Wilmington Evening Journal - March 12, 1980

What, Pete worry?  Hitting no big deal


By Hal Bodley, Sports Editor


CLEARWATER, FLA. – GAME after game went by and Pete Rose could not get a hit. He swung hard and he swung reasv. He swung from the left side and he swung from the right side. Nothing.


People all over Florida said he was washed up, finished.


Then, on Sunday afternoon, March 18, a 2:31 p.m. against Toronto at Dunedin, Pete Rose singled to left field. It wasn't a sizzling liner or anything like that, but it was a hit. He tore to first base, then looked around at his teammates and flashed that boyish grin.


Hours later, he said, "I can still hit, can't I?"


Of course.


Not even Phillies' owner Ruly Carpenter, who shelled out $3.2 million for the celebrated free agent, ever seriously doubted that Peter Edward Rose had forgotten how to hit last spring.


The Phils' new first baseman ended the Grapefruit League season with a strong finish. He had several three-hit games and, even though he batted only .194, had 11 more hits after that first one.


During the regular season, of course, he kept interest in Philadelphia baseball alive long after the Phillies had fallen out of the National League Eastern Division race. Pete had a 23-game hitting streak, longest in the majors, batted safely in 26 of his last 27 games and was on a torrid .421 pace in September with 51 hits. His .331 average was second best in the league.


A YEAR AGO PETE ROSE was continually surrounded by reporters. They chronicled his every move. The attention, however, never seemed to bother him. After all. he had played out his option with Cincinnati, had become the highest paid player in baseball and was supposed to lead the Phillies to a World Series.


"It's much easier this year," Rose said the other day as he relaxed after practice. "Learning to play a new position last year took all of my concentration. I had to let my hitting go for the first part of spring training.


"Now I have the routine down. I try to stay as active as I can during practice. When I'm not hitting, I'm taking throws from the outfielders. Then, when I'm on the diamond, I'm taking my own ground balls.


“Last year I spent so much time learning to play first base. I had to get my footwork down, learning which way to pivot on balls that come at you at different angles. I had to get comfortable throwing to second base and third base, how to field bunts. It's a lot easier this year, it's just a matter of preparation. Last year it was like getting all the basics down."


Anybody who says that first base is an old man's position will get an argument from Pete Rose. To him, it is one of the most exciting positions in the game.


"It's not really an easy position," he said. "Other than the catcher, I think the first baseman is the most involved player on the field. I think the hardest position to play, other than catcher, is shortstop, but we actually had a game last year where I did not have a ball hit to me but still had 15 putouts.


"Do you want a guy who has bad hands touching the ball 15-20 times during the course of the game? It can be an old man's position if you just go over there and stand around, but you have to realize you have the ground balls, you're holding runners on and we have a lot of pickoff plays. You have to be super aggressive covering the bunts, so you stay busy."


Then, in another breath, Rose said: "I think it is a position where you should put the old guys because it makes them stay in shape."


Pete said there was never a time last spring when he did not concentrate on his hitting.


"Sure, I was hitless my first 18 times up last spring, but that really didn't worry me because I was not striking out a lot. How I make contact, how I see the ball, are the important things. I know when I got North to open the season, it is going to be a lot easier to see the ball because of the backgrounds. I think a lot of people don't take into consideration the elements in spring training the backgrounds, the wind, the high skies. We get spoiled in the major-league parks.


"If I'm seeing the ball well, I am not worried about whether or not I get hits in spring training."


Rose will be 39 on April 14 and there is no indication he is slowing down. He has three more years to go on his contract and intends to go full-bore the whole time.


"I don't fear age," he said. "I only worry about losing my enthusiasm. I'm not worried about my legs going, about my arm going, about my eyes. It would kill me to play on a losing team. It would be impossible at my age, almost insane, to play the way I do for a last-place team. I guess that's my only worry."


After a moment of obvious reflection, he added: "The hits will come."