In lieu of actual baseball, I’ll be posting snippets that were cut from The Baseball Codes as a way of amusing myself and, hopefully, you. Today’s theme: intimidation.
As a 39-year-old first baseman with the Philadelphia Phillies in the 1980 World Series, Pete Rose knew that, despite the Phillies boasting Mike Schmidt in their lineup, the best way for under-manned Philadelphia to beat Kansas City was through superior willpower. His opportunity came in the third inning of Game 1.
With two outs and Royals catcher Darrel Porter on second base, Clint Hurdle singled to left field. Porter—who averaged just over two stolen bases a season over his 17-year career—rounded third and challenged the arm of outfielder Lonnie Smith, whose throw beat him to the plate by 15 feet. Rose was obviously pleased, but he was fascinated by Porter’s response. Instead of smashing into catcher Bob Boone, Porter pulled up 10 feet short of the plate and allowed himself to be tagged.
Perhaps Porter and the Royals were so confident that they felt their 2-0 lead would hold up. Maybe Porter was playing by a code that discouraged catchers from derailing each other when a play wasn’t close. Or maybe the Royals as a unit didn’t have the same passion as Rose. Rose decided it was the latter.
In the bottom of the inning, Philadelphia clawed back against Royals starter Dennis Leonard, scoring two quick runs. Rose came to the plate with the bases empty and two outs, and stepped into a diving pitch from Leonard, which bounced off his calf. It was a given that he wouldn’t rub it, but this time he took it a step farther. He charged.
This was the World Series; Rose’s intent wasn’t to start a fight, it was to find out what Leonard and the Royals were made of. And when the pitcher’s initial response wasn’t to descend the mound and show Rose exactly what he thought of his bravado—instead Leonard shuffled backward—Rose had the answer he needed. It wasn’t only Porter who was playing timid. The series, he felt certain, was Philadelphia’s for the taking.
Rose pulled up before reaching Leonard, and, jawing at the pitcher all the while, spun and ran to first base.
If anybody on the Phillies bench wasn’t feeling what Rose felt at that moment, it didn’t take them long to come around. A suddenly tentative Leonard walked Schmidt, then gave up a three-run home run—and the lead—to Bake McBride. The Phillies would not trail again in the game, and took the Series in six.