That Wagner would risk losing Rose is all the more surprising in the light of the summer past, when Rose enlivened what threatened to be a dull season of baseball in Cincinnati by first becoming the 13th player to get 3,000 base hits and then by putting together his hitting streak. When the Reds visited Philadelphia, attendance increased an average of 11,000 per game. In New York, where Rose passed Tommy Holmes' modern National League record of 37 straight games, Mets fans bought seats that had rarely been sold since the pennant year of 1973, and Shea Stadium's concessionaires sent Rose a giant card thanking him for salvaging their summer; In Atlanta, where Rose's streak ended, 45,007 people saw him tie Wee Willie Keeler's all-time National League record by hitting in his 44th straight game. That was 33,000 above the Braves' season's average. With an average ticket of $4 and assuming a modest $3 per fan for parking and concessions, Rose added about $231,000 to the coffers in one night. Two weeks later the Padres had their second Pete Rose Day, celebrating the date when he would have had a shot at tying Joe DiMaggio's record of hitting in 56 straight. Asked how he could afford to lose such a popular personality, Wagner replies, " Johnny Carson's a personality, too, but I don't know if he can play third base."
Most general managers feel that Rose is just testing the free-agent water and that Wagner will sign him in the end for whatever the market demands. After all, as Manager Sparky Anderson is fond of pointing out, " Pete Rose is the Cincinnati Reds."
Come Friday, Cincinnati will begin to find out what Rose's market price is. A maximum of 13 teams, plus the Reds, can draft negotiating rights to him.
Pete is the most notable of this year's free agents. Three Dodgers—Lee Lacy, Billy North and Tommy John—will attract some attention, as will pitchers Luis Tiant of Boston, Jim Barr of San Francisco and Elias Sosa of Oakland. But the day should belong to Rose.
It is unlikely that as many as 13 teams will draft him. At 37, he is too old and too expensive for most clubs. "The team that I should go to is one that was expected to do well last year and didn't," says Rose. "Who comes to mind?"
Just about every one of Rose's favored eight except the Yankees and Dodgers. And Rose is adaptable to a team's needs. Although he believes that playing in the outfield might extend his career, he can still play third base and has no doubt that he could master first base in spring training. For example, if he were to go to Boston, Rose could replace sore-armed Butch Hobson at third base, making Hobson the DH. Or he could play left field, enabling Carl Yastrzemski to take over first base from slumping George Scott. Or he could play first. It is unlikely he will get the chance to do any of these things. Boston's new owners are probably going to use their estimated $3.5 million 1978 profit to pay off loans and to attempt to re-sign younger stars such as Jim Rice and Dennis Eckersley.
Both Texas and California would seem to have been too badly burned by high-priced free agents the past two years to test the water again so soon. Angel Executive Vice-President Buzzie Bavasi has even said, "As far as I am concerned, Pete Rose belongs in Cincinnati."
Kansas City has the most to gain by acquiring Rose, who could help them at first or in left. Rose would thrive on Royals Stadium's artificial surface, and he might help the Royals finally make it to the World Series. But the K.C. management has made no noises about pursuing Rose, and the Royals' record does not show them entering the free-agent market with any relish.
If anyone is likely to lure Rose into the American League, it will be those damn Yankees. Owner George Steinbrenner is not one to tip his hand, but if he is interested in Rose—and he will only say he is interested in every free agent—he is not likely to be outbid. However, Rose seems less than enthusiastic about sharing the stage with the defending champs. "They've won two years in a row now," he says. "That's not easy. They may be due for a disappointment."
Another reason that Rose is not likely to sign with the Yankees—or with any other American League team—is that the only thing he loves more than money is records. And the record he would most love to break is Stan Musial's National League career hit total of 3,630. Rose now has 3,164. He would need at least three seasons to pass Musial, and Rose points to this fact as proof that he will produce for whatever team signs him—at least if it's a National League team.