Pete

These Kids Today

A few weeks ago, the Reds inducted Pete Rose into the Reds Hall of Fame and retired his #14 jersey. It was, at last, an MLB-sanctioned chance for Cincinnati to celebrate and honor their troubled favorite son.

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It also provided an opportunity for a beleaguered manager and a sentimental newspaperman to look at baseball through. . . pink-tinted spectacles.

“Pete Rose was Pete Rose,” Reds skipper Bryan Price said. “The culture has changed. It always changes.” But what Price really found missing with today’s player was desire.

“I want to see effort, not speaking just as a manager, but also as a fan,” Price said. “People tap into that. That approach serves everyone that competes. Not everyone has the intangibles Pete had, but you sure want to work in that direction.”

Enquirer columnist Paul Daugherty sang a similar song.

Most of the virtues espoused by Rose and adored by his fans might as well be behind glass somewhere. They’re no more relevant than a television with a picture tube. Cheering Pete’s persona now is not unlike cheering a T-Rex at the museum of natural history.

Don’t believe it?

Daugherty then goes on to list Rose’s (on-field) virtues, and compare them to modern players. He’s careful to say “it’s not worse now, or better, only different,” but there’s a pretty strong whiff of judgment.

The two big problems with Price and Daugherty’s look backward? First, Pete Rose was far from a product of his times. Pete Rose isn’t a symbol of an era gone by. He was, and is, singular. There’s a reason Pete was noticed, singled out, and even mocked (“lookit that Charlie Hustle”) as a rookie.

Doc:

Call me the next time you see a major leaguer willingly play five positions, without wondering if it’s in his contract.

Call (or telegraph) me the first time it happened, because I think Pete Rose is the only player of his caliber to play so many positions in a single career. The norm in baseball, since before the Titanic sank to the bottom of the North Atlantic, is that ballplayers want certainty or cash, and usually both. Don’t believe it? Here’s Babe Ruth, who leaped to superstardom and led the Red Sox to the 1918 World Series title as a pitcher/first baseman/outfielder:

I want to be satisfied regarding my salary and I want to play one position. I don’t want to be on first base one day, in the outfield the next, and on the rubber a couple days later.”

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Like Babe Ruth, we can wish for another Pete Rose, but let’s not pretend the game was full of them in some golden age gone by.

The bigger problem with this “good old days” nonsense is that Baseball Men (and sportswriters) have been making exactly these same arguments since before catchers wore masks. Don’t believe it?

Here’s Doc:

We complain now about players who aren’t fundamentally adept. They lack the proverbial Little Things ability. That’s mostly because if they’re really good, the scouts want to see their individual skills. A hot prospect’s not going to bunt when he can swing for a three-run homer. A kid pitcher’s not going to learn his craft when he can simply fly past it at 95 mph.

We’ve taught players “look at my skills’’ and not “look at how my skills help my team.’’ When Rose was a kid, that sort of thinking didn’t exist.

This one isn’t Doc:

Most players don’t learn the fundamentals. Most of them don’t practice. They don’t even train. The sole object, encouraged by the lively ball and short fences, is to make home runs.

The thing is that the boys today have never learned to hit. The idea nowadays is to close your eyes and swing with all your might — never trying to aim the ball toward a hole in the defense and in fact never noticing where the fielders are playing. The greatest disgrace in modern baseball is that few batters even know how to lay down a good bunt. Some of them don’t even try it.

That’s Rose’s spiritual grandfather, Ty Cobb, a grumpy old man from a different era, in a ridiculous Truman-era rant in Life magazine.

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Doc again:

The camaraderie we witnessed this weekend between the Reds Hall of Famers and within the Big Red Machinists in attendance has ebbed as well. In Rose’s day, players didn’t automatically shower, dress and leave after games. They stayed, sometimes long afterwards, maybe had a few beers, and talked baseball.

You don’t see that now. Everyone has somewhere to be. Health-conscious players would rather seal themselves hermetically in their hotel rooms or rented abodes than subject their bodies to alcohol.   Plus, liability being what it is, ballclubs aren’t providing alcohol the way they once did.

What did Cobb have to say about camaraderie in the era of Musial, Mantle, DiMaggio, and Williams?

We took our time in the clubhouse. We cooled out slowly and talked about the ball game all the while. … The post-mortem began in the clubhouse. It continued while we all went back to the hotel by streetcar and ate our supper together. . . .

Today [1952!] all of this has changed. You can go around today to a hotel where a visiting ball club is staying and perhaps never even see a ballplayer unless you want to sit waiting in the lobby from 5 o’clock until past midnight.

Nobody spends much time in the clubhouse; everybody is in a hurry to get away. As a team they never see each other until they congregate at the ball park next morning to start dressing for the game.

Doc:

It’s not worse now, or better, only different. Rose played most of his career with one-year contracts that paid pennies compared to today. If pride didn’t drive you, making a living did. Players now don’t have that worry. After that first huge deal, it’s all pride, basically.

Cobb:

Some of today’s rookies start out with as much as $100,000 in the bank, paid as a bonus just for signing a contract. Even the unluckiest of them get real good salaries, paid mostly for doing nothing except eating, maturing, and gaining strength until they can powder the ball. . . . Where is the incentive?

Cobb goes on like that. On and on. Forever. Check out the article  if you’re interested in complaints about insufficient rookie hazing, excessive home runs, and several hundred words about different types of spitballs.

But you get the idea. I could reach back and find a similar article from a guy older than Cobb; one where a 1950s guy complains about Rose’s generation; or where one of Rose’s teammates complains about the game going soft, etc. etc. Now it’s bat flips. Someday soon, some modern day dunce will be telling our kids how hard-nosed and precise the game was in 2016.

But Bryan Price and Paul Daugherty have been around long enough to realize this is nonsense. Pete Rose isn’t a symbol of an era gone by. He was one of a kind.

Author’s note: I added Oxford commas to Cobb’s screed. Because we’re not animals.

7 thoughts on “These Kids Today

  1. You expose a fundamental difference between the Liberal mindset and the Conservative mind as it plays out in the ball park.
    The Liberal mind = The good old times were never really that good
    The Conservative mind = Nothing is as good as it used to be.

    The problem is whether we are old school or new school we choose to measure with extreme predjudice and very little middle ground. I fear it is a fundamental flaw with our human condition.

  2. Ben Zobrist? Javy Baez? Jose Peraza?

    There are a lot of people that play a lot of positions. And it’s not like Pete was a wizard all over the field.

    Of all his exploits, playing multiple positions is by far the least impressive, in my opinion.

    • Zobrist is a star BECAUSE he’s the finest utility player of his generation. Peraza is playing all over the place because, um, well, I’m not quite sure why. But I think his handlers would say it has something to do with his being blocked by established players yet also being someone they want to see play. Again, not unique at the start of a player’s career.

      An established star, at or near their career peak, being asked by management to make a theoretically-permanent move from their established position–that is NOT a common occurrence. The best comp in recent history to come to my mind: A-Rod moving to third (despite being a better SS with the glove than Jeter at the time, BTW). Now imagine A-Rod doing that three more times during his productive years and you’d have something comparable to Pete’s travelling ways.

      All that said, I agree with you about it not being the most impressive thing on the Pete Rose resume. It’s a little gimmicky, but not entirely without value, and certainly unique.

    • I forget was it gold gloves or all star starts at different positions one year to the next? I loved his willingness to do what the team needed. I was very young watching him play but my grandfather a student and historian of the game loved Rose but was never impressed with his ability. His pulling on his cleats like work boots is what I was taught was special about Rose, would I have thought this without my grandfathers input? I doubt it as far as I was concerned he walked on water so if he said it that was it. I do believe he accomplished more with less “talent” and more want to than anyone I ever watched play so his willingness to switch positions is a big deal in my mind when talking about Rose.

  3. Great article! Maybe someone should send a link to Doc? Not that he’d read it.

  4. The only problem with this article is mentioning Daughterty at all. Writing a rebuttal to him is pointless because he shares no one else’s opinion anyway. He is actually like Pete is so many ways, in particular how he once was talented but continues to disappoint all of us more and more each year.

  5. That. Was. Awesome. Professional comedy show-level of awesome in contrasting the old and new writings. And your point about Rose being sui generis even for his day was excellent.

    Top notch stuff.

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