1980 Baseball Illustrated Annual

Pete Rose's Battle To Make The Phils a Winner


By Bob Gutkowski


It was a rewarding year personally for Charlie Hustle but a very disappointing one for his team and most of his teammates last year and the Hall of Fame-bound first sacker is out to change the latter in 1980.


For all you dyed-in-the-wool baseball fans and particularly those who reside in the Philadelphia area, pay close attention to Phillies happenings this year, because you are going to see some things differently.


For openers, Pete Rose will be back to try and breathe some life, once again, into a bunch of overpaid and underworked Philadelphia Phillies. Rose should feel more at home in Philadelphia this year than last primarily due to a change in managers. Rose at 39 approaches the game with the attitude of a 20 year old. Despite the huge numbers in his yearly recompense for donning a Phillies uniform, he still goes at the game like he means and enjoys it. In straight talk, he still gives a damn about giving the long-suffering Phillies' fan something for his money, and today when you cast an eye on that ballclub, look at the talent and all the money that is being expended on them without any real production, then talk to Rose and watch him play. It's like a breath of fresh air in a cow pasture that is long overdue to be turned over.


To say the least, it was a frustrating year for both Pete and the Phils last year. However, much of the canards can be tossed at the bulk of the Phillies, not at Rose. To look at him taking batting practice or running in the outfield you would think, at first glance, that here was a guy who would do most anything just to make the club, but then you quickly remember that here is a guy who could buy you and me and maybe even the city of Philadelphia without batting an eyelash. And yet, he's out there running his tail off to turn a single into a double, to break up a double-play, laying down a bunt to move a man over, shorten up on the bat and try to line one down the opposite field in the hopes of moving a man over from first to third.


Pretty elemental, you baseball mavens would say. How can you get excited about piddling little stuff like that? That's sandlot stuff you'd say. Well, brother, you would be surprised just how many ballplayers today don't want to do that at all and there are a lot of them on the Phillies. "I can't really respond to that, except to say that I do my best despite what other guys will say or do or not do," Rose submits. "Naturally, last year was a disappointment, but the past is history and we all have to forget it and start over."


And that is what new manager Dallas Green is bent on doing. He knows he has got a couple of professional crybabies on the Phils and a few others who have got a lot of zeroes on their paychecks but don't produce. Green knows what a guy like Rose can do to and for a team. "Pete is a winner in so many different ways, it is hard to describe. I think that is why he was brought here," comments Dallas Green, who replaced Danny Ozark, "and I know that there are players here who really don't like Rose or understand him but we do need him now."


For those that don't live in the Philly area, it is hard to describe the absolute and unequivocal frustration inherent in this franchise and what the advent of Rose meant. In fact, neither did Rose himself. "I knew I was at a crossroads this year, leaving Cincinnati under the conditions that I did, then a lot of things that were said about me and the money," Rose noted, "That after awhile the constant questions about the money and how it affected me and the team, well it started getting to me."


Most of it was in good fun but a lot of it was meant to hurt Pete and some of it came from teammates, who were also making a lot of money. True, not as much as Rose, but rest assured there will be no charity bazaars held for the Phillies team.


The drift around the Phillies this year was that Pete would get their juices flowing. Rose is the kind of guy who likes to poke fun and have some fun. He just happens to be an energetic and dynamic person and to say the least he has brought in additional fans. But the Phillies are not a "together" team. There are a lot of resentments on this club. Between player and player, between player and management. If they had the talent of the Yankees or of the old Oakland A's championship teams one could understand a lot of the complaining that goes on in the clubhouse.


The fundamental thing about Rose is that, unlike so many other players these days, he is a doer, not a talker. And by being a doer he has exposed the non-performer and in some instances made him angry. Rose doesn't do this intentionally, but those who know him best have commented that when they are around him, they feel like they are next to a small dynamo. Just recalling the effort Rose put forth when he was bearing down on his 3,000th hit a couple of Aprils ago or when he was hell-bent on breaking through the 44-straight games-with-a-hit barrier, is enough to get most baseball fans charged up, but it seemed that all of Pete's feats fell on deaf ears as the Phils just stood and watched the nose-dive out of contention by mid-August. Some of the Phillies players agree that all of the sudden attention thrust upon Rose got them uptight, but most agreed that his credentials more than warranted the constant fan and media acclamation.


Paul Owens, the Phils' general manager, agreed. "Nobody is really mad at Pete. It is understandable that there were a few people who got upset at all the initial attention Pete got when he first got to training camp but I really feel that died down rather quickly."


And if in fact Rose did get too much acclamation for some of his teammates, the record has to be examined to see if all the hoopla is justified. Rose has played in well over 2,600 games. He now has 3,372 hits, 2,490 singles, more than 600 times at bat for the 11th year in a row, an above .300 batting average whether batting left or right-handed and a nice fat $800,000 per year and all of this ain't too shabby and hardly the mark of a loser after 17 years in the major leagues.


Owens loudly disdains the thought that there is any jealousy between Rose and many of the other Phillies players. "I really feel that if it exists, the player involved should speak to his agent. Maybe the player can fire the agent. Getting mad at Pete solves no problems," concluded Owens.


The adjustment is coming to the Phillies, who had won three Eastern Division titles but had not made the Series really didn't seem to affect Pete until late in the '79 season. There seemed to be a sense of frustration that he longed to express but really felt he shouldn't because it would only add fuel to the fire that already enveloped the team by mid-August. "I concentrated more on just trying to play my best every day and learn more about being a first baseman. Some people think it is an old man's position but I don't. There is always a lot of action at first base." Pete offered, "Every ball hit anywhere could wind up in your glove and it is a new learning process for me. I know I've got to field grounders, handle the throws from the infield, make the cutoff and cover the bunts, learn the different pitcher's moves, so I've got a lot to keep me busy for awhile."


The one thing you notice about Pete is that he is eager to learn but even more eager to do. He has spent a lot of time with each of the Phillies infielders trying to pick up on how they handle their positions so he can be a better first baseman. Rose feels that Ozark had helped him quite a bit in making the move from outfield to first base.


Rose also feels that he is being more appreciated now than when he first arrived in Philadelphia. To say the least, the feelings between Philadelphia and Cincinnati teams of late has not been the best. And now having the star of the other guy's show on your side was a shock to some.


Owens felt that Rose's addition to the Phils could only help despite the big numbers in Pete's contract. "Pete will pay for himself a year at a time and yes, we feel that he can add people just by his presence on the field. I feel like a man playing seven card stud with nine cards."


Bill Giles, the executive vice-president of the Phils added, "He's made a measurable difference already. We were expecting a slight decline in attendance last year. But in checking out the final figures, we sold two million tickets and we expect to more than hold our own." What the Phillies chances are this year and whether or not they experience a season-ticket upper or downer not only depends on Rose but on how well Dallas Green can get his act together in dealing with the modern player which is a primary problem.


"I am looking for guys who really want to play this year and I am sure that Pete fits into that category. He is the least of my worries, but we will also have to assess who also will be with us at Clearwater in February."


Green is a no-nonsense type of manager in an era of players (many of whom worry first how much they'll be paid and not how well they will perform). The Phillies are an above average team talent-wise but not a cohesive unit and several fights after games this year showed that there are serious communications problems in the City of Brotherly Love's baseball club. Green is not openly depending on Rose's performance this year to rouse the other players but it certainly will be pointed out on as many occasions as possible that Rose at 39 puts out more than most members of the Phils 10 years his junior.


Rose feels that this year is an important year for him and the Phillies as far as championships go. He feels that this year is a transition year and wants to contribute as much as he can while the Phillies are still strong enough to make changes and give the younger players some much needed playing time to round them out when Green starts making his much thought-about trades. Rose, by virtue of his age, money and experience, will almost certainly assume the unappointed role of field general and even possible mediator between some of the players who like and want Green to do well as manager and those who don't.


So, on a personal basis the Phillies situation is really not the best for a calibre of player like a Pete Rose, let alone Rose himself. Rose refused to amplify on anything that he feels may jeopardize the Phillies chances this season. But realistically, for the Phils to have any real chance of climbing back into the former place of loftiness and fight off the Expos and Pirates again, there are a lot of things that will have to change in the Phillies' organization. What everyone is banking on is a Pete Rose that is healthy, happy and hustling like he did in the old days. If he is all those things then the chances are that he can help pull the Phils out of their nosedive. Rose this year will act much as any man in a breach would. He'll be the anchor up front while a lot of hard-hitting takes place off-camera between some players and Dallas Green, who vows to make some trades to get younger, hungrier players into the line-up. And if that happens he will surely need and welcome a player of Rose's calibre to help him steer a rocky course.


Green feels that Rose is the kind of man who can make things happen if the environment is good and now that the hoopla has died down relative to Rose's money, he will be a financial freak no more in Philadelphia. "I realize more than anybody else that I am not the God-gifted athlete some of these guys are. I have to hustle and scrounge for everything but one thing I know is that I am dependable. I was the only guy on the Reds that Sparky Anderson could be sure of every day," Rose declared, "and that is the way I'll continue to do it here."


Nicer words could not fall on the ears of Paul Owens and Dallas Green because they will need Rose out there everyday this year doing his thing if the Phillies really do want to come back to first place in the N.L. East.