The scout stared skeptically at his stopwatch. It said Pete Rose had gone to first base in 4.1 seconds. Mickey Mantle, sound of limb, had once been clocked in 3.1—but on a base on balls? They call it walking, but the Cincinnati Reds' self-winding second baseman is a one-gaited animal.
An all-out hustler evokes feelings of admiration and resentment from modern baseball players, most of whom would rather see than be one, and Pete Rose hears it all as he runs by. Back at Macon, Ga. in 1962 he was " Hollywood." Around the league he has been "Joe Hustle" and a "hot dog," the latter a loosely applied baseball term that can be loosely translated to mean show-off. A wit in Rose's own clubhouse has dubbed him "Basil"—"for basal metabolism," Pete explains. "I guess I have a lot of nervous energy."
Rose has also been called, by Philadelphia Manager Gene Mauch, the most valuable player in the National League, the first point of agreement Mauch has found with anyone in Cincinnati in several years. If the Reds stagger home first in the National League race, it will be because Pete Rose learned to make the double play. And if Third Baseman Deron Johnson's bat wins him the MVP, it will be because Pete Rose learned to make the double play.
The Reds' pennant will have been won either on the playing fields of the Venezuelan League last winter or in a hotel room in Los Angeles in August 1964. Red Manager Dick Sisler was ready to throw the book at Rose that day in Los Angeles. The charge was refusal to obey an order.
"He had been using bad judgment as a lead-off batter," Sisler says, "so I benched him in Houston and put Chico Ruiz at second base. Ruiz played well, and I told Rose to pick up some ground balls at third base in practice. He didn't do it."
"It was a misunderstanding," Rose says now. " Ruiz played good for a week, and they wanted me to go to third. I thought they were giving up on me completely, and it teed me off. I wanted to play second base. I'm a second baseman." He had been Rookie of the Year and played all but five games at second in 1963.
"He told me he wouldn't play third," Sisler said. "I called him up to the room and chewed him out pretty good."
The next day Rose looked around for the catching tools he hadn't used since he played in the Little League in Cincinnati 10 years earlier and, because the Reds' two available catchers were bunting, volunteered to catch batting practice. He also picked up some grounders at third base. Eventually, he went back to second and Ruiz to third, and there was entente again in the Cincinnati camp, but it didn't make Pete Rose a big-league second baseman.
"He went like this," says Red Coach Reggie Otero, demonstrating how Rose would take the throw from the shortstop and draw back his arm for the relay, instead of flipping it in one time-saving catch-and-throw motion as Pittsburgh's Bill Mazeroski and almost nobody else can do. It took a global war to make a major league player of Reggie Otero, but he learned very much about baseball, and about men, as he labored in the vineyards.
Rose cannot explain his fixation about second base. It is just his position, ever since the coach at Western Hills High School in Cincinnati broke the news to Pete when he was a freshman that he was too small to be a catcher in anything but the Little League.