Today, we have a selection from Deadspin favorite Joe Posnanski's The Machine, a rollicking account of the 1975 Reds. Buy the book here. Read his blog here. Joe's in the comments now, awaiting your demeaning questions.
Suggested topics for discussion:
• "Titsburgh" (read on)
• Best sociocultural product of 1975: The Reds, "Chuckles Bites The Dust," The Jeffersons, Ali-Frazier, Operation Frequent Wind or "Only Women Bleed"?
• Which team would he rather have covered in person: 1986 Mets, 1975 Reds, 1927 Yankees or the year 30 Apostles?
• Davey Concepción and the Reds' millionth run that wasn't
• Ken Griffey's discontent
• Why no one tried to steal bases with Joe Morgan at the plate
• Does Joe Morgan think Bob Howsam wrote this book?
• No, seriously, what's Joe Morgan's deal?
• Why do so many great baseball writers watch the damn Royals?
• The Kansas City Star: America's last great sports section?
Something black and primal black drove Pete Rose. Take the All-Star thing. In 1970, they played the All-Star Game in Cincinnati, and the game stretched into extra innings. In the twelfth, Pete led off second, and his teammate Jim Hickman cracked a single to center. Pete never hesitated – that was something he always told his teammates, never pause, never doubt, never hesitate, never slow down – and he rounded third and raced home. Sportswriters in the morning editions around the country were split in their descriptions between "snorting bull" and "rolling train." Amos Otis, the American league center fielder, scooped up the ball and he made a strong throw home. The ball and Pete reached home plate about the same time. But Pete was bigger. He crashed into catcher Ray Fosse, busted the poor kid's shoulder, sent the baseball flying, and defiantly scored the game-winning run. The slide would take on more meaning because Ray Fosse was only twenty three and the most promising young catcher in the game; he was never quite the same after the slide. More than thirty years later, he would still wake up with the echoing pain of that collision ringing in his shoulder. To add a little irony to it all, Pete had Fosse to his house the night before for dinner, though Pete never saw any irony at all in it. Pete was the kind of guy who would invite you to dinner at night and crash through you by day to win a ballgame. It was all part of the deal.
People often asked Pete if he regretted smashing into Fosse – hell, it was just an All-Star Game. It didn't count in the standings. Pete's response was telling. He did not even understand the question. They were playing baseball. He was the winning run. Fosse was blocking the plate. Pete had no choice.
* * *
Pete Rose hated taking walks. Everyone knew that. He would sometimes swing the bat at bad pitches on purpose to avoid taking a walk. This cut to the heart of Pete Rose the ballplayer. Harry Rose did not raise his son to walk. The Roses did not accept charity. Pete would by God take first base, conquer it. There was a game in 1974, the Reds trailed the St. Louis Cardinals by seven runs in the late innings. Bob Gibson was pitching for the Cardinals, Bullet Bob, the scariest pitcher in the game. Batters hit a measly .228 against Gibson over his seventeen-year career, and he took every hit personally. Gibson threw a pitch inside, Pete tried to pull out the way, and the pitch ticked Pete's uniform.
"Ball hit him," the umpire, Bill Williams, shouted, and he pointed toward first. "Take your base."
"The ball didn't hit me, Bill," Rose shouted back, and he stepped back into the batter's box.
"Yes it did, Pete, I heard it hit you, take your base."
"No. You heard wrong. I'm telling you the ball didn't hit me."
"You're taking the base, Pete. The ball hit you, quit being silly …"
"I'm not taking the base, Bill. Didn't hit me. Let me back in the box,"
Pete kept arguing during a lost game that the baseball did not hit him, he did not want the free base, he wanted to get one more swing at the most intimidating pitcher of the time. In the end, the umpire made him take first base, but Pete did not take it well. For the rest of the inning, he yelled, "The ball didn't hit me!" That's how much Pete hated walks. He wanted to swing away. Always.
* * *
Pete Rose sits in the Field of Dreams, a sports store in the Caesar's Palace Shops in Las Vegas. It's 2009. He sits behind a card table and a velvet rope and two young circus barkers who scream, "Come see Pete Rose! Come see the Hit King!" Pete Rose calls himself the Hit King, signs his baseballs that way too, because he cracked four thousand, two hundred and fifty six hits in his career. And no one ever got more.
Pete is guarded by a young woman, Sarah, who, he rarely fails to point out, has a great ass. She does not seem to mind being reminded about her ass or, anyway, she has grown used to it. There are various job-related quirks when it comes to working with Pete Rose. Appreciating ass compliments seems to be one of them.
"So this woman, she sits down right here, right next to me," Pete is saying, and he points at the spot next to him as if it is a historical landmark. "And she has really big breasts, you know? I mean, really, she has big breasts. And she's like leaning over the table, like, um, you know …"
Pete realizes at this point in his presentation that he needs a stand-in to give the story a visual. He calls over to Sarah and asks her to play the woman with the big breasts. She nods. You get the sense this is a recurring role for her. She sits next to Pete, leans far over the table.
"So," Pete says, "she's really showing off her breasts, you know, like I didn't notice them. And then I say to her, where are you from?" At this point, he pauses, and begins the little demonstration.
"So, where you from?" Pete asks Sarah, who is playing the large-breasted woman. She smiles deeply.
"Titsburgh!" she says triumphantly.
"Titsburgh?" Pete asks. "Is that in Tennsylvania?"
And then, Pete Rose laughs. He does not laugh casually, no, he laughs hard, hard enough that he can hardly breathe, hard enough that if he was drinking, liquid would spew out of his nose. He laughs like this is the single funniest thing he has ever heard, and he is hearing it now for the first time.