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Pete's Out To Prove He Can Pull His Weight
Ron Fimrite
February 13, 1984
At 42 going on 4,000, Pete Rose has a new team, the Expos, and a new challenge—lifting yet another club to the pennant
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February 13, 1984

Pete's Out To Prove He Can Pull His Weight

At 42 going on 4,000, Pete Rose has a new team, the Expos, and a new challenge—lifting yet another club to the pennant

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"He represents professionalism and enthusiasm and a winning attitude," says McHale, the man who signed him. "We're betting that he has a breath or two left. Peer pressure, I think, is more effective than pressure from the manager or from management. Players respond more to it. As the crowds get bigger, the prizes larger and the races closer, we need someone to get up and say, 'Let's do it!' "

Rose sees some similarity between the Expos of '84 and the Phillies he joined in '79. Both teams had a wealth of talent, but neither could win a pennant. The Phillies had won three straight National League East championships in the mid-'70s but couldn't get past the playoffs to the World Series. One year after Rose joined them, they won their first Series in 30 years.

The Expos want to play Rose in leftfield and bat him second, behind Raines and in front of Dawson. Raines, who has developed into one of the game's better leftfielders, will shift to right. Warren Cromartie, who had been the third outfielder, with Raines and Dawson, has defected to Japan, thus creating a vacancy.

If Rose, the only man ever to have participated in more than 500 games at five different positions (first, second, third, leftfield and right), is supplanted in left, he's prepared to play where needed. "I told Bill Virdon [the Montreal manager] that I've got gloves of all sizes and I know how to use all of them," he says. The Expos seem not in the least concerned, as some teams apparently were, about Rose's announced intention of playing every day. "The Phillies almost ruined me by getting people to believe I was only a part-time player," says Rose. "I had to re-sell myself. When Virdon asked me how many games I wanted to play, I told him every one. He said, 'That's the attitude.' "

"Bill feels he'll not be disruptive to our club," says McHale, "that he'll understand if he's asked to be a super-sub."

Some baseball people and newsmen have interpreted Rose's desire to play every game as pure selfishness. They see him as a man whose principal concern is getting his record before it's too late, not helping his team win by playing the role assigned him. Rose pooh-poohs such talk. "I could've gone to the American League as a DH," he says without adding, "if they'd wanted me." But he insists that it's not so much the record but his personal makeup that drives him. "What kind of player would I be if I said I wanted to play on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays? I'm not made that way."

Rose is supremely confident that he can make it as his new team's regular leftfielder. "I'm not going to embarrass anybody out there," he says. "What people don't realize [a recurring phrase these days] is that I have the highest fielding percentage [.992] of any outfielder who's played at least a thousand games. And my arm is as strong now as it was when I led the league in assists [15 in 1972]. Heck, you can count the strong arms in our league on one hand, and most of them can't hit the cutoff man. I'd rather run on a strong arm than on a guy who's fundamentally sound any day. I told Virdon I don't even want to play if I'm not doing the job."

For now, Rose, the irrepressible Rose, is riding high. He has bought a magnificent new house, which looks like something out of a ski resort, in the exclusive Indian Hill suburb of Cincinnati—"Garage doors open and Jags jump out"—where he and his fiancée, Carol Woliung, 29, live. Daughter Fawn, now a sophomore at Franklin College in Indiana, and son Pete II, 14, a budding baseball star at Bridgetown School, are frequent visitors. Rose is in remarkable shape for an athlete his age—"Doctors tell me I have the body of a 30-year-old"—and his confidence, sorely tested last year, is unwavering. Introduced by McHale at a sports banquet in Montreal the day of his signing, Rose stepped briskly to the microphone and greeted his new fans with "Bonsoir, mes amis." McHale is convinced that Montreal will clasp Rose to its bosom. "Canadian fans identify with what they call diggers," he says. "They like guys who work hard. It's their hockey heritage. They like team men. Pete's their kind of guy." The public reaction to the signing wasn't as positive, however, as McHale would have liked. In a poll run by Montreal radio station CFCF a week before the signing, the response was 540 against hiring Rose to 510 in favor. After he joined the team, the station posed the question, "Can Pete Rose help bring a championship to Montreal?" The response was 229 yes, 224 no.

His new teammates seem solidly behind the oldtimer, but even among their optimistic number there are questions. Rogers, who served up Rose's 3,000th hit six years ago, is certain that if any 43-year-old can make it, Rose is the guy. But he does have some second thoughts: "This game is so darn unforgiving that if he doesn't pull his weight, anything he might say in the clubhouse will become hollow. Even if you've had 45 years of excellent service, you can lose your influence. The numbers you've put on the board over the years give you a look. Your performance now gives you the forum for leadership. You just don't walk in and lead. And there's the inescapable physical fact that slumps are harder to get out of when you're older. Here's a guy who's never had to worry about not playing if he goes 0 for 4. That's no longer true. Now he's got to have some rookie-type worries."

Rose, as always, has an answer to all that: "I just want to be treated as Pete Rose, the baseball player, not Pete Rose, the 43-year-old." Alas, this is easier said than done.

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