Manager Pete Rose is going to help the Reds immeasurably. His players are having fun again, and if they can tap into the biggest heart in baseball history, they will be contenders.
First baseman Pete Rose is a burden. Not many teams can afford to carry a 44-year-old with no power and no speed at basically an offensive position, even if he did hit .286 in '84.
Unfortunately, the two cannot be separated. Pete Rose, player-manager, is 95 hits short of breaking Ty Cobb's alltime mark of 4,191 and nothing—certainly not logic—is going to stop him. As he begins his head-first slide into the Hall of Fame, wish him godspeed.
"I'm the first baseman," says Rose. "Not because I'm the manager, and not because of Ty Cobb. I'm the first baseman because I deserve it. I hit .365 with the Reds last year."
Well, Rose is fooling himself a little. He did sort of win the job after he came back to Cincinnati on Aug. 16, but it was Rose who filled out the lineup card. If Rose really wants to put the best nine players on the field in '85, he'll use Cesar Cedeno on first and either Eddie Milner or Gary Redus in left. Awarding the leftfield job to Cedeno does seem suspicious—that way Rose has no competition at first. But what the heck? He's the manager, and he knows that the best nine do not necessarily make for the best team.
If Rose is the something old on the Reds, Eric Davis is the something new. Davis, 22, is a centerfielder with speed, power and a great arm. "He's a young man of tremendous polish and great talents," says rightfielder Dave Parker. "He has to be because he's replacing the best leadoff hitter I've ever played with, Eddie Milner."
The Reds have a surplus of outfielders, but shortages elsewhere. Dann Bilardello, who can't hit, is Rose's preferred catcher. Rose tried, without success, to pry Bo Diaz loose from the Phillies this spring. Ron Oester is a good second baseman, and although Dave Concepcion is not the shortstop he once was, he'll do. Third base is the Poles Apart platoon of Wayne Krenchicki and Nick Esasky.
Rose hired Jim Kaat to coach the pitching staff last year, and Kaat brings the same gusto to his task that Rose brings to his. After Mario Soto, Kaat has question marks, youthful and otherwise, to work with: Jay Tibbs (6-2 as starter after joining the Reds June 15), Tom Browning, John Stuper and Frank Pastore. Kaat already has Pastore quick-pitching with some success. Relief belongs to the trio of Ted Power, Tom Hume and lefty John Franco.
"Pete and I would go to the dog track to relax," says Kaat, "and we'd talk baseball for three hours." All spring, Rose worked night and day getting the team in trim, making personnel decisions, playing in B games and keeping an eye out for a young Pete Rose.
"I'll never forget my first major league camp," Rose says. "I had finished my work one day, and a coach named Mike Ryba said to me, 'Why don't you sit in the dugout during the game? You might learn something.' It was against the White Sox, and about the eighth inning, Hutch [manager Fred Hutchinson] sent me in to run, and I end up scoring the tying run. The game goes into extra innings, I get two at bats, two hits, including the game-winning double in the 14th. I end up making the club. Who knows where I'd be today if I hadn't stayed around that one day in 1963?"
Twenty-three seasons later Rose is still playing, and he has Hutch's job, to boot. He'll be bringing a lot of people into Riverfront Stadium to watch his chase of Cobb, and who knows, maybe they'll see a pennant race, too. The fire that won't let Rose the manager admit that Rose the first baseman is through is also the fire that will light the Reds.
PETE ROSE (R/L)
RON OESTER (L/R)
DAVE CONCEPCION (R)
WAYNE KRENCHICKI (L)
NICK ESASKY (R)
CESAR CEDENO (R)
ERIC DAVIS (R)
DAVE PARKER (L)
DANN BILARDELLO (R)