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Media Master, Heckuva Hitter, Destiny’s Darling

Quick, who am I? I am 44 years old, but I still act like a kid. I still run to first base after walks and I still spike the ball after outs. I still slide into second base headfirst, with the same old head--Aqua Velva’d cheeks, Grecian Formula’d bangs and all. Except now I’ve got this little ducktail in back that my wife likes.

My face is on TV all the time, because everybody’s watching me starring with Ty Cobb on the Hit Parade. My face is on 50 Andy Warhol prints that are gonna go for 3,000 bucks apiece, and the original’s gonna hang in the Cincinnati Art Museum. My face is on 4,192 color prints that the Sporting News is gonna sell. My face is on silver and gold medallions that a Chicago company’s selling for $19.95 apiece. My face is on 4,192 ceramic plates that a guy in Huntington Beach is selling for 25 to 125 bucks apiece.

It’s not such an ugly mug, although I admit I’m no Burt Reynolds. I look more like Hacksaw Reynolds. The other day, a guy was asking me whether my daddy ever smacked me as a kid--guys are asking me all sorts of weird questions nowadays--and you know what I told him? I told him: “Yeah. He used to back me in a corner every chance he got. That’s why my face looks like this.”

I admit I’ve had an unusual life. My daddy taught me everything I know, which is mostly how to switch-hit. My mom and I were never that close. I’ve never even been to her place in Florida. I sent her a poster of me not too long ago and I signed it, “Pete Rose.”

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Whoops. Guess I told you who I was. Well, you probably figured it out already. I’m not the smartest guy in the world, and I still say things like “it learned me” instead of “it taught me,” but I know baseball and I know me. Maybe I do spend all my spare time sitting home in Cincinnati watching ballgames on my big satellite dish, but that’s my life, take it or leave it.

I’m not a complicated guy. All my life, all I’ve ever known is that I wasn’t tall or strong or fast, so I’d better try harder than everybody else. When I broke into the big leagues in 1963, my teammates thought I was the biggest hotdog they’d ever seen. They’d lock me out of my room, and I’d have to go ask Vada Pinson if I could crash on his floor. Now it’s 1985 and I see where 18,343 people voted in a USA Today poll and decided I was still the biggest hotdog in the game.

At least I’m a rich hotdog. I’m only making $225,000 this year, and that’s for managing the team to boot, but I’ve banked a few mil in my time. Besides, I’m getting my cut from all those paintings and coins and stuff. I may be plain, but I ain’t dumb.

I’m sort of milking the thing right now. I kept myself out of the lineup Tuesday night in St. Louis, even though the Cards were pitching a right-hander. I still need six hits to get past Cobb, but if I only need one after Friday, I’m pretty sure I’m going to sit out the Saturday and Sunday games in Chicago. Marge Schott, my bosslady, would like me to break the record in Cincinnati, and I don’t blame her.

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Trouble is, I’m in this pennant race. The Reds still have a chance to catch the Dodgers. If Tony Perez wasn’t hitting so good, I’d put myself in all the time. I didn’t go to spring training thinking I wouldn’t play myself against left-handers. It just worked out that way after Tony got hot.

I asked my players if it was bothering them, having all these reporters around all the time. Dave Parker said it didn’t bother him none; he couldn’t figure out how I could handle that and the managing and playing first base and the public appearances and my personal life. I told him, “Hey, anybody who thinks it’s important enough to come talk to me, I can give them some of my time. All the media’s ever done for me is make me a lot of money.”

You gotta do what works for you. The best pitcher I ever played with was Steve Carlton, and he didn’t talk much in public. Like I was saying here Monday, if I don’t want to be bothered in restaurants by people who want autographs, I shouldn’t put my mug on TV in all those commercials. Guys even ask me for autographs in the washroom. Somebody asked me if they followed me right into the john, and I said: “Hey, they ain’t waitin’ in there. It ain’t no bus station.”

I know I should be more careful about the things I say. I been doing a lot of gay jokes lately, but I don’t mean nothing by it. The other day I was talking with this writer and he told me he was from San Francisco, so I pulled a towel around me. It seemed funny at the time, but maybe I should cut it out.

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Mostly, I’m just trying to be myself. My players don’t think I’m anything special. This kid Ron Robinson, a pitcher, he comes storming into my office one night yelling: “You ain’t gonna bury me at age 23! I want to know my role on this team!” To him I wasn’t a big deal. I was just some manager who wasn’t letting him pitch. I used the kid the next night.

There’s more pressure on me to be a good manager than there is to get this big hit. The only time there’s pressure on you is when there’s a time element. Roger Maris had pressure. He had to beat Babe Ruth’s homer record before the season was over. My 44-game hitting streak in ’78 was pressure. I had to get a hit every night. If my boss suddenly tells me I can’t play in 1986, then I’ve got some pressure. But I ought to be able to get six more hits.

They’re hard to come by, though. Sunday in Cincinnati, we was playing the Pirates and I hit this high hopper. I stood there yelling “It hit my foot! It hit my foot!” but then I noticed that it hopped over the third baseman’s head into left, so I shut up and took off for first.

Well, Chuck Tanner, the Pirate manager, got real ticked off. He grabbed the ball and found the smudge mark on it. Then he stuffed it in his back pocket and walked off. The umpire, Eric Gregg, called out to Tanner that every ball that went for a hit was supposed to be saved for Pete. You know what Tanner said? He said: "(Bleep) Pete.” He said he wanted to “throw the (bleepin’) thing in the stands.”

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Old Chuck finally rolled the ball back. Now I call it my ‘kick-save hit. I hope my 4,192nd ain’t like that one, but I’ll take whatever comes, even if it’s a checked swing and I have to slide into first headfirst. Does that make me a hotdog? I ask you.


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