FIVE A.M.—THE BIG CLOCK
What you see before you could be any 44-year-old man slurping any bowl of cereal and watching any baseball game on TV, except that the man is a millionaire, his picture is on the cereal box and it's a little early for breakfast. What might also be worth mentioning is that this is Pete Rose, one of baseball's living icons, and he should damn well be asleep considering the kind of day he has in front of him. But he's not.
Rose doesn't care how much sleep he gets this night. Rose doesn't care how much sleep he gets any night. He doesn't care that he has The MacNeil-Lehrer Report at 3, P.M. Magazine at 4 and Nolan Ryan at 7:30. Rose doesn't sweat time. This is because Rose and time have an understanding. Neither believes the other is for real. Rose has put the aging process on permanent call waiting.
How Rose fits more into a day than any three other people is a secret he learned from his father, which is not unusual, because Rose learned all things from his father. What is unusual is that this secret his father taught him after he died.
It was at the funeral in December 1970. Rose was still seeing everything through Plexiglas then. Walking but not going anywhere. Eating but not tasting. His father had dropped dead of a heart attack two steps up the stairs at home, and nothing had seemed real since. The preacher got up and one of the things he said was, "You know, ladies and gentlemen, from the day we're born we start to die." "And it hit me," Rose says. "He was right, you know? Just like my father. You got to make the most of what time you got."
Peter Edward Rose has not been prodigal with his allotment. He has married two women, disappointed God knows how many others, kibitzed with three presidents (Reagan rang him up from Air Force One), toured the world, owned a Rolls-Royce, a BMW M-1, a 1933 three-window Ford coupe, half a dozen or so Porsches, had his name on any number of restaurants, and will soon have his portrait hanging in the Cincinnati Art Museum. Painted by Andy Warhol himself. Is that a pair? Warhol dyed his hair gray at 23 so he wouldn't have to bother with "the responsibility of acting young." Rose used to stump for Grecian Formula. Go figure.
Anyway, all these things came to Rose for his uncanny ability to get hits. Celebrity arrived for what he did between them—sliding molars first, running even when he walked, bouncing baseballs off AstroTurf to punctuate the end of an inning. That is the rice pudding. The prime cuts he made with his bat.
Twenty-one to go. Twenty-one hits and Rose becomes the most prolific amasser of hits in history, whistling by Ty Cobb's 4,191 as if Cobb were standing still, which he is. Just about every honor and thrill baseball can dole out has been Rose's. He has played in 3,455 regular-season games, 1,916 of them wins, both alltime records. Those winning games are more than 47 Hall of Famers, including Joe DiMaggio, ever played in, making him, as Pete likes to say, "the biggest winner in history." He was The Sporting News NL Player of the Decade for the '70s; the Hickok Belt winner in 1975 as pro athlete of the year; and SPORTS ILLUSTRATED's Sportsman of the Year in 1975. He has played in 16 All-Star games and 34 World Series games. "Peter is baseball," Sparky Anderson, his old manager, says. "He's the best thing to happen to the game since...well...the game."
But 4,192...4,192 will be the rarest acquisition of all. It should be. Rose paid plenty for it.
Still, for now, as dawn breaks on his five-acre, four-bedroom, two-car-garage, chalet-style house, Rose is most concerned with tuning in Westar V on his souped-up satellite dish. He is in search of the replay of the Kansas City-Detroit game, much of which he saw the night before. So why are you up, Pete?