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.