Eye Disease Doesn’t Slow Baseball Scribe

By: Joe Strupp

In his 31 years as the Cincinnati Reds beat writer for the Dayton (Ohio) Daily News, Hal McCoy has seen it all. From the Big Red Machine teams of the 1970s to the Pete Rose scandal to Ken Griffey Jr.’s latest injuries, McCoy has chronicled the Reds’ highs and lows during the longest tenure of any current beat writer covering one Major League Baseball team.

This season, however, he sees things a bit differently. Since a degenerative eye condition struck in January, the 62-year-old has been legally blind in both eyes.

“It’s like when your glasses are really dirty,” McCoy told E&P during an interview via cell phone while en route from Dayton to Cincinnati for last Wednesday’s game between the Reds and the Los Angeles Dodgers. “I don’t feel sorry for myself, though, because I am still able to do my job.” Indeed, with help from Daily News editors and Reds’ players and management, as well as his own determination, McCoy’s work is as good as ever, say observers. “He has just been a warrior,” said Daily News Sports Editor Frank Corsoe. “He is such a gift to this paper.”

The newspaper solved one of McCoy’s first problems — getting to the games — by providing someone to drive him more than an hour each way between Dayton and Cincinnati for games at the Reds’ new Great American Ball Park. In the press box, McCoy has his own TV monitor, courtesy of the Reds, to help him watch the action, along with a larger-than-usual screen on his laptop computer. But following the game on the field can be tough. “I cannot see the ball beyond the infield, so I have learned to look at how the outfielders react, and that helps me pick it up,” he said.

Before and after games, McCoy also has trouble finding players and getting around. He has memorized the location of players’ lockers in the Reds’ clubhouse, but has to ask where opposing players are in their quarters. “I still bump into people all the time if they are not straight in front of me,” he explained. “But everyone is very nice about it.” He also avoids the mobs that can gather around star players after games, preferring to interview lesser mortals until the press pack thins. “I get what I think is a better story that way,” he said.

McCoy’s problem began two years ago when blurriness developed in his right eye. Doctors diagnosed it as ischemic optic neuropathy, which has no treatment and no cure. In January, it struck the other eye, and the scribe thought he was done. But when he approached Corsoe, the editor refused to accept his resignation and asked him to give it a try during spring training.

Upon arriving at the Reds’ winter home in Sarasota, Fla., McCoy was apprehensive. “I was tripping over things and knocking down chairs,” he recalled. “I had difficulty finding my luggage at the airport when I flew in.” Still, he kept going, with encouragement from Reds players and fellow writers, including Tony Jackson of The Cincinnati Post, who drove him to spring-training events every day. “I couldn’t have done it without him,” McCoy said.

Corsoe made it clear that keeping McCoy is more than just showing compassion for a longtime employee: He wants the paper’s best sportswriter on the job. “He is creative, and he changes with the times,” the editor said about McCoy, who will be honored at the Baseball Hall of Fame this year. “He is a hip guy, he is still deadline-oriented, and he has more stamina and punch than anyone.”

Since he covered his first Reds game in 1973, McCoy has had his share of memorable moments. Reds great Joe Morgan still refuses to talk to him over a 1979 story that questioned Morgan’s dwindling value to the team. He also lost a good relationship with Pete Rose after breaking several stories in 1989 about Rose’s gambling and selling merchandise to get betting money. And he said he was banned from the Reds press dining room four times by former owner Marge Schott for things he wrote about her. One of the banishments followed his revelation that Schott intercepted a bouquet of flowers meant for the family of umpire John McSherry, who had just died from a heart attack on the field, and sent them as her own. He also broke the story in 1991 that manager Lou Piniella would not return to the Reds the following year, getting the scoop during a trip to a racetrack with Piniella.

Looking ahead, McCoy, who is married and the father of three, hopes to keep on the Reds beat as long as possible: “I can see myself doing it three or four more years at least. There are millions of people who are a lot worse off than I am.”

E&P welcomes letters to the editor: letters@editorandpublisher.com.

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