By Zack Klemme
CNHI News Service
CINCINNATI, OHIO — Bo Thompson hasn’t seen a Cincinnati Reds game with his own two eyes since early 2016, so don’t bother looking for him at Great American Ball Park when the team is on the field.
Thompson is, however, usually there, and always watching.
Keep an eye on Reds manager David Bell. If he’s on the top step in the part of the dugout closest to home plate, raising his hand slightly as if to ask the umpire to hold on for a moment and glancing over his shoulder toward bench coach Freddie Benavides on one of the three phones in the dugout, Thompson is hard at work.
Thompson, a 2007 Boyd County graduate, is Cincinnati’s manager of advance scouting. During Reds games, home and away, he sits in an office off the clubhouse lined with monitors and scrutinizes every play of every game. Thompson combs through video replays from each available angle and advises Bell, through Benavides, if Cincinnati should challenge a play.
Thompson combines quick thinking, quick analysis and quick-dialing fingers with a blanket-like knowledge of the rule book.
Managers are allotted 10 seconds to hold up the game and 10 more seconds to decide if they want to challenge or not, with the clock starting immediately after an umpire’s call of safe, out or “time.” So Thompson doesn’t have time to look up a rule — once he verifies what he sees on one of the three monitors at his desk, he has to know already if what he’s seen is legal, if the umpire’s call is correct and if the play can even be challenged.
“I guess the first thing is, I never assume that (umpires) get the call right,” Thompson said. “The umpires are great and they rarely miss anything, but I just never assume that it’s right. So the first thing I do is I just try to watch the play back immediately, and if it’s not super obvious, then I usually try to find another angle that shows the play more clearly. We usually have time to watch two or three (replays) by the time we make a decision.”
‘My way to contribute’With significant assistance from Thompson, Bell had the best record in the National League in replay challenges in 2021, with 76.9% of calls he challenged being overturned. Entering the Reds’ home game with the Mets on July 5, half of Bell’s 20 challenges have resulted in overturned calls in 2022.
“It’s my way to contribute to what’s happening on the field,” Thompson said. “The players, I just want them to be recognized for what they’ve done. When they make a play, I want to make sure that that gets recognized or called correctly. It’s their statistics. They’re the ones making it happen. But I just want to make sure that it counts properly.”
That is probably the best-known of Thompson’s roles with the Reds — the (Cincinnati) Enquirer and The Athletic have published stories on his replay prowess – but only part of his actual duties. and not by accident.
“I trust him with anything and everything, to the point of, he has his main jobs, but I actually do include him in a lot more,” Bell said. “I really value his perspective and I love getting his opinion and what he’s seeing. It’s from a different angle, but more importantly than that, I trust him because he cares so much that he puts so much thought into everything and he’s got so much to offer.”
Thompson exerts that effort for each of the Reds’ 162 games — he thinks the last one he didn’t work was on June 2, 2016, when they were in Colorado before he began traveling with the team — so Thompson is wherever Cincinnati is playing but never actually watching it in person.
He is instead harnessing fanatical attention to detail and well-honed competitiveness that are easily recognizable to people who have known Thompson since his youth.
Thompson was one of Boyd County’s best cross country runners in recent memory until 2022 graduate JB Terrill came along, according to the Lions’ coach of the era, Shawn Thornbury. That was due to an intricate training regimen and a hard-nosed mentality that showed itself in Thompson’s final cross country race, the 2006 Class 3A state meet at the Kentucky Horse Park.
Thompson, who had been ranked 13th entering the region meet in the state’s largest classification, encountered a unique and unexpected challenge about a quarter of a mile into the race, as Thornbury remembers it. A dog got loose and made for a pack of runners.
“Bo has to stop because the dog runs in front of him,” Thornbury said, “and when he stopped, a guy stepped on the back of his shoe and pulls his shoe off.”
Thompson didn’t stop to grouse nor to put his shoe back on.
That would, after all, slow him down, conflicting with what has become a trademark sense of urgency.
“And he ran his entire senior state meet with one shoe, and still I think he ran under 18 minutes with one shoe on,” Thornbury, laughing uproariously at the memory, said.
(He remembered that correctly — Thompson finished in 17:59.84.)