The trouble with Charlie Hustle is that he is forever trying to make plays that cannot possibly succeed under the existing laws of either geometry or gravity or even in the minds of the 499 other major leaguers who play with or against him. On the second day of this season, for instance, Charlie, with only 10 days of spring training behind him, went to war against Billy Williams of the Chicago Cubs and the right-field fence at Crosley Field in Cincinnati. Williams had hit a ball that everyone knew was a home run. Charlie Hustle, however, believed that the ball could be caught, and he jumped as high as he could. The glove slipped off Charlie's hand and the jagged wires on the top of the fence impaled him. When he finally got everything disentangled, the hand looked like an open cherry pie. But that's Charlie for you. He gives 12 dimes on the dollar every time.
Charlie Hustle is Peter Edward Rose of the Cincinnati Reds, and at the end of last week he was leading the major leagues in hits, runs, batting average and uniforms dirtied. He was galloping around the bases and the outfield and making more quick starts and stops than a water bug on LSD. Also, at 26, he was finally starting to get the recognition he has deserved for the past three seasons. The public has come to realize that Rose is a genuine throwback to that time when it was considered a crime to look at a third strike, and
The Sporting News
, not the
Wall Street Journal
, was the player's bible.
Pete Rose is the type of person who would run to a funeral and, if he didn't like it, would boo the deceased. When he was asked last week why he still kept a crew cut and had not affected long sideburns as most players are doing this year, his brown eyes seemed to catch fire. He said "Because we have razors and barbers in Cincinnati." There is within him some rare form of self-propulsion that lifts him up to the peaks of imaginary mountains he builds in front of himself. Pete Rose does not want to remain just a mere $57,000 ballplayer for very long. "I want to be the first player who is not a 20-game winner or a big home-run hitter to make $100,000 a year," he says candidly.
The quick start Rose has fashioned for himself this season has put him ahead of schedule as he chases after 200 hits—one of the most respected professional accomplishments in baseball. Twice in five years Rose has gone over 200 hits and last year he might have made it for a third straight time had he not been out of the lineup with injuries for 14 games. In his last three seasons he has hit .312, .313, and .301. With the Reds he has been a regular at four different positions, playing second base, third base, left field and right, all with facility. But it is his hitting that interests Rose. "There is no doubt," he says, "that because I am a switch hitter I have one of the best offensive advantages that a hitter can have."
Basically those advantages come down to two: 1) the curveball is always breaking in on the switch hitter instead of away from him, and 2) a sidearm pitcher is no problem. The difference between a man who hits .280 and one who hits .300 is relatively small. Based on 500 at bats it comes down to only 10 hits for an entire season or, put more simply, less than one blooper or scratch hit every two weeks. Getting 200 hits is much more difficult than hitting .300. In most cases it means that the player has hit the ball well consistently, has batted in virtually every game and has been fast enough to beat out infield hits and bunts.
The American League has produced only two men in the last dozen seasons who have gotten 200 hits: Bobby Richardson and Tony Oliva. ( Carl Yastrzemski had 189 last season.) During the same time 200 hits have been reached 29 times in the National League.
The practicing genius on getting 200 hits is Roberto Clemente of the Pittsburgh Pirates (see chart page 37). "It's tougher to reach 200 hits as you get older," says Clemente, now withering away at 33. He has managed 200 hits four times since 1955, three of them in the last four years. "I never realized how great 200 hits was until 1964," he says. "The thing about getting 200 hits is that you have to have a quick body, run good enough and be strong and run all the time. The young body is the main thing, and Rose has a young body. He has a short, smooth, quick swing, and he does not strike out much."
Henry Aaron, the hitting machine dressed in an Atlanta Braves' uniform, has had 200 hits three times in his career and knows the pressures that a hitter must go through to get 200. "It's awful tough nowadays," he says. "Heck, it's awful tough to get two hits a game. Six years ago, maybe. Not now. Rose's speed helps him, and the fact that when he hits left-handed he gets that extra jump to first base. I would say that Pete gets the bat on the ball more regularly than I do. I strike out more than he does. Confidence is the big thing that makes Rose a great hitter. He has a world of confidence in himself. If you didn't know him you'd think he was cocky. Rose believes that there isn't anybody who can get him out. He sets up certain goals for himself each year, and if he doesn't reach them he's awfully disappointed."
Often the men who try for 200 hits come down to the end of the season with pressures felt only by themselves. Lou Brock and Curt Flood of the St. Louis Cardinals, who twice had 200 hits, realize that. The first time that Brock did it, the 200th came in the sixth inning of the final game of the season; Flood got his 200th hit in the 14th inning of the last game of the 1963 season.
Flood, the man currently closest to Rose in hits this season, says, "You have to play virtually every game. You have to have consistency, and you can't afford any 0-for-20 slumps. You need hot hitting streaks."