PITY THE POOR CINCINNATI REDS. While they're trying to play baseball, the specter of the Pete Rose investigation hangs over the team like a noose. Will Rose still be in the Reds dugout after June 26, the date of his hearing with Commissioner Bart Giamatti? Or will Rose be suspended? If so, who would replace him at the helm?
Meanwhile, the uncertain fate of their skipper isn't the Reds' only concern. Gone largely unnoticed in the shadow of the Rose investigation has been a host of more tangible problems—a nasty combination of debilitating injuries and inept performances. Indeed, a weary-looking Murray Cook, Cincinnati's general manager, acknowledged the obvious one day last week in Cincinnati when he said, "We're not playing that well."
How, then, does one explain that the Reds, as of Sunday, were sporting a 26-20 record, second best in the National League, and that they were tied with the Giants for first in the NL West? On Friday night in Chicago, after the Reds' ninth win in their last 12 games, Rose was asked how the team was able to prosper despite his problems. "There are no problems," the manager snapped. "We are in first place."
Of course there are problems. But it may be that they've helped this team more than hurt it. Rose maintains the swaggering air of, pardon the expression, a riverboat gambler who is tapped out but won't let anybody know, and his players have rallied around him. The Reds' successful survival thus far is the result, says Cook, "of the bond the players have formed through this crisis with Pete. I sense a maturity in them."
At the very least they've adopted their manager's "no problem" mentality. "All this stuff with Pete isn't around us," says veteran reliever Kent Tekulve. "It takes place somewhere else." Says outfielder Paul O'Neill, whose surprisingly strong start has been crucial to the Reds, "When I'm hitting, Pete's troubles are the last thing on my mind."
The rest of the sports world may be obsessed by the Rose investigation, but the Cincinnati players simply are not. Credit is due in part to Rose himself; he keeps the probe and baseball strictly separate. He has held many of his post-game press conferences away from the clubhouse instead of in his office, and any reference to the investigation usually brings a curt response from Rose, or no response at all. Says outfielder Eric Davis, "We are real relaxed, because the focus is not on us. Nobody bothers us. Everybody bothers Pete."
To understand why the Reds are winning, one must first consider the reasons why they shouldn't be:
?Pitcher Danny Jackson, 23-8 last year, was 3-8 at week's end, with an ugly 6.16 ERA. The Reds' two best starters last season, Jackson and Tom Browning, were 41-13 in '88; this season they've gone 7-12.
? Chris Sabo, National League Rookie of the Year in '88, has been a horror movie at third base. His hitting has finally picked up—in a five-game span last week, he hit his first four home runs of the season—but his arm has turned routine plays into adventures. On Friday, against the Cubs, his errant throw to first in the ninth led to the Cubs' game-tying run. "I have absolutely nothing to say about myself," Sabo huffed.
?Former All-Star catcher Bo Diaz, 36, is hitting .163, and has thrown out just one runner in 16 basestealing attempts.