I’ve ever covered, the club house blue humor, one-line quips.” He should be in the Hall of Fame, but when he played for the Pittsburg Pirates, there was a drug scandal. He is a class act and a very good player. His teammates loved him, and at Cincinnati, he was definitely a leader.”

And there is George Arthur Foster (born 1948), left fielder on McCoy’s list. McCoy says, “When he came to the Reds, he was shy, introverted, a tough interview. I was persistent, tried every day, and he came around, gave me good quotes. I think I brought him out of his shell. We became good friends and remain friends to this day.”

McCoy indicates, “There are 25 men on a team, and each one has a different personality. As a journalist, I have to learn what they like to talk about and how to approach them. Once at spring training, I was sitting in the left field bleachers, front row, and Foster was in left field. A player threw me a ball, and I autographed it and threw it to George. He looked at the autographed ball and threw it over the left field wall.”

Always, there is Kenneth Griffey Jr. (born 1969), center fielder, and according to McCoy, “the all-time best baseball player ever. His father played before him, and Griffey Junior came from Moeller High School, a famous baseball school that has produced six Baseball Hall of Famers. His dad played before him, and the Seattle Mariners traded him to the Cincinnato Reds.

“When he first came to the Reds, we were at a big press conference, and Griffey said to me, ‘I know who you are. I asked my dad and he said you’re okay, so you’re okay with me.’”

McCoy talks about being legally blind and attending spring training. His wife called every day at noon to see if he was all right. One day Griffey grabbed the phone and said, “You can quit calling. He’s fine, and I’m taking care of him.”

Griffey and McCoy remain friends, and Griffey calls every Christmas with holiday greetings.

In conclusion, there is Jose Antonio Rijo Abreu, one of McCoy’s all-time favorites who visited him carrying shirts and hats when McCoy broke his hip in 2022 and left fielder Reginald Laverne Sanders (born 1967) “one of the nicest people I’ve ever known, always positive, religious” and center fielder Deion Luwynn Sanders (born 1967), “a flashy person who was all shtick and really a sensitive, down-to earth man.”

McCoy sums up his career, “I’ll soon be 83 and have done it for 61 years. I love baseball; I love writing; I love traveling. And I get paid to do it all.”

Vivian B. Blevins. Ph.D., teaches telecommunication employees from around the country and students at Edison State Community College and works with veterans. You may reach her at 937-778-3815 or [email protected].

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