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For Manager Rose, Winning Baseball Is Mostly Simple and Fun

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The Washington Post

He has an extremely novel set of theories about how to win a pennant. If his Cincinnati Reds remain in first place, he could set the mystique of managing back a century.

Rose wanted a huge color TV in his clubhouse so everybody can watch the Kentucky Derby. He wants beer on the airplane and plenty of jokes. When he says, “Good morning,” to a player he’s benched the day before, he wants the guy to say, “How’s it goin’, Pete.”

When Rose hears managers say, “I don’t care if my players like me as long as they respect me,” he flinches. “I want my players to like me. I couldn’t deal with a situation like that. Life’s too damn short for that. I got enough money. I don’t need this job.”

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Rose has only two rules. Show up on time and play hard. But he doesn’t even enforce those. “Every day, if I wanted to argue with somebody, I could. People always test you. If I say we’re supposed to be on the field at 6:10 and some guy is in the clubhouse at 6:11, I don’t say anything.” Rose waits until 6:20.

As for players who don’t hustle as he did, Rose says, “Hell, I don’t expect any of them to work as hard as I did. I had to be a workaholic to succeed.”

Rose concerns himself with deep questions of the game. Like the height of Tracy Jones’ stirrups or the quality of Leo Garcia’s high five. The Reds are known for conservative low stirrups, but Jones took the look too far; Rose told him to show more white sanitary hose because “those are the ugliest socks I ever saw.” After the 5-foot-8 Garcia made his debut with a sacrifice fly, he tried to give high fives; but each time he tried for Dave Parker’s hand, the 6-5 giant got on tiptoes and Garcia couldn’t reach him. “Funniest thing I ever saw,” says Rose.

If, in such an atmosphere, a player is unhappy (like Gary Redus, who thought he should be a star), Rose has a solution. Shake his hand, wish him luck, trade him quick and forget it.

To all things, Rose brings just such disarming common sense. “If we lose, I should be fired,” he says. “Just like if you don’t hit, you should be benched. You had your chance.”

Pete wants everybody to know how dumb he is and that he’s lucky to have such talented young players to carry him along on this so far successful ride. “Last year, when we were 6-19 I wasn’t enjoying this. You win, you have fun. And good players make you a winner. . . . I’m not going to outsmart anybody.”

Why, Pete’s so stupid that, when his Reds scored a bunch of runs in the ninth last month, both of his best relievers already had showered, ‘cause he’d put them in to get some work in a lost cause. We know this because Rose makes a point of telling us.

“I keep it simple--let ‘em play and use ‘em the right way. No 15,000 rules and 83,000 signs. Just play. I’m honest and fair. I’m the kind of manager I’d love to play for. I understand players better than any manager in baseball. And that’s all managing is--handling people. To handle ‘em, you have to know them. The better I know someone, the better you can use him.”

If this is all so easy, why do so few managers do it? While the rest of baseball beat Dave Parker to a pulp during the ’85 Pittsburgh cocaine trial, Rose was his great defender, saying he wanted a team of Parkers. The world said Parker stood for all that was awful in sports--an out-of-shape, overpaid star who disgraced the game and testified against friends in court. The Parker that Rose saw was a hard-working, deeply ashamed and radically changed man. And Rose was right.

Parker is now the Reds leader. Courteous, dignified and obsessed with redeeming himself, Parker’s done so much weight work he now weighs 258 pounds and it’s rock hard. In two full years under Rose, he’s hit 65 homers and has 242 RBIs. “I’m fortunate to have veteran leaders to take young players under their wing,” says Rose. “I don’t think there’s anything Dave Parker hasn’t been through. And he’s surer than hell cleaned up his act.”

When Rose arrived, Eric Davis was an enigma who, after five minor league seasons, wasn’t making it. He struck out nearly a third of the time and took it to heart. Rose started a selling campaign. Why is Davis now the hottest rising star in the game? “His confidence grew up,” says Rose.

Perhaps the rarest transformation in baseball is from successful reliever back to starter. Rose discovered that Ted Power, who had 55 wins plus saves in ’84-'85, was not as happy in the bullpen as he’d been in his rotation days as a Dodgers busher. When the Reds needed a starter, Rose tabbed Power. He’s gone 9-0 since that August move.

Because Rose knows baseball people so well, he knows how to cultivate them. The sensitive Dave Concepcion has accepted diminished status because Rose uses him at all four infield positions, thus making his versatility look like a valuable new gift. Concepcion’s pride is intact.

Rose won’t take rookie shortstop Kurt Stillwell out of the lineup even though the hugely touted Barry Larkin, who had the opening day job, is back from the disabled list. You don’t take a job from a man who’s doing the job. Sooner or later, Stillwell will stop hitting .300. Fair play will have had its day. Rose knows that Larkin has the character to wait a while. And it won’t hurt that he’ll be completely healed.

Before opening day, Rose sat his five-man bullpen in a circle and told each his exact duties. Lefty Rob Murphy (career ERA an incredible 1.01 in 70 innings) and Bill Landrum work the fifth and sixth innings. Ron (The Creature) Robinson and Frank Williams own the seventh and eighth. And lefty John Franco (29 saves in ’86) finishes.

The result: The team’s thin starting staff feels less pressure. The bullpen by committee is content with its roles and has a 1.73 ERA in 90 innings with 15 wins-plus-saves and one loss. Franco started the year by retiring 26 of the first 27 men he faced, the other reaching on an error. In time, a Rose signature may be his ability to keep a very deep bullpen healthy and sharp.

Rose’s touch, disguised whenever he can keep it that way, is everywhere. Nick Esasky is gone, Kalvoski Daniels has arrived--a Rose call. One more big lefty stick (eight homers so far), one less erratic righty bat and the Reds aren’t weak against right-handers any more.

As for retiring, Rose has deftly managed to do it without anyone noticing. No farewell tour and, thus, no distraction for his team. Maybe he’ll pinch-hit in the Series when he’s 70 because he sure looks to be in playing shape.

“I’d like to have been the best manager ever,” he says, “but I screwed that up by playing so long. I can’t get the most (managing) wins. Hey, maybe I can go for the best percentage.”

At this rate, will Rose manage and maybe keep himself on the active roster until he’s 90, then be inducted into the Hall of Fame posthumously? After all, you must be retired as an active player for five years before you’re eligible.

Rose has that answer, too. “Cooperstown ain’t goin’ nowhere.”


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