LAS VEGAS--When the Hit King talks, you have to listen. And I did just that this week when Pete Rose got on the phone to talk with me about the new baseball season, about a questionable challenge to his hits record and about the reigning World Series champions--and their manager.
“I’d like to be in the Cubs’ situation,” he said. “As far as I’m concerned the Cubs can prepare for the playoffs now, because I don’t think Cincinnati can beat them in the Central, I don’t think Milwaukee can beat them, I know Pittsburgh can’t beat them, and I’m afraid to say St. Louis can’t beat them. They’re going to waltz through their division unless they have a total collapse. The Cubs are really the favorite to beat in the world of baseball in both leagues.”
But that does not make Joe Maddon a favorite with Rose, a traditional baseball man who did not hide his discomfort with the way the Cubs manager goes about his business.
“I don’t think I would enjoy playing for Joe Maddon,” Rose said. “From what I hear Joe is not very ticklish on batting practice. Joe is not really ticklish on meetings before games. I never missed batting practice as a player-manager or a player. That’s part of the fun of being in the world of baseball.”
Rose was critical, too, of Maddon’s use of reliever Aroldis Chapman in games 6 and 7 of the World Series. Or should I say overuse? But we all knew that watching Rose on the World Series pregame and postgame shows on Fox. I was impressed not only with him but with the entire group. I thought he, Alex Rodríguez and Frank Thomas really played off each other well.
I go way back with Pete – back to the ’80s. He used to be a regular guest on “The NFL Today” if he was not involved in the Major League Baseball playoffs. When the Jimmy “The Greek” came down ill for a couple weeks, Pete said, “I can do that.” So we ran Rose in and put him up for a couple weeks. I was too embarrassed to tell “The Greek” that Pete did much, much better picking those NFL games.
One Sunday in the CBS studio stood out.
“I remember the one time that we were watching the games,” Rose said, “and the Giants were on. All of a sudden ‘The Greek’ kicked the TV. And I said, ‘Brent, why the heck is he kicking the TV?’ He said he needed that score. They took a knee, and he had $50,000 bet on it. Not only did he lose the $50,000, but he broke his foot. It was fun, man.”
We have been buddies ever since.
You can tell by listening to Rose that he pays attention to what’s going on. I have always noticed that about him whenever we would have a chat. Consider what he said about the upcoming baseball season:
American League Central.
“The Indians are going to get those pitchers (Danny Salazar and Carlos Carrasco) that were hurt back. They got Edwin Encarnación, who is really a good run producer. They’ll be back this year. They’re going to have a good ballclub.”
American League East.
“I think Boston is the team to beat if, if David Price’s elbow is OK. They’ve got hitters. I did New Year’s Eve with Chili Davis. I said ‘Chili, how hard is your job? You’re the hitting coach for the Boston Red Sox. All you’ve got to do is tell them what time to be on the field, sit back and watch what goes on.’ They’ve got a great offense.”
American League West:
“I think Houston is a pretty good ballclub. The only problem with Houston, they play in a bandbox. It’s hard to pitch in Minute Maid Park. I did an appearance down there about 1½ months ago. I stood at home plate. I said, ‘Man, I can’t throw to second base, but I think I could throw it over the right-field wall.’ One of the two Texas teams will represent that division.”
National League West.
“San Francisco and the Dodgers look like the two teams to beat out there. The Dodgers have got Clayton Kershaw and that young shortstop Corey Seager and Ádrian González at first base. We all know what Bruce Bochy can do with San Francisco. They always seem to be right in the middle of things.”
National League East.
“The Mets don’t score a lot of runs, but they score enough runs to support that pitching staff, especially if Matt Harvey comes back. Washington is going to be tough. Hopefully, Bryce Harper will have a bounce-back year. I would just try to tell him to use the whole field. He’s still a guy who can hit the ball out of the ballpark and a guy who can play good defense and run the bases and hit home runs.”
Whether Harper will end up with the Yankees.
“The Yankees are one of those teams that are willing to spend big money. If the Yankees need a right fielder Harper would be perfect with that short porch in right-center. They’re talking about $400 million with Harper. That’s a load to put in your mind every time you go up to bat. If he lays another egg this year, he’s not going to get $400 million. Washington can’t afford to let him go, because he’s the team right now.”
Speeding up the game with new rules.
“I think the commissioner (Rob Manfred) said something the other day that made a little bit of sense to me. He was contemplating knocking off some of the commercials. You’ve got a nine-inning game. Every inning there’s six minutes of commercials. That’s 54 minutes of commercials. But how in the hell do they try to shorten up the game? By not awarding a four-pitch, intentional walk. How many intentional walks do you have a night? Maybe one? I got a hit one night, it was actually an error, on an intentional walk. A guy threw it in my range, and I hit it off the third baseman’s glove. What about a guy like Jon Lester when he gives an intentional walk? Is everybody holding their breath? He can’t throw the ball straight like that. I just don’t know why baseball all of a sudden wants to change all the rules. Those are stupid fixes.”
The rising cost of attending games.
“It’s the best bargain in sports. But the guy who complains? He went to the game, he had five beers and four hot dogs. That’s where he spent all his money. Go to the game to see the game. Don’t go to the game to eat.”
And then there was last year’s call to have Ichiro Suzuki’s 1,278 hits in Japan count toward his career total. Added to his 3,030 in North America, and the sum of 4,308 would eclipse Rose’s record of 4,256. Or would it?
“As far as I’m concerned, when Ichiro got his hits in Japan, those are professional hits,” Rose said. “They weren’t big-league hits. They were professional hits. If you’re going to count Ichiro’s Japanese hits, count all my professional hits, including my two years in the minor leagues.”
There were actually parts of three seasons yielding 427 hits, bringing the Hit King back up to 4,683.
“Ichiro and I each got over 4,000 hits, and the press is making us defend ourselves,” Rose said. “Ichiro was a great hitter in Japan and a great hitter here. He is a Hall of Fame player, no question about it.
And no question about it, Pete Rose is a Hall of Fame player, too. I would put him in Cooperstown beyond a shadow of a doubt. The bottom line of his plaque should read that he was suspended for gambling on baseball. It is not the lead, but it is a part of history. So is the fact that he had more hits than anybody in the history of the game.
There is also that intangible quality about Pete Rose. That no one has had more affection for the game of baseball and the kids who played it than him. If you were a writer or a broadcaster back when he was playing, you sought him out, because he was a good quote. He never ducked. He stayed around and answered every question.
If Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens were to wind up in the Hall of Fame where they also belong, it would work to Pete Rose’s favor. I think baseball needs to honor its best players, and clearly Bonds, Clemens and Pete Rose were three of the very, very best.
Has Rose continued to gamble on other sports? Of course; it goes without saying. He likes to play the horses, and he probably likes the occasional bet on the NFL. Who am I to say that you should not be allowed to bet on those things? Especially here in Las Vegas, where Rose, 76 next month, is still within reach of his fans.
“I work at the Art of Music store,” he said. “There’s one at Mandalay and there’s one at MGM. We go back and forth based on the conventions that are in town. I’m usually there 20 days a month – 12:00-4:30 every day. I get to sit for 4½ hours a day and talk baseball with people. It’s like playing a doubleheader, and I’ll never make an out.”