They're Playing the Sweet Swing Music of the 40s

Boston's Carl Yastrzemski, 42, and Philadelphia's Pete Rose, 41, are still turning out those hit records
Boston's Carl Yastrzemski, 42, and Philadelphia's Pete Rose, 41, are still turning out those hit records
July 18, 1982

One night last week Pete Rose, 41, and Carl Yastrzemski, 42, were bad boys. They were both thrown out of games for being disrespectful to their respective umpires.

For Yastrzemski, it was his first thumb since 1975, which bodes well for Red Sox fans awaiting another pennant. In the ninth inning of a game against the Texas Rangers that Boston was winning 8-0, Yaz was called out for swinging at and missing a 2-2 pitch. Well, third base Umpire Vic Voltaggio called it a swing when the Rangers made an appeal. Yaz thought he'd checked it, and instead of going directly back to the dugout, he made a loop in the direction of Voltaggio. "I didn't swear at him," said Captain Carl later. "I told him he was doing a lousy job." Yaz winked. "Then I proceeded to show him exactly what a checked swing was."

Rose, normally the model of decorum, lost his cool when rookie Umpire Randy Marsh called him out on strikes in the ninth inning of a close game Rose's Phillies were playing with the Padres. The pitch in question was at least three inches outside, and no doubt was seen as such by the other umps, the members of both teams and the 26,695 fans at Philadelphia's Veterans Stadium. "Strike three," yelled Marsh. "Your bleeping bleep," yelled Rose, thereby earning himself some immediate time off. By his own recollection the ejection was his first since his old team, Cincinnati, was playing at Crosley Field at least a dozen years ago, though Rose cannot recall exactly when and why it last occurred.

Rose's and Yastrzemski's dismissals offer clues as to why these otherwise perfect gentlemen are having what would be wonderful years for 22-year-olds at ages when they should be scouts or something—certainly anything but driving forces for their teams in hot pennant races. "I don't want to give even one at bat away," said Yaz on Sunday afternoon. "I don't want to give away one strike. It doesn't matter if it's 8-0 or 1-0. You've got to have that competitiveness inside. That's the name of the game." Interjected Rightfielder Dwight Evans, a clubhouse neighbor, "Actually he only wanted to get an early beer.... I'm just being facetious."

At the end of last week the Phillies and Red Sox were in virtual ties for first place in their respective divisions. But apparently Philadelphia was the more virtuous of the two, because it was .001 of a point ahead of the Cardinals in the National League East and Boston was .002 of a point behind the Brewers in the American League East.

Meanwhile, Rose is fighting for another hit title—his eighth—with 96 (and a .287 average) at midseason. He doubled off the Cardinals' John Stuper on June 22 to pass Henry Aaron, take possession of second place on the alltime hit list with 3,772 and enter the homestretch of his race against time and Ty Cobb. Rose expects to pass Cobb's 4,191 hits by the 1984 All-Star Game. He has already equaled Cobb's record of seven hitting streaks of 20 or more games by batting safely in 21 straight from June 7 through June 27.

The other day Rose was asked what Cobb's hit record would mean to him. Uncharacteristically, he hemmed and hawed for a full 20 seconds. Finally he said, "I think the record that will stand forever is Aaron's 755 homers. Cobb's record can be broken by a guy who plays every day, hits from both sides and plays for an offensive team. But you take a guy who comes up at 20 and averages 35 homers for 20 years and he'll still be 55 short."

A bit of undue modesty there. You take a guy who averages 200 hits for 20 years and he'll be 191 short of Cobb. As it happens, Rose will finish this, his 20th season, with about 3,900.

But Rose won't be content to stop anywhere short of 4,192. He's obsessed by the record, though he tries to deflect discussion of its meaning to him. Consider the matter of his batting second behind Outfielder Bob Dernier, who has the Phillies' rookie stolen-base record, with 35 at the end of last week. The situation costs Rose at bats and forces him to take pitches and hit behind the runner. He doesn't complain openly—"I would only bat first if it helped the team," he says—but he makes it clear by inference that he'd rather lead off. "My average dropped when Lonnie Smith was moved to leadoff last September," he says.

How much does each hit mean to Rose? Last Friday night he smashed a line drive to left that the Dodgers' Rick Monday badly misplayed. Monday raced back, turned the wrong way and reached up. The ball bounced off the heel of his glove for a clear-cut, two-base error. But Rose wasn't satisfied with the scorer's decision. "Monday wasn't stationary, was he?" Rose said to reporters after the game. "The ball would have reached the fence on the fly, wouldn't it?"

Nobody knows more about Rose's stats than Rose does, and his memory is legendary. Against Los Angeles on April 28, he called for the ball after his fifth hit of the game, but nobody in Dodger Stadium knew what the occasion was. The Philly broadcasters had to confess their ignorance on the air. It turned out that Rose had just tied Max Carey's National League record for most five-hit games in a career (nine). Cobb, naturally, holds the big league mark of 14.

Breaking Cobb's total hits record will be more fun for Rose than talking about it. He has never known fear and has rarely experienced uncertainty. "I can only base my feelings about making it on how I feel today," he says, "and right now I'd have to say there's a much better chance I'll make it than I won't."

Rose's career will hardly be a waste without it. "I've tried to do two things: be durable and consistent," he says, twitching on the bench a full four hours before the start of the game. "I hold the record for 600 at-bat seasons [16] and 200-hit seasons [10]. To me, that's consistent and durable."

Since 1970 Rose has missed all of nine games; his current streak is 545 straight. "I'm lucky I've never fractured a wrist or anything," he says. "But you can't expect to be 100% all the time. If I took a day off I'd be sluggish. Two years ago I played six weeks with a broken toe by cutting open my right shoe. I played two months that same season with a hyperextended elbow I got when a runner hit me coming into first. I thought I broke everything on my left side. I went home and iced it and heated it and iced it and heated it all night. I don't let nobody but the trainer know when I'm hurt; people will use it for their benefit."

Rose watchers were worried when their man missed most of spring training with a pulled back muscle. But, typically, Rose had begun his conditioning regimen two weeks before camp started and was in good enough shape to play Opening Day. A couple of weeks ago he played five games in a grueling 47-hour stretch at Veterans Stadium and took some hard shots at first. Met Shortstop Ron Garden-hire bowled him over on one play, but Rose hung on to the ball for the out. Passing Phillie Third Base Coach Dave Bristol on the way to the dugout, Gardenhire called back, "I've just been introduced to Pete Rose."

Consistency? Simplicity is a better word. Rose—Yastrzemski, too, for that matter—almost always looks for the fastball, though Yaz tends to be much more of a pull hitter. "By looking for the fast one I can always adjust to any of the other stuff," says Rose. "I've tried it and I can't be a guess hitter. A few years ago when Gene Mauch was managing the Phillies and I was with the Reds, he told his catcher to tell me what each pitch was going to be. I didn't believe him the first three times up, but the fourth time, I looked for the curve he called and hit it for a double to help win the game. That's the only time I looked for the curve."

In one of his earliest spring trainings Rose was taken aside by Ted Williams, who began speaking about hips, wrists, arms, shoulders. "Mr. Williams," Rose said, "you may be the greatest hitter of all time, but I've always been taught to be comfortable, see the ball and hit it out front. That's what I'm going to do."

When Rose is slumping, he'll do one of four things: move up or back in the box, move closer or farther from the plate. No changes, you'll note, in his swing. The only major adjustment Rose has ever made there was to start choking up a little on the bat in 1978. In the next three seasons his strikeout totals were a lowly 30, 32 and 33.

One night last week some San Diego Padres were kidding Rose about being a singles hitter. "Hey, I got a Rolls-Royce," Rose said. "They pay me big money to set the table for the big boys. I could hit maybe 20 homers a year [he has 156 lifetime], but I'd have to pull the ball, and that's not me. People don't understand that I do try to hit with authority. Some of my happiest memories are of homers—the one off Jim Palmer in the 1970 World Series against the Orioles, Catfish Hunter in the 1972 Series against the A's, Harry Parker in the 1973 playoffs against the Mets. I'm eighth on the alltime total-base list, and I'm closing in on a thousand extra-base hits. You have to be aggressive."

And adaptable. Over the years Rose has moved from second to left to right to left to third to first. As a second-place hitter he's often obliged to take pitches that he'd normally swing at. And he's energetic, to put it mildly. Last week he could be seen hitting grounders to infielders, taking the lineup card out to home plate, dispensing advice by the hour and talking animatedly to friend and foe. "How you doing, legend?" asked the Dodgers' Mark Belanger. "I can't tell you how much he's helped me," says Dernier. Not for nothing was Rose selected captain of the 1982 National League All-Star team, the 16th time he's made the squad.

Yastrzemski was in Montreal, too. He was named last week to the American League team for the 17th time in his 22-year career, and he didn't make it as a sentimental relic. "I wouldn't go if I didn't think I deserved to," he says.

He certainly deserved to. At week's end he was hitting .297, with 11 homers and 45 RBIs, though mostly as a DH, which he doesn't much like, and while playing about three-quarters of the time, which he doesn't like at all.

Last year Yastrzemski batted .246 and was obviously through at the age of 42. People thought Ted Williams was through at 41, when he batted .254. But the next season, 1960, he came back to hit .316, with 29 homers and 72 RBIs. Williams retired after that year, but Yastrzemski has shown no such inclination. In fact, he harbors a dream of playing in the majors with his son Mike, who will be a senior at Florida State next year. The way Rose is going, he may get a chance to play with Petey, age 12.

Rather than bow out gracefully after his dismal '81 performance, Yaz came into this season armed with a new, flatter stance. Much has been made of the stance, which is really a slight modification of the one he had years ago, but Yaz says the real key was something else: "I wish I was paid by the hours I put in. It may look easy to some, but it hasn't been. They're only seeing the finished product. Work. That's the name of the game." He frequently punctuates his answers with that phrase.

Despite a strong finish last year, Yastrzemski started to work on his swing on Oct. 5. "I have a machine at home that flips me the ball so I can hit it into a net. I used it to keep experimenting," he says. Yaz and Red Sox Batting Coach Walt Hriniak kept right on experimenting until the last week of spring training.

Yastrzemski isn't much for reminiscing about past glories. "Yesterday's game is totally forgotten," he says. "For me it's always 'What are you going to do tomorrow?' The only time I look back is when I review how I've done against certain pitchers."

On Sunday, coming up as a pinch-hitter in the ninth, Yaz guessed fastball on Twin Ron Davis' first pitch. Fastball it was, and he hit a shot that Centerfielder Bobby Mitchell caught. The crowd all but gave Yastrzemski a standing ovation for it. Even at his advanced age, Yaz loves fastballs, and he'll wait all day for one. "Patience," he says, "that's the name of the game."

After Sunday's 7-3 loss, he started getting ready for the trip to the All-Star Game, and teammates kept coming up and wishing him luck. "The secret to All-Star packing is to take as little as possible," he said.

"Get a hit," said Pitcher Bob Stanley.

"Sure, I'd like the three days off, and everybody moans and groans about it...."

"Get a hit," said Second Baseman Jerry Remy.

"...but once you get there, it's a great feeling."

"Good luck," said Evans, "and have fun."

And fun, as Pete and Yaz know, is the name of the game.

[originallink:10619756:43585]

PHOTOPrimarily a designated hitter, Yastrzemski is batting .297 with 11 homers and 45 RBIs. PHOTORose tied records with his seventh 20-plus-game hit streak and ninth five-hit game. PHOTORose is racing to surpass Cobb's 4,191. TWO PHOTOSSince the 1981 season (left), Yastrzemski has lowered his bat and raised his average.

TWO LONG-RUNNING HITS

Over their careers, Yaz and Rose have amassed some massive stats that put them high in the alltime rankings.

Yastrzemski
(1961-82)

 

Rose
(1963-82)

3,127 (2nd most)

Games

3,022 (5th most*)

11,388 (4th)

At Bats

12,245 (2nd)

3,263 (9th*)

Hits

3,793 (2nd*)

1,754 (14th*)

Runs

1,960 (5th*)

610 (8th*)

Doubles

688 (4th)

1,106 (11th)

Extra-Base Hits

970 (18th*)

5,302 (7th)

Total Bases

5,201 (8th*)

1,760 (3rd*)

Bases on Balls

1,323 (19th*)

*Earned current rank this season.

HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
OUT
HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
IN
Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)