What did all-time MLB hit leader Pete Rose say about the future of the game?
When the all-time base hit leader in MLB history sits down to talk about the state of baseball today, you should pay attention to what he has to say
Pete Rose was the greatest baseball player to ever play the game. That isn’t an opinion, that is an established fact.
For those too young to remember Charlie Hustle in his prime, he did it the right way. He was given that name because he ran out every hit. Not jogged, not sauntered, ran. A slow dribbler back to the pitcher? Pete Rose was sprinting to first base.
With 4256 career hits, Pete Rose has 64 more than Ty Cobb in second place, and 484 more than Hank Aaron in third place. Of currently active players, Albert Pujols is closest in ninth place with nearly 1000 less hits than Rose has. In short, his record will never be approached, much less broken.
Modern baseball has changed beyond all recognition from the game that Pete Rose and the Big Red Machine played. Today, the focus is on blasts rather than hitting. The league-wide batting average today is .244 with 25% of all at-bats ending in a strikeout. Back in Rose’s heyday, that average was ten points higher and strikeouts were half of today’s figure.
With Rose invited to participate in the Philadelphia Phillies 1980 team reunion, he spoke to John Clark from NBC Sports Philadelphia about the changing face of the game.
When Clark asked him about analytics saying that players shouldn’t run out each ground ball, the 81-year-old Rose was defiant. “No. I don’t want ‘em on my team. I managed in the big leagues 84, 85, 86, 87, 88, 89. I can’t imagine telling Barry Larkin or Chris Sabo or Paul O’Neill to hit a ground ball and not run it out, okay? Because as soon as you don’t, the guy’s gonna boot it and you’re gonna be embarrassed.”
When the suggestion that needlessly running out ground balls will tire players out for no gain, Rose continued, “Hey, you’re out there for two and a half hours on a daily basis. I don’t want anybody to tell me that you’re going to get tired because you run a ball out, okay? You’re feeding right into the people who don’t like you if you don’t run a ball out. I never heard of a manager telling a player - and I’m surprised Tony La Russa, who’s had success as a manager, would tell his players not to run a ball out.
As for the analytics departments who come up with the advice? Again, Rose pulls no punches. “Get rid of ‘em. I don’t want ‘em in my dugout, I don’t want ‘em talking to my players. I played 3,562 games and I don’t ever remember getting tired during the game.”
Naturally, the discussion turned to the burning topic of the day, umpiring. Specifically asked about his opinion on the introduction of robot umpires, Rose was against the idea.
“No. That’s out of my corner, too. I believe the umpires do a good job. I had my run-ins with umpires, but umpires are a big part of the game. It’s a shame they can’t be a bigger part of the game.”
He makes a valid point that with replays now a part of baseball, any bad calls are soon overturned, eliminating any reason to have a robot umpire in the first place. “With the replays, if they miss it, they’ll overturn it. So umpires get every call right now. A close call, all you gotta do is review it. That takes time, too. But when they review most plays they’ll prove that the umpires are right, they’re doing a good job. Leave the umpires alone. Speed up the game.”
Speeding up the game is a common theme between what Pete Rose wants and the purported reason for pitch clocks, so it may come as a surprise that he is not a fan of that idea either.
“I don’t like the pitch clock, but it seems like baseball - and I like [Rob] Manfred, he’s doing a good job with the league - but I think the only thing they don’t address in baseball, the rules committee, is how to speed up the game.
“I was watching Altuve last night with Houston, every pitch - ball, strike, whatever it is - he stepped out and re-adjusted his batting gloves. I counted. Every frickin’ pitch. They all do that. The people who love that are concessionaires, because the game is longer. They’re gonna sell more hot dogs, they’re gonna sell more beers.”
Admitting that he is not certain what the solution to the problem actually is, he continues, “They’ve got to figure out a way - I don’t want a pitch clock where you’re worrying about, you’ve got 30 seconds to throw the ball. What if a guy gets a bug in his eye? He’s got to step out. I don’t know what the remedy would be to speed up the games, but it seems like back in the 60s we had faster games because the players weren’t jumping in and out of the batter’s box. There’s so many pitcher changes today. Every time you have a pitching change, you have a new pitcher warming up, he’s coming in from the bullpen, that all adds to the time of the game.”
Watch the full interview with Pete Rose.