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The manager lined a single to left center to score a run, and when the ball got by the centerfielder, he rounded first, raced around second and came sliding headfirst into their hearts, kicking up memories and raising hopes. When his catcher singled two outs later, Pete Rose came home.
Rose was traded last week for the first time in his 22-year career, from the Montreal Expos, who didn't have much use for a 43-year-old singles hitter, to his old hometown team, the Cincinnati Reds, who named him manager-player. So now Rose will attempt to lead the Reds back to where he left them in 1978 while playing enough to catch that other manager-player, Ty Cobb.
If his first three games are any sign, Rose may just bring off both feats. Cincinnati played a spirited series with the NL East-leading Cubs, and Rose got eight hits, bringing him to within 121 of Cobb's once seemingly insurmountable 4,191 hits. The Reds have any number of weaknesses, but Rose's biggest problem may be keeping himself out of the lineup.
Rose filled out his first lineup card at 2:55 last Friday afternoon: REDUS CF, ROSE 1B, PARKER RF...
"I don't think the fans are coming out to see me change pitchers," he said.
Rose had walked into the manager's office moments earlier. Dozens and dozens of roses awaited him. "Did they think I died, or what?" he said. There were also a stack of telegrams and a note left for him by another graduate of Western Hills High in Cincinnati, Cub coach Don Zimmer: "[Fie on] the roses. You better win, or it'll be your ass, just like the rest of us." Rose laughed.
At 3:05 he put on his Cincinnati red stockings and told equipment manager Bernie Stowe, "We got to do something about these wool socks. No wonder guys get sore arms around here, stretching these things on." At 3:22 he put on a uniform shirt with ROSE 14 on the back.
He talked to broadcaster Marty Brennaman ("What's inundated mean, Marty?") and shortstop Dave Concepcion ("Get your ass in here, Davey"). Then Rose went out and took extra batting practice.
The crush of media was extraordinary. Rose becoming a manager would be a big story, Rose becoming a player-manager even bigger, but Rose coming home to Cincinnati to play and manage.... Said Cubs manager Jim Frey, yet another Western Hills grad, "Player-manager would be too tough a job for most of us, but not him. He may not appear to be too educated, but forget about math and history. If he's not a genius in his line of work, who is?"
Before the game, Rose took a call from his old manager, Sparky Anderson, now the Detroit Tigers' skipper. "I told Sparky, give me some advice, and he told me, 'When you're managing, do what you feel. If you think you should hit-and-run, hit-and-run. If you think you should take out a pitcher, take him out. Don't worry about nothing.' I told him, 'I'm not worried. I'm 20 games behind. You're in first place. You're the one who should be worried.' "