Pete Rose and George Brett, the rival team leaders in this year's World Series, are two players cut from the same mold. It's their batting feats, of course, that have pushed them into baseball's hierarchy of top names, but that's really just the tip of the iceberg. Perhaps the best way of emphasizing their true value is to point out that either one could be hitting .250 or less and still be the type of player a manager dreams about having in his lineup.
That's not a statement you can make about too many of today's so-called superstars, with their inflated egos and "me first" attitudes.But this, of course, is what separates these two from so many of their colleagues in the megabucks league. They have long since demonstrated their superior talents and been rewarded with long-term, multimillion dollar contracts, to be sure, but they still play like a couple of rookies trying to make the team.
Then there are all those intangibles, such as competitive fire, leadership, and the ability to perform better as the pressure increases. These aren't qualities that can be taught -- you either have them or you don't. And over the years the veteran Philadelphia first baseman and the across-the-diamond rival from Kansas City have demonstrated that they belong in the former category.
Finally, there is that almost magnetic knack of attracting the action -- of being in the middle of big rallies, key plays, etc., far more often than the law of averages would seem to dictate. It's uncanny, really, how many times when a game is on the line you look up and see one of these two involved. And more often than not, it seems, they'll find some way to beat you -- if not with their bats, then in the field, on the bases, or just by their very presence as the forces around which their teammates can rally.
With Rose, of course, this has been going on so long that it almost qualifies as ancient history. Pete was "Charlie Hustle" during all his years in Cincinnati -- a big star still willing to be shuffled from position to position to help his team, and a player who led by example whenever things got toughest.
Rose is at a point in his career now where by any reasonable standards he might be expected to tone it down a bit -- and indeed, in terms of season-long production, he was not the offensive force this year that he has been in the past. His .282 average, nearly 50 points below last year's, was his lowest mark since 1964. And although he's never been a big slugger, you'd certainly expect Pete to hit more than one home run and one triple in an entire season. He did play all 162 games, however, and as he quipped the other day, "I led the league in two things -- doubles and salary."
Then came the playoffs. Rose has always risen to the occasion in these league championship series (he hit .378 in his five previous ones with the Reds) , and he did so again for the Phillies -- batting .400 with eight hits, also walking five times, and scoring three runs, including the memorable one in Game 4 when he raced home from first on Greg Luzinski's double and crashed into catcher Bruce Bochy to score the tie-breaking 10th-inning run that propelled the Phillies to their eventual victory over Houston.
On to the World Series, and although he went hitless in the opener, Pete once again managed to make his presence felt and score a big run. Philadelphia had scored twice in the third inning to cut a 4-0 deficit in half, but now there were two out, none on, and the rally apparently over. Rose doesn't think that way, though. He battled KC starter Dennis Leonard, eventually getting hit on the leg by a pitch (always in the middle of things somehow!), and the next thing anyone knew a walk to Mike Schmidt and a three-run homer by Bake McBride put the Phillies ahead for good en route to a 7-6 victory.
"When Rose got hit with two strikes on him I thought the momentum might turn, " said Philadelphia Manager Dallas Green afterward -- and how right he was.
Brett, who at 27 is 12 years younger than Rose, obviously hasn't had time yet to build up the same imposing career statistics or the public recognition. It wasn't until his attention-grabbing bid to hit .400 this year, in fact, that George's name became a household word, though he had already amply demonstrated to baseball aficionados the same winning combination of ability, desire, and clutch performance.
Like Rose, Brett always plays hard -- so much so that he has had injury problems throughout his career, including a couple this season that for a while jeopardized his chance to get to the plate enough to qualify for the batting title he eventually won with a .390 average.
Also like Pete, George seems to save his best efforts for the biggest moments -- like the three home runs he hit in one game during the Royals' 1978 playoff loss to the Yankees.
So far he is repeating the pattern this year too. His double and home run helped the Royals win the first playoff game, then when his bat went silent the next day he came through with the big seventh-inning relay throw that cut down Willie Randolph at the plate to conserve a 3-2 victory (always in the middle of things and finding a way to beat you). Finally, of course, his dramatic three- run homer won the third game in Yankee Stadium to put the Royals in their first World Series.
Brett was retired in his first three plate appearances in the opener, but then ripped a double and scored on Willie Aikens's second two-run homer of the night to spark an eighth- inning rally that just fell short.
Asked if he considered this series as a showcase for himself in the wake of his fantastic season, Brett replied:
"Not for myself, but for the whole ball club -- the whole town. As far as the town is concerned, we have already won the World Series by beating the Yankees."
Rose also made it seems as though the current duel couldn't help being anticlimactic for him and his team after the incredible up-and- down battle with Houston for the pennant.
"A very emotional series . . . it mentally drained us out," he said. "There's no pressure in the World Series; it's all in the playoffs."
Anticlimax or not, however, you can be sure that two guys named Pete Rose and George Brett will be going all out all the way.Neither knows any other way to play.