Pete Rose pulled the Bridal veil out of his locker and carefully placed it on his head. Then he stepped over to the mirror in the Cincinnati Reds manager's office in Riverfront Stadium to see just how ludicrous he looked in his red T-shirt, white baseball pants, shower clogs and the long white veil that cascaded down his back to his knees. "Marge Schott gave this to me on Opening Day," he said. "She said she's tired of being a bridesmaid."
Rose edged closer to the mirror. "Do I look like a blushing bride or what?"
He laughed loudly and strode into the clubhouse, where a handful of his players were getting ready for Saturday afternoon's game against the Houston Astros. When the Reds saw Rose's getup, they started hooting. "Now that you see how pretty I look," he said, pausing in front of the lockers, "I know we'll put an end to that bridesmaid business." Then he promenaded away, the veil billowing behind him.
Rose treated Schott's gift as a joke, a convenient prop for loosening up the Reds after an embarrassing 8-3 loss to the Astros the night before. But he's also well aware of what it symbolizes: For the first time in his 3½ years as the Cincinnati manager, Rose has been put on notice to win the National League West title—or else. Schott, who bought controlling interest in the Reds three years ago, isn't the most knowledgeable owner in baseball. When a newspaper reporter asked her last week which team she thought would be Cincy's most serious competition for the division crown, she answered, "The Kansas City Royals." But one thing Schott does know is that she's tired of watching the Reds come in second, which is where they've finished in each of the last three years. Late in the 1987 season, after Cincinnati had dropped out of first (the Reds eventually finished six games behind the San Francisco Giants), Schott publicly blamed Rose and general manager Bill Bergesch for the slide. Then, in the off-season, she fired Bergesch and replaced him with Murray Cook, a former general manager for the New York Yankees and Montreal Expos. Rose kept his job, but his contract runs out at the end of this season.
All of a sudden those 4,256 hits Rose collected as a player don't seem to matter so much. When he started as a player-manager with Cincinnati in August 1984, he was still chasing Ty Cobb's record for career hits, and he would sit in his office cleaning his bats. Now the bats are gone, and he devotes every minute he can to studying his players' statistics.
"Sure, it's different," he says. "When I played, all I had to worry about was myself. Now I've got to worry about 24 players, the coaches, the trainer and the media. When I played, what I did was how I was judged. Now, what my players do is how I am judged. I understand that. I like it. I want to be the best manager who ever lived. And I don't buy that garbage about taking a job expecting to get fired. Walter Alston didn't get fired. Twenty-three years. Now, there's a record to shoot at."
Rose is unruffled by Schott's high expectations. "I expect us to win, too," he says. "I hope people expect us to win. If you start worrying because people put pressure on you, you're in trouble. I was watching the Cleveland-Texas game the other night. Brook Jacoby of the Indians was on the postgame show and said how difficult it was for the Cleveland players last year because their team was picked to win its division right there on the cover of SPORTS ILLUSTRATED. HOW can there be pressure when you're picked to win? Good athletes thrive on pressure. I lived with the pressure every bleeping day for 24 years. I loved it. So I'm not complaining about the pressure of being expected to win."
Rose is quick to point out how well he has done as a manager. When he took over the Reds, they had finished last two years in a row and were languishing in fifth place. The following season he moved them into second, and they have been solid contenders ever since. Last year, the Reds got off to a 15-7 start and held first place for 82 straight days, until Aug. 19. But things began to unravel earlier in the month when they dropped a four-game series against the San Francisco Giants in Candlestick Park. "We stopped hitting and scored a lot less runs in the second half of the season," says Rose. "We had three real bad weeks, had a 9-and-20 August. Everyone talks as if we packed it in after that, but we won as many games as anyone in the National League in September and October."
Their good early-season showing and hot September notwithstanding, 1987 was a long, hard year for the Reds. Before the All-Star break, the relationship between Rose and veteran rightfielder Dave Parker became embittered, and the tension between them spilled over into the clubhouse and divided a young, impressionable team. Then there was the starting pitching, or lack of it. Cincinnati had only five complete games before the All-Star break and just two after it, which meant Rose had to overwork one of the best bullpens in the game. And the injuries grew in number. Leftfielder Kal Daniels had to have a knee operation in July; centerfielder Eric Davis missed 33 games with an assortment of ailments; Parker had a bad left knee; and catcher Bo Diaz got, in Rose's words, "flat worn out." Sure, the Reds spent 82 days in first place, but they did it in the main because the Giants had not yet put together a winning combination. During the time Cincy led the division, its record was only 36-37. Says third baseman Buddy Bell, "When I looked back on it over the winter, I realized that we simply weren't good enough."
As soon as Cook took over he started making improvements. He obtained lefthander Danny Jackson from Kansas City and dealt Parker to the Oakland Athletics for pitchers Jose Rijo and Tim Birtsas. He also tried to restore order to an organization racked with dissension because of Schott's idiosyncratic policies, which included, among other things, requiring scouts to make calls from pay phones rather than their rooms to avoid hotel surcharges.