Approximately five years ago, the first time I asked Pete Rose if he'd like to manage in the big leagues, his reply was a quick ''No way.'' But we all change our minds, and Pete changed his last week when the Cincinnati Reds asked him to rescue his former club. Rose accepted the role of player-manager.
There was a time, though, that he didn't want any part of the multiple problems managers go through with players, both on and off the field. However, Rose also said that he loved baseball and would never want to get completely away from the game.
''What I'd really like to do after I stop playing is become a coach,'' Pete told me at the time. ''I'd be happy either helping kids with their hitting at the big league level or else serving as a minor league troubleshooter for some major league club. But just standing out there in a coach's box during a game and waving guys around the bases probably wouldn't be enough for me. I'd have to be more involved than that.''
In what is probably both a sincere effort to improve the struggling Reds and increase club attendance, General Manager Bob Howsam has handed Rose a button (a sub-.500 club) and told him to sew a suit on it. As the Reds' player-manager, Pete has inherited the worst hitting team in the National League. Cincinnati's pitching staff hasn't been all that great, either, ranking just ahead of the last-place San Francisco Giants.
At a press conference in Cincinnati, Pete told reporters that he would have a different relationship with his players than most managers. ''I'm going to be one of them,'' he explained. ''I don't want anyone to be afraid to talk to me or sit down with me or have lunch with me. I want them to have respect for me as a player as well as a manager.''
Rose, who started this season with the Montreal Expos needing 202 hits to break Ty Cobb's all-time record of 4,191, arrived in Cincinnati still 130 shy of Cobb's mark. In his first 15 at-bats with the Reds, however, he collected eight hits.
Although Rose said that Nick Esasky would continue to start at first base, with Pete filling in only occasionally, that hasn't been the case so far.
Elsewhere around the majors
* The fact that the San Diego Padres and Atlanta Braves are so heavily involved in the National League West division race may have influenced league president Chub Feeney in dealing with the recent beanball episode between the two clubs. Instead of coming down hard on everyone, Feeney let most of the culprits off with three-game suspensions and light fines. That is, with the exception of San Diego Manager Dick Williams, who got a 10-day suspension as well as a fine.
* The bounce-back quality that Ralph Houk has installed in the Boston Red Sox this year has unlocked a suggestion that hasn't been heard for a while - that Houk is among the best managers in baseball. Ralph, who doesn't take any guff from anyone, still may need a bit more help in the infield to achieve a challenging role with Boston, but give his young pitching staff another year or two of experience and even that deficiency might not hold him back.