Last week, I met two of the best baseball players of all time: Pete Rose and Steve Carlton. If you have a short attention span, this entry might not be for you. But if you’re up for it, here is the scoop:
Pete Rose (Friday, December 4, 2009)
I’d been looking forward to this luncheon for a couple months. Last year, I went to the first edition of this same luncheon and saw (and for about 30 seconds spoke to) Mike Schmidt. Its always fun to see one of the all-time greats up-close and personal and hear one of them give a speech. Pete Rose did not dissappoint.
Actually, I had a crazy day at work that day and missed most of the luncheon. When I arrived, Pete was already at the podium and had concluded his speech. But he continued to field questions from the audience for about 1/2 an hour. The guy was absolutely hilarious. He had every person in the place in fits of laughter.
I’ve been to a lot of charity breakfast, lunch and dinner banquets and heard a lot of featured speakers: Pete Rose was hands down the best, most entertaining and most intriguing I have ever seen. And, oddly, despite his world wide fame (or infamy), he was also the most accessible.
Last year, I approached Mike Schmidt before his speech. I was happy to get to say hello, shake his hand, and thank him for visiting our town. But it was obvious that Schmidt wasn’t totally confortable just hanging out and chatting with the public.
Rose, on the other hand, was the epitome of comfortable. After he concluded his Q&A session, he hung around and signed anything and everything that anyone asked him to sign…
While he was signing, Pete was still “on.” The guy is completely (COMPLETELY) at ease talking with ANYONE. Any question anyone had for him: he had an answer. Most people, however, just wanted his autograph. So, I just hung out next to him at the front of the autograph line and chatted with him while he signed. Eventually, the guy next to Pete in the picture above showed up to interview him (for this article) so I arranged for someone I know at the Bar Association to take my picture with Pete (thanks!) and I headed out.
I thought I’d share some of what Pete had to say, both during his Q&A session and during our post-presentation discussions…unfortunately, there were too many hilarious moments to remember them all (or even 1/2 of them), but I’ll do my best.
1. I was going to try to ask a question during the Q&A, but it ended before Pete got to me. So, the first question I asked Pete after the presentation:
“I heard a lot of TV this season that, if Jeter plays until he’s 43 or so, he might be able to break your hit record. What do you think?”
Pete was very diplomatic. I’m pretty sure that inside his head he was saying, “HELL NO!!!!” (Oh, by the way, Pete cursed at will during the Q&A session, which was just one more thing that made me think he is an authentic guy — Pete Rose doesn’t fake it). Anyway, Pete didn’t answer “HELL NO,” instead, he used some facts to lead me to the conclusion that there is no way Jeter is going to pass him. First, Jeter won’t get his 3,000th hit until he is 37 years old. That’s actually the same age Pete was when he got his 3,000th hit. Second, Pete remind me that he got 1,600 hits after he turned 35. (Actually, it looks like he got about 1,700 after turning 35 in 1976). By all accounts, Jeter would also need about 1,600 hits after turning 35. Third, those projections require Jeter to stay on his same pace until age 43, but it become a lot harder to play Major League baseball after age 41. I will have to take Pete’s word on that one. Anyway, Pete used those observations, body language and his tone of voice to indicate that he doesn’t think Jete is going to match his hit total.
I think Pete is right. Jeter has 2,747 hits right now at age 35. He needs 1,509 more hits to equal Rose. To do that by age 43, Jeter would have to average 188 hits per year between ages 36-43. Sure, Pete Rose didn’t get to 4,256 until age 45. But I ask you, do you see Jeter playing for the Yankees at age 45? And if not, do you see him playing for any team other than the Yankees? I don’t. And, I don’t. And I don’t think he’ll average 188 hits per season for 8 more years. But, hey, prove me wrong, Jeter. That would be pretty amazing.
2. During the Q&A session, Pete was talking about the 2009 World Series and he mentioned Ryan Howard’s poor performance, “I tell you what, Ray Charles could have struck out 13 times during the World Series. (Making batting motions) In fact, Ray Charles probably would have made a little contact. At least he could have heard the ball.”
World Series performance aside, Pete seemed to be generally down on Ryan Howard. He thinks the strike outs are unacceptable. He acknowledged that Ryan crushes fastballs, but he just can’t handle the off-speed stuff. He mentioned, “I’d fine my pitcher if he ever threw a fast ball to Ryan Howard. But for some reason, some managers still decide to do it about 50 times a season. They figure its early in the game, what the heck?”
3. Conversely, Pete was very impressed with Chase Utley, “The baseball was looking like a beach ball to him. Its really easy to hit a beach ball!”
4. After his presentation, someone asked Pete, “If you’d fine your pitcher for throwing a fast ball to Ryan Howard, would you fine Jimmy Rollins for hitting a home run?” Rose was perplexed: “What? No. Why would I? He’s going to hit his home runs.” It was suggested to Pete that J-Roll was struggling at the plate because he was trying to hit home runs. Pete disagreed. J-Roll isn’t trying to hit homeruns. He’s just not hitting for a high average. But even when you’re just trying to put good swings on the ball, a pro ball player like J-Roll is going to hit some home runs. So, no, Pete wouldn’t fine J-Roll.
But, this begged the question (and Pete asked it), “But just because you’re fast, does that mean you should be hitting lead-off?”
How about Alfonso Soriono someone asks? “I don’t know why in the world anyone would give him 18 million dollars.” So Pete wouldn’t hit Soriano lead off? “I’d bat him 7th. And you got to remember, he was a second basemen for the Yankees.”
5. This is when Pete made a statement that I just couldn’t endorse: “You know, the guy they love today is this ‘Ichiro’ (he pronounced it “itch-er-oh”). You know, anyone is going to get 200 hits in a season if they’re up 700 times. But, when you’re a lead-off hitter, you have one job and one job only — to get on base. Now, I had 4,200 hits, but I also walked 1,600 times [actually 1,566 times – 14th most of all-time]. He (‘itch-er-oh’) only gets about 30 walks.”
(By the way, all of these “quotes” are actually just paraphrases. Its not like I was recording the conversation.)
Okay. I stood there silent at this point. I didn’t have any need to argue with Pete Rose. He was being very cool and friendly to everyone. But, I think that Rose is off-base on his Ichiro assessment.
Yes, Rose averaged 71 walks per season compared to Ichiro’s 47 average walks per season – a difference of 24 on the positive side for Rose. But Ichiro has averaged 231 hits per season over the course of his career compared to 194 person season for Rose — a difference of 37 on the positive side for Ichiro. And, while I understand that Rose’s career numbers include his declining years toward the end, you have to realize that Ichiro’s MLB career number don’t include his numbers in Japan from age 20-26 when Ichiro was just flat out ridiculous at the plate:
As it stands today, Rose’s career on base percentage was .375 and Ichiro’s is a modestly better .378. But if you look at his years in Japan, Ichiro’s OBP increases (he was over .420 career in Japan).
One more thing, honestly, I can’t remember if Pete said “700 at-bats” or “700 plate appearances” per season. Pete never had 700 at bats in a season. Only a four people ever have (and one of them, Juan Samuel, did not get 200 hits that season). Ichiro has had 7000 at-bats exactly once in his career. Given those facts, I assume Pete meant plate appearances, not at-bats. If so, I’d note that Pete had over 700 plate appearances 6 times without collecting 200 hits.
So, while I have the utmost respect for the all-time hits king, Ichiro is the man. I wouldn’t want anyone else leading off for the Mariners. And I will reject all arguments or opinions to the contrary.
Sorry, I had to defend my Mariner. Now back to more good times with Pete Rose.
5. Pete said some things during his Q&A session that really gave you a peak into the inner workings of Pete Rose’s brain. You know what is in there? Baseball. And Winning.
First, Pete shared an extremely interesting story about why he was “Charlie Hustle.” Pete Rose’s dad (Pete Rose) was a blue collar guy and a star athlete in Cincinnati, OH in his own right. Rose mentioned that “I’m not the most famous Pete Rose in Cincinnati.”
Pete’s dad would come to games to watch Pete play for the Reds. He didn’t make a big deal about it. He didn’t come into the club house or try to capitalize on his son’s success. He just came to watch his son. Pete usually wouldn’t even see his dad at the game. Now, Pete won the NL batting title in 1968 (.335 in “The Year of the Pitcher“) and 1969 (.348). So, in 1970, Pete was already clearly a star. Pete’s dad came to the ballpark one day — I think Pete said it was a doubleheader. Pete hit well. But grounded out to second late in the game.
When Pete left the clubhouse after the game, he found his dad leaning against his car. Pete said hi to his dad. His dad responded, “In the eighth inning, when you grounded out to second, did you run it out?” Pete reflected on the game and then responded, “No, I guess I didn’t. You know, it was a good pitch and I missed it. I was mad at myself because I should have got a base hit on that pitch so I guess I didn’t run.” Pete’s father responded:
“When you do that you make me look bad! Don’t embarrass me in this town! When you hit the ball, you run as hard as you can until they hell ‘safe’ or ‘out.’ “
Pete’s dad then turned and walked away.
Pete’s dad obviously put a lot of pressure on him to do things the right way. I got the feeling that it wasn’t always easy for Rose. But you could tell he really respected and was grateful to his father for teaching him to do things the right way (well, with the exception of the gambling stuff, I guess).
6. The second thing that Pete said that really struck a chord with me what that at the end of 162 games, he was mad that the season was over. He was upset he had to go home and couldn’t play ball until the next season. That is a feeling that I don’t get from a lot of today’s players. But I think its a feeling that a lot of MLBloggers can relate to. I know that I miss the season the moment the final out is recorded.
Pete mentioned that he was at the ballpark every off day. “It was where I lived.” He loved hitting in the cages. He loved taking ground balls at whatever position he was playing or working on at the time. He just flat out loved baseball and playing it for a living. I can respect that.
7. In a non-baseball moment, Pete mentioned that he and Alex Rodriguez have exchanged text messages on a regular basis for many years. But when A-Rod started dating Madonna, A-Rod suddenly stopped returning Pete’s texts. Pete remarked, “He dumped me for Madonna!” Once A-Rod and Madonna stopped seeing each other and A-Rod moved on to Kate Hudson, A-Rod resumed his text message exchange with Pete.
8. During the Q&A session, somone asked, “Who would win in a head-to-head match up, the 1980 Phillies or the 2008 Phillies. Pete instantly responded, “They’d win. We’re all in our damn 60s!” After discussing some of the strengths of each team, Pete then commented, “Well, if it was Steve Carlton versus Cliff Lee [for Pete’s sake, we’ll pretend Lee was actually on the 2008 Phillies team], no one would win. We’d probably go nothing-nothing all night. Now, if it was Cole Hamels pitching (a BIG grin comes across Pete’s face), well, I’d like our chances.”
9. Okay, we’ve made it to the Ninth. The last story I’ll share is the big obvious story. Someone asked something along the lines of “What’s going on with your reinstatement and when (if ever) will you be in the Hall of Fame?”
The bottom line is that Pete has no clue. He said he thinks he’s being teased. For example, Selig just announced he’ll retire in three years. It didn’t sound like Rose was buying that story. He theorized that Selig is trying to wait to reinstate Rose until after Rose is too old to manage. Or, he thinks Selig is waiting until Pete dies. “But the joke’s on Selig, I’m gonna outlive him!” But, as I mentioned, the bottom line is that Pete doesn’t know when or if he’ll get back into baseball and into the Hall of Fame.
10. Oh, wait…we’re heading into extra innings. Two more brief comments. First, someone asked Pete if he’d ever hurt a catcher playing so hard. Pete responded, “Are you a baseball fan!? Where were you in 1970?“ He then told the story or lighting up Ray Fosse in the 1970 all-star game. Pete talked about the purpose of the game (“The purpose of the game is to WIN. That’s the only purpose. You play to WIN!”) and how you play the game (clean but hard). He said that, if you paid for a ticket to come to see Rose and his team play, he was damn sure going to do everything in his power to make sure you saw a win. And that is how it should be. He talked about hard (but clean) slides at 2B and pitchers brushing batters back with a inside pitch. This is all part of the game and so is running over a catcher if he is blocking the plate. In sum, Rose turned back to the guy who asked the question, “So the answer to your question, you bet I did.”
Okay, one more bonus Rose comment. At the end of his Q&A, he said, “Does someone have one more question?” A guy stood up and asked something like, “what do you think about all the discussion about wood bats vs. metal bats, etc., etc.?” Pete scans the audience, “Does someone have one more GOOD question?“
And that was my run-in with Pete Rose. I left the event a much bigger fan of Pete Rose (aside from his silly thoughts on Ichiro). He is a great lover of baseball. He is a great people person. He isn’t smug. He isn’t aloof. He isn’t better than me or you or the next guy. He’s just a guy with a lot of baseball knowledge and experience and a desire to share it with anyone interested in hearing about it. If you have a chance to go to a similar event featuring Pete Rose, I highly recommend it.
Steve Carlton (Saturday, December 5, 2009)
My Steve Carlton experience was much shorter and more ordinary, but it was cool nonetheless. Tim and I met “Lefty” at an autograph signing event at the Majestic Tent Sale at the VF Outlets in Reading, PA.
Every couple months, Majestic puts on an amazing tent sale at the VF Outlets and it is standard to have a free autograph signing event featuring a player or two from the Phillies or the Eagles. This is the second Hall of Famer I’ve run into at the Majestic Tent Sale. Last year, Michael Jack Schmidt followed his luncheon experience by signing at the Majestic Tent Sale the next day.
I learned that some people lined up to get free tickets for the Carlton signing at 1:30 a.m. the night (morning) before (of). I, on the other hand, had a connection and I landed two tickets without waiting in the cold dark and long ticket line in the morning…
…still we got to stand in the actual autograph line.
Eventually we made our way up to Lefty…
…and like Rose, he too was very nice. He’d have little 2 minute discussions with each person (assuming the person engaged him in conversation). He was extremely nice and cordial, and he went out of his way to connect with Tim.
Tim, however, was tired as could be after waiting through the autograph line. Luckily, he found some activities to keep him occupied…
Or laying his head on his mother’s shoulder.
Oh, yeah, and Carlton mentioned that he had a nice dinner the night before with Pete Rose at a local country club. That would have been an interesting dinner discussion.