Welcome to the Machine (cont.)
Sparky watched Pete take some ground balls that day. He looked O.K. He wasn't smooth, he wasn't agile and, of course, he had that weak arm. But Sparky had to believe that Pete would work hard enough; he would not embarrass himself over there.
"What's news, Sparky?" That was Chief Bender, the Reds' director of the minor leagues. Chief was a good baseball man; he'd been in the game for 25 years. There had been a good pitcher known as Chief Bender in the early part of the century, and Chief was often confused with him. He didn't seem to mind. He never tired of baseball. He went to a game every day -- major league game, minor league game, it didn't matter. He had to be around it.
"I'm playing Rose at third," Sparky said.
Chief's face reddened. He looked hard at Sparky, as if he were trying to determine if he had just heard an inscrutable joke.
"Well," Chief began slowly, "Bob's in Arizona."
"Chief, I'm gonna tell you something," Sparky said, and there was a bit of snap in his voice now. "It doesn't matter where Bob is. You know we haven't won [a World Series] yet, and we're starting off slow this year. I look at it this way: It's me or nothing right now. I'm gonna play him at third base."
Chief gave Sparky that hard look again. Then he sort of shrugged and walked off. It was Sparky's funeral.
Ralph Garr was Atlanta's leadoff batter that night. He was fast, and in 1974 he had slapped and run his way to a .353 batting average, the best in the National League. Garr had a unique talent for hitting baseballs precisely where he wanted to hit them. He saw Pete Rose at third base, and he smiled.
Up in the radio booth, Reds announcer Marty Brennaman watched closely. Sparky had told Marty that Rose would play third base, but Marty did not believe him. Now Rose was out there. Marty watched as Garr cracked a ground ball to third. Rose took a step to his left, kind of lost his footing, grabbed the ball, stumbled slightly again, steadied himself, threw the ball across the diamond. "He got him," Marty told his radio listeners. "How about that Pete Rose?"
Early the next day at his second home, in Arizona, Bob Howsam picked up his morning newspaper and saw what he thought was a misprint. The box score showed a 6-1 Reds win. It also showed Pete Rose playing third base. He called up Chief Bender.
"I see Rose at third," he said. "That's a mistake, isn't it?"
"No, Bob," Chief said. "Sparky put him at third base."
"Oh, my God," Howsam said.
CINCINNATI, June 8, 1975
Joe Morgan had that feeling. He was about to change a game again. Lots of people around baseball despised Joe Morgan. They thought him arrogant. And, hey, not everybody on the Reds loved Joe either. Ken Griffey and George Foster, for instance, thought him distant. He spent much of his time off the field alone in his room, listening to jazz, reading the adventure comic books that allowed him to escape. "George and I kept waiting for him to take us under his wing," Griffey would say years later. "But it never happened."
Still, they could not help but admire the way he played baseball. Joe had no weaknesses. If Pete had learned ferocity from his father, then Joe had learned completeness from his own. Leonard Morgan had played semipro baseball, and he told his son that the secret to success was the ability to do everything well. They would go to minor league baseball games in Oakland, Leonard and Joe and his sister Linda, and the father would express his disdain for those players who hit home runs but did not seem to care about their defense or those who could run fast but did not seem to take pride in their hitting. "Be everything," Leonard would say.
He really could do everything. Joe could beat teams in more ways than anyone else. Take 1974. Joe had a .427 on-base percentage, which led the league. While Joe had never batted .300 -- which was what the fans and reporters mostly cared about -- he had reached base more than 40% of the time in each of his three seasons with Cincinnati. He drew 120 walks in 1974, second most in the league. He stole 58 bases, third in the league. He hit 22 home runs. He won the Gold Glove for his defense at second base. And his mind? "Smartest player I ever coached," Sparky gushed endlessly to reporters.
On this day in 1975 the Reds trailed Chicago 1-0, seventh inning, first game of a doubleheader, and Cubs pitcher Rick Reuschel had allowed just one hit, a little ground ball up the middle by Geronimo. Reuschel was overpowering the Machine. Morgan worked Reuschel for a walk.
Then the game began. He danced off the bag, shifting his weight from his left leg to his right, then right leg back to his left, and he inched a little bit closer to second base, and he had that smile, the Joe Morgan smile, the one that said, "Oh, yeah, I'm about to steal second base, and there's nothing you can do about it." That smile was yet another reason people didn't like Joe.
But he was right. There was nothing anyone could do to keep him from stealing. On the bases Joe Morgan was an artist at work. Reuschel threw over to first base to chase him back to the bag. Morgan looked at Reuschel, and his smile grew larger -- now it said, "You poor man. You think throwing over to first base will stop me? You cannot stop me. I have spent hours studying you, hours looking over your every physical quirk, how your left leg twitches, how your shoulder slumps, how your back leans. I have studied you, and I know when you will pitch. You cannot fool me. I'm already at second base. It's futile for you to throw over here." Reuschel threw over to the bag again, and Morgan dived back in.
"This guy knows he can't pick me off, right?" Joe said to Cubs first baseman Andre Thornton, and he dusted himself off. But Reuschel did not seem to know that at all. In fact, Morgan noticed that something in Reuschel's face had changed. He wore a look of weary apprehension, as if waiting for something to happen, a balloon to pop, a gunshot to go off. He started to throw over to first base again, only this time the umpire raised his arm.
"Balk!" the umpire said as he pointed at Reuschel.
Morgan jogged easily to second base. He had done what he wanted to do. He had broken something in Reuschel. Pitchers, Joe believed, are fragile creatures. When they felt good, powerful, invincible, they pitched easily and you couldn't do much against them. But when you got underneath that somehow, when you made pitchers nervous even for a second, you had them. Reuschel looked back at Joe, and then he threw a fat fastball to Johnny Bench. And Johnny turned on it, crushed it, hit it just to the right of the leftfield foul pole. That was a home run. The Reds won again. They won the second game of the doubleheader too. And when the day ended, Cincinnati was all alone in first
BOSTON, October 22, 1975
This had been a World Series for the ages. Each of the first six games had had something to mesmerize the nation -- a hero, a goat, a moment of controversy, a dramatic and unexpected turn. The tension had peaked the night before, in Game 6. The improbable kept happening. Brilliant catches. Perfect throws. Far-fetched home runs. Comebacks. The Red Sox loaded the bases in the ninth, nobody out, winning run on third, and Boston phenom Fred Lynn lifted a shallow fly to left. Don Zimmer, the Red Sox' third base coach, screamed, "No! No! No!" Denny Doyle, the runner at third, heard, "Go! Go! Go!" George Foster's throw beat him to the plate, and Bench slapped Doyle with the ball. In the 11th inning Morgan crushed a fly ball to rightfield, a home run for sure, but the ball died in the thick Boston air, and the Red Sox' Dwight Evans ran back, leaped, desperately stabbed his glove upward. The ball hit it and stuck there. Exhaustion. Nobody could see straight. Rose saw. He babbled like a child hours past his bedtime.
MLB Truth & Rumors