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.
Rare is the player who can intimidate simply by the size of his personality, but when it happens, it’s something to behold. The master of this was Pete Rose, a man for whom size, strength and speed were less intrinsic to greatness than sheer intensity. Rose’s enthusiasm may have earned him the nickname Charlie Hustle, but an underappreciated facet of his particular genius was the ability to not just rattle an opponent, but to inspire doubt.
Take the 1978 All-Star Game in San Diego, where Rose went so far as to import to the National League clubhouse cases of Japanese baseballs—smaller and more tightly wound than their American counterparts, which caused them to carry farther. Working the locker room like a politician, he eventually garnered buy-in from his teammates on two counts: The National Leaguers agreed to use the balls during batting practice, and they also agreed that nobody would tell members of the American League team what was going on. Rose then sauntered over to the AL locker room and convinced many of the players to come out and watch their opponents take pre-game hacks.
Jack Murphy Stadium was vast in 1978, running 420 feet to center field, but Rose’s teammates for the day put on quite a show, hammering ball after ball over the fence’s deepest reaches. When they were done, the National Leaguers gathered all the balls and returned them to their locker room for safekeeping. Using standard major league baseballs in their own batting practice, the American Leaguers had a much rougher go of it.
It was a minor but thorough, and while it may not have been the deciding factor, neither did it hurt. The National League went on to win its seventh straight contest, 7-3.