Philadelphia Inquirer - May 9, 1980
.229 doesn’t stir Rose
‘I’ve just been hitting into bad luck’
By Jayson Stark, Inquirer Staff Writer
CINCINNATI – He is going to walk into Riverfront Stadium tonight. And they are going to flash his batting average on the scoreboard.
It is going to say .229. And if that is a Pete Rose batting average, then Brut is a Pete Rose aftershave.
But those are the numbers, and he is stuck with them. T
hey are going to see those numbers on the board in Riverfront, and they are not going to be sympathetic.
At worst, they will think he is just a 39-year-old guy who has lost it, and see, they knew he wasn't worth those three trillion dollars after all.
At best, they are going to think, "Hey, isn't it tough old Pete's in a slump? Sure hope he comes out of it – when they play the Astros."
But there are slumps, and then there are slumps. Not only does Rose not have slumps like ordinary people (for one. he has been on base in 20 of the Phillies' 21 games), he doesn't even explain them like other people.
Pete Rose's explanation of why he is in a slump is truly unique. His explanation is that he's not in a slump at all.
"It sounds funny, when you're hitting .229, to say you're not in a slump," Rose conceded. "I just don't think I've really been in a slump slump.
"To me, a slump is when you go 0-for-15 or 0-for-17. I haven't had any 0-fers like that. I might be hitting around .200, but I bet I've been the most consistent 1-for-5 hitter in the league,"
Rose's longest hitless spell has, in fact, been only 0-for-10. He has struck out only three times, which means he has hit the ball somewhere about four times a game. And he has scored 15 runs in 21 games, an indication that he is still doing a lot of things you want a leadoff hitter to do.
But he is not in a true Pete Rose groove, either.
Not in the 51-hits-in-one-month thing he was in last September. Not in the 20-or-30-or-44-game hitting-streak surge he gets into annually. Not even in the ho-hum, two-ropes-a-game groove he settles into when he is not being spectacular.
"The one thing I haven't done is, I haven't hit a lot of balls hard up the middle," Rose said. "When I'm swinging good, if I hit five times I'll have a good rip and hit the ball firm three or four times. I haven't been doing that.
"What I have been hitting is a lot of hard one-hoppers. They're like line drives, except they're just not getting over the infielders' heads. But I'm hitting the bleep out of those balls. And that's the way I like to hit. That's the way I should hit the ball."
He says he is swinging so well, he doesn't even know what to work on. He makes it sound as if this .229 stuff is some plot by organized crime to siphon off about eight of his hits a week.
Everything really is not quite that idyllic. What it is, most likely, is that it is still very early. And if Steve Garvey can be hitting .225, and Dave Winfield .217, and Jack Clark .197, then Pete Rose has every right to be at .229.
But there is another number that gnaws at him as much as the .229. It is 39. It is the reason, perhaps, that Rose is so profuse in denying his stroke is a little off. The 39 is, of course, his age.
"I don't think me hitting .229 is, well, I can't put anything together with my age," he said. "I don't think I'm hitting that because I had a birthday, because I turned 39. It's not that kind of batting average.
"Hell, all my strikeouts have been in the last week. If I've been to bat 83 times and only got 19 hits, I've got to say I've just been hitting into bad luck."
He is full of explanations, that's for sure. But when he is standing in that batter's box in Cincinnati tonight, he isn't going to be able to step out, grab a mike and explain it then.
He says he has no big hangup anymore about the fact that it is Cincinnati. He likes the park and the people and the familiarity of being home, he says. But that is all there is to it now.
"I just go back there and play the game," Rose said. "There's only a couple of guys left over there anyhow – Bench, Foster, Concepcion, Griffey. Most of the old gang – Perez, Sparky, Morgan, most of the old guys I hung around with – are gone. They're a completely different team now."
They're different, maybe. But they are not likely to forget that that guy wearing No. 14 with the hair flopping out of the bottom of his helmet used to play there.
And they are not likely to forget he never hit .229 there, either.
NOTES: Dallas Green would like Garry Maddox to play against rookie lefthander Charlie Leibrandt tonight. But if Maddox feels he isn't ready, Lonnie Smith will start.... Rose hit only .261 against the Reds last year (12-for46). But Mike Schmidt hit .162, Greg Luzinski .212 and Manny Trillo .080.... Averages on the last home stand: Luzinski .445, Schmidt .400, Aviles .400, McBride .364, Gross .333, Unser .286, Rose .263, Boone .263, Aguayo .250, Bowa .222, Maddox .000. McBride, Schmidt and Luzinski each hit safely in all five games of the homestand.... After Randy Lerch opposes Leibrandt tonight, Steve Carlton pitches against Tom Seaver tomorrow, with Dick Ruthven vs. Mike LaCoss Sunday.