Pete Rose, Unwritten-Rules

Pete Rose: ‘[The Unwritten Rules] Are Stupid’

Pete RoseSo the Hit King isn’t a fan of baseball’s unwritten rules. The first topic covered in the wide-ranging interview Pete Rose did with Grantland’s Jonah Keri last week cut right to the point:

I used to get screwed when we had a seven- or eight-run lead, because I couldn’t bunt for a single or I’m “showing up the opposition.” … Guys that are home run hitters can continuously just swing from their ass and trot around the bases. I remember one time we had a 7-1 lead in the sixth inning in Houston, and J.R. Richard was pitching. I hit a single to right-center and I went to second. He threw at the next two hitters because I was showing the team up! What am I supposed to do when I got a 10-run lead, just go up there and strike out?

Well, no. There are valid arguments to be made against expecting a player to dial back his intensity when a blowout reaches a certain point, but opting against aggressively taking an extra base while holding a six-run lead is not quite the same as going up there to strike out.

Love it or hate it, the Code is generally fair to hitters’ stat lines. Hit all you want, it says. Drive doubles and triples and home runs with impunity. Just don’t take advantage of a reeling opponent by doing things like bunting for hits, say, or stretching a single into a double while holding a 7-1 lead in the sixth against J.R. Richard.

Speaking of bunting for hits, Rose also had this to say about Ben Davis’ bunt to break up Curt Schilling’s perfect game in 2001:

[The unwritten rules] are stupid. Who cares if you bunt for a base hit? The only guys who criticize him on that are losers. Now if it had been 10-1, maybe. But down 2-0? I’d bunt, too.

Which is precisely the point. Rose selectively bemoans the unwritten rules, knowing as well as anybody that the Code is, in virtually every circumstance, overridden by the mandate to win. Any reasonable proponent of the unwritten rules will admit as much—even Schilling, who in The Baseball Codes said about Davis’ bunt that “if it’s 9-0, yeah, I think it’s a horseshit thing to do. But it was a 2-0 game and the bottom line is, unwritten rules or not, you’re paid to win games.”

It is the same reason that Rose’s decision to take out Ray Fosse in the 1970 All-Star Game continues to be questioned. Were it a regular-season contest, even a meaningless one, the play wouldn’t have so much as raised an eyebrow. It was clean and it was effective. But because it was an exhibition, because the win didn’t count in the standings, Rose’s crash-and-burn mentality came up for scrutiny, especially in light of the fact that the hit affected Fosse for the remainder of his career.

What Rose’s argument fails to recognize is that baseball’s Code sets it apart from other sports. It serves as institutional recognition that, over a 162-game season, every team will have a day in which it runs roughshod over its opponent, and that equanimity is hardly too much to ask in such a situation—especially in light of the fact that the roles could easily be reversed a day later. It is a gentlemanly aspect of an intensely competitive sport, a continuous reminder that, like life, the outcome of a play is not all there is—that motivation plays a part, as well.

Rose’s drive to play hard all the time is undeniably admirable. What he seems to be missing is that there is a marked difference between his success and his opponent’s failure. The recognition of such is part of what makes baseball great.

All-Star Game

Hey, it’s the All-Star Game. Let’s Revisit Some History

I ran this post back in 2010 (sans logo, of course), but it seems like an appropriate time to revisit things.

In honor of the All-Star Game, I offer three related stories, only one of which made the final draft of The Baseball Codes. Consider it bonus material to fill the downtime until games resume.

* * *

In the 1978 All-Star Game in San Diego, Pete 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 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 clubhouse for safekeeping. Using standard major league baseballs in their own batting practice, the American Leaguers had a much rougher go of things.

It might not have meant much . . . or maybe it did. At the very least, it didn’t hurt. The National League went on to win its seventh straight contest, 7-3.

* * *

In the National League clubhouse prior to the 1968 All-Star Game, Dodgers catcher Tom Haller saw Houston’s Rusty Staub rummaging through Don Drysdale’s shaving kit, ostensibly to find evidence to support the long-whispered rumor that Drysdale doctored the ball. When Haller told the pitcher about it, it wasn’t taken lightly.

Fifteen days later, Drysdale faced the Astros in Los Angeles. Trailing 1-0 with two outs and nobody on in the eighth inning, Drysdale buried a pitch into Staub’s ribs.

“That’s for looking through my goddamn shaving kit,” he yelled as the hitter stumbled down to first base. Staub might not have been the world’s best sleuth, but he was smart enough to not say a word.

* * *

Orioles skipper Earl Weaver was once sitting in the dugout when one of his pitchers gave up a home run. As the batter rounded third, he looked toward the Orioles bench, made eye contact with the manager and extended his middle finger. “What the hell was that?” a befuddled Weaver asked Billy Hunter, one of his coaches. Hunter knew exactly what the hell that was. “You didn’t select him for the All-Star Game,” he said.